Hunter grows into top ranking

January 04, 1995|By Lem Satterfield | Lem Satterfield,Sun Staff Writer

"Short and round" is how Kenny Hunter describes himself when he began wrestling for Randallstown's Optimists in the fifth grade. The pudgy youngster had been inspired by his older brother, Cordell, then an upper weight at Mount St. Joseph.

Seven years later, Hunter is still throwing his weight around, but little of it is baby fat. At 6 feet 3, 240 pounds, he is the state's top-ranked heavyweight for Mount St. Joseph and bench-presses 315 pounds.

Gaels coach Paul Triplett knew he had something while watching Hunter go 30-0 as a jayvee wrestler during his freshman and sophomore seasons.

In practice, Hunter was nearly the equal of varsity starter Dave Sunderland (6-4, 245), who won two Maryland Scholastic Association crowns and earned All-Metro honors as a senior.

Like Sunderland, Hunter earned first-team All-Metro honors in football. Sunderland chose football at Lehigh, and Hunter will choose one over the other.

"Kenny's extremely quick, faster than most heavyweights," said Triplett. "But even if guys are bigger, he's strong enough to hang with them and he won't back down. Usually, he's the one going after it."

Hunter was 12-0 after defeating a 6-7, 260-pound wrestler, 2-0, in the semifinals of last weekend's University of California (Pa.) Tournament.

Though he dictated the action in his next bout against Pennsylvania's top-ranked Mike Garfallo, a 6-8, 275-pounder from Kenny Christian, Hunter suffered his first loss in overtime.

"I was driving him across the match the whole time, trying for takedowns. He was just backing off and blocking stuff," said Hunter, who has eight pins this season.

"I finally got in on a double-leg and he countered. We both fell down, and he slid behind me. It was disappointing, but I'll learn from it."

Last season Hunter went 27-6 with 14 pins and tournament titles at Chesapeake-AA, Annapolis and in the MSA.

He was a runner-up in last year's season-opening Curley Tournament, suffering his only loss of the season against a Maryland opponent, Riverdale Baptist's Blaine Gasch, 8-7.

Hunter avenged that loss, beating Gasch, 6-3, in the semifinals of last year's National Prep Tournament. He lost his National Prep title bout, 5-2, to Blair Academy's Johnson Bell.

Locally, many in the wrestling community are awaiting a clash between Hunter, ranked No. 1 by the Maryland State Wrestling Association, and McDonogh junior J. R. Plienis, ranked No. 2.

They could meet as many as five times, beginning with this weekend's Mid-Atlantic Invitational Classic at St. Mark's (Del.), where Hunter was fifth last season at heavyweight, and Plienis third at 189.

Plienis, an All-Metro pick last season and now nearly 220 pounds, won last year's MSA crown at 189 and was third in the National Preps. He is unbeaten as a heavyweight.

"He's still got the quickness of a 189-pounder, and he's been dominating," said Hunter. "But he hasn't wrestled anyone as strong and as quick as I am."

But Plienis is coming off his best summer ever, having become Maryland's first double-event Cadet national champion and earning USA Wrestling's Cadet Belt, given annually to the nation's best 15- to 16-year-old.

At 209 pounds last summer, Plienis went 7-0 in the Greco-Roman category and 9-0 in freestyle, pinning 10 of his 16 opponents.

Plienis met Hunter as a junior leaguer 10 years ago and "got crushed," he said recently, while facing a disadvantage of around 60 pounds.

"We only knew about two moves each back then," said Hunter. "We were both short and round kids."

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