Another Kessler: So far, so perfect

January 06, 1995|By Lem Satterfield | Lem Satterfield,Sun Staff Writer

He's been wrestling since he was 6, but Steve Kessler hadn't been on his back in a long, long time.

But once already this year, the Owings Mills wrestler found himself staring up at the gymnasium ceiling against an opponent from C. Milton Wright -- this after having cruised to a 7-0 lead in their 145-pound match.

"He threw me on my back. I got off in about three or four seconds, but it taught me a good lesson," said Kessler, 15, who came back to score a technical fall victory. "I was beating him pretty good and then I just started forcing moves. It showed me that you can't be overconfident against anybody."

Not even when you're part of a wrestling legacy of state title-winning Kesslers, whose father, Larry, still finds it hard to understand how his sons keep getting better, one right after the other.

His eldest son, Kevin, 23, was a state champ for Chesapeake High in Baltimore County in 1989. Greg, 19, won three state titles and is now a sophomore at Rider College with an 8-3 record wrestling between 126 and 134 pounds. An All-Metro, Greg was 125-5-1 for his career at Owings Mills and earned High School All-American honors.

The youngest Kessler, Mike, 7, placed second in the first junior league tournament he ever wrestled in and has won two already this year.

"You feel good about what your sons have done, but with Steve, you know there's a lot of pressure," said Larry Kessler. "I don't want to put that kind of pressure on him, but it's there. You see him in every match. And now that he's getting bigger, the matches are getting tougher."

Steve, a sophomore, is 46-0 in his high school career, including 20 pins and nine technical falls. He is 10-0 with six pins and a technical fall this season. He pinned all three opponents to win the Hereford Tournament crown.

His 36-0 record of a year ago marked the first time a Maryland wrestler went undefeated as a freshman to win a state title. Kessler also became the first freshman to receive first-team All-Metro honors in wrestling from The Baltimore Sun.

What makes it more impressive is that Kessler has yet to sweat down to another weight class.

"I've wrestled my natural weight the whole time. I haven't yet had to cut weight," said Kessler, who weighed 129 while wrestling 130 pounds last year, and weighs 144 at 145 pounds this year.

"I'll probably be dropping down to 140 for the states, but the nice thing is until then, I get to eat whatever I want."

Kessler relies almost exclusively on technique, alternately employing the patience of older brother Kevin with Greg's quick, brutish attack. The poise is original.

He's out-maneuvered muscular athletes like Dulaney's top-ranked Alex Leanos by 3-1 in last year's county tournament title bout, and out-hustled others like Northeast's Matt Jewer, ranked No. 4 before last year's overtime loss to Kessler.

And during the summer, Kessler frustrated the likes of DeMatha's top-ranked, two-time National Prep champ Todd Beckerman, now a 125-pounder who is 117-1 for his career, and Laurel's 3A-4A state champ Sidney Billups, who is top-ranked at 140.

"The extra weight really hasn't changed his style that much. He's still the same wrestler, just a little more mature," said Owings Mills coach Guy Pritzker. "He's lighter than most of the guys he wrestles and he could drop to 135 if I let him. But I think 140's better for him. He really hasn't had a tough match yet."

Many feel Kessler could become Maryland's second four-time state champion, matching the feat by Aberdeen's Matt Slutzky, now at Syracuse, three years ago. Slutzky lost four times before graduating.

"I try not to think about it but it's always coming up," said Kessler, referring to winning four state titles. "Anything can happen, and I know that. But I know -- and everybody else knows -- that it's what I want to do."

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