Fast start for a freshman

January 09, 1994|By Jeff Seidel | Jeff Seidel,Contributing Writer

Before the season, Joe Smith felt unsure about whether he would make the Liberty varsity wrestling team.

There is a growing list of people who wish he hadn't.

Smith lost a tough opening match to Ryan Etzler of Francis Scott Key. Since then, however, Smith has taken off, winning nine consecutive matches to start his freshman season with a bang.

Smith (103 pounds) began his varsity career by giving Etzler a fit. The Lions wrestler led much of the way before Etzler rallied to tie the match 4-4 in the late going and pin Smith with 20 seconds left.

That match disappointed Smith, because he felt he should have won. Things changed quickly, however, as he pinned his next opponent (from Hedgesville, W. Va.) in 42 seconds.

"That helped a lot," said Smith. "It kind of acted as a comeback."

And Smith came back with style. Since then, pins have been more the rule than the exception. He has won twice by forfeit, but six of his other seven victories have been by pins -- five within the first 63 seconds of the match.

TC After the second match, Smith pinned his Catoctin opponent (30 seconds) and Middletown foe (3:55) before getting a forfeit against James Buchanan. Next came another quick (1:03) pin against Atholton before a forfeit from Glenelg.

Smith then took care of his Thomas Johnson opponent in 46 seconds before going the route in a 6-2 victory against St. Mary's. Smith posted his fastest pin of the season last Thursday by flattening the Thomas Johnson 103-pounder in 22 seconds.

Through 10 matches, he has wrestled only 18:58 -- the equivalent of three full matches plus 58 seconds.

"I'm surprised, very surprised," said Smith. "I came into this year thinking I'd be on junior varsity."

Smith wrestled well in preseason practice, finally winning a wrestle-off to take the varsity slot at 103. He said he felt a little unsure about his readiness for varsity wrestling.

He certainly appears ready now.

"It's a fantastic start," said Liberty coach Jeff Hash. "He has an attitude with a purpose when he steps on the mat."

Hash said any search for fancy explanations for Smith's success would be a waste of time. The coach said his wrestler simply works as hard as possible.

And Hash has seen that before. Despite his size (5 feet 2, 103 pounds), Smith started at free safety for the Liberty junior varsity football team last fall. Hash said Smith never shied away from any larger player.

"He was an excellent tackler," said Hash. "He stuck his head right in there."

For wrestling, however, experience may be Smith's biggest asset.

He wrestled on the Warriors junior league team for three years. Last year, he finished fifth in the state at 85 pounds. He then wrestled freestyle this past summer for the Northwest Wrestling Club and qualified for the national tournament in Hershey, Pa.

"I think the freestyle helped me a great deal," said Smith. "It taught me a lot about quickness, speed and takedowns."

Smith said he feels that, along with the junior-league work, dedication and hard work have aided him the most.

"Whatever the coach tells you to do, you do it 100 percent," said Smith.

Smith said he set no specific goals before the season started. He now wants to win the Carroll County title, do well in the regions and make the top 10 at the states.

He admits that winning a state title is his ultimate goal.

"I think about it a lot," said Smith. "I think about it almost every practice."

For now, Smith's biggest concern will be his next match. He doesn't want to let this strong start make him lose perspective.

"I've kind of kept my head on straight," said Smith. "I just have to take it one step at a time."

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