Kessler has focus now, he wants third title Owings Mills star uses mat maturity

March 03, 1993|By Lem Satterfield | Lem Satterfield,Staff Writer

In its waning moments, last Thursday's wrestling practice at Owings Mills turned into a "let's roast Gregg Kessler" affair.

Resting on his elbows in a prone position, his hands clasped together before him, Kessler -- the Maryland State Wrestling Association's top-ranked competitor at 135 pounds -- wasn't allowed to speak at length about his wrestling exploits.

Kessler, a senior, was a few feet away from a cluster of teammates, including top-ranked, two-time state champ Grant Johnnson (171, 28-0) and third-ranked Ed Overton (189, 29-1), who were scattered on the mat near coach Guy Pritzker.

"Every year, he'd get an award for being the most coachable kid in my [Randallstown] junior-league program," said Pritzker, sitting with his back against one of the room's four padded walls.

"C'mon, you're lying now," quipped 160-pound Jason Pinsky. "Tell them about his freshman year."

Pritzker started in about how the freshman Kessler took a 28-2-1 record into the 2A-1A state tournament, only to lose two of his three matches -- the second after an altercation with Pritzker.

"He walked out on the mat with the strap down on his uniform, so the ref took a point away," recalled Pritzker, who began coaching Kessler when Kessler was 7. "That was just his freshman immaturity, but he's really matured since then. I mean he wins a state title as a sophomore and goes 35-0 with 20 pins, that's almost unheard of for a 10th grader."

Kessler, who is 101-1 since then, looks back on that season more favorably now.

"That was my learning phase. I was a little cocky with a swelled head, and when it really counted, I didn't have the focus," said Kessler, who pinned three opponents in a combined 5:30 for his fourth Class 2A-1A, Region II title last weekend.

"Now, I'm more of a thinker. I might have just scored a takedown, but I'm already thinking of how I'm going to score my next two or three points," Kessler said. "I like to be explosive from the top, bottom or neutral positions. It'll seem like I'm playing possum, but the minute I see an opportunity, I'll take it and I won't let go."

Kessler's career record (119-5-1) backs up his strategy -- it includes two state titles and three county crowns. This year's 31-0 record (20 pins, five technical falls) includes a 59-second pin over Randallstown's Justin Grodnitzky, last year's 125-pound county champ and a friend of Kessler's.

Kessler's biggest obstacle, however, looms in this weekend's state tournament: Mardela's No. 2-ranked Mike Lowe (34-0, 32 pins). Lowe's 112-4-1 career record includes his last two losses as a freshman en route to finishing fourth in the state. Johnson, who was third in the state as a freshman, beat Lowe, 6-1 and 2-1.

"Mike knows Gregg will be a good match," said Mardela coach Ed Bailey, "and he's prepared for it."

But Kessler has beaten several quality wrestlers.

Tim Spielman, Loyola's two-time Maryland Scholastic Association champion, fell, 15-0, in a match this year. Top-ranked Craig Middledorf (130), a two-time 4A-3A state champ, was pinned by Kessler during a summer bout. Four-time Howard County champ Adam Seidman (Oakland Mills) is No. 2-ranked at 140 pounds, yet he fell, 9-3, to Kessler in last year's state tournament.

"When people see me wrestle," Kessler said, "I want them to say, 'That's Baltimore County's first three-time state champ -- the most explosive, quickest wrestler I've ever seen.' "

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