Plienis throwing added weight around

January 13, 1995|By Lem Satterfield | Lem Satterfield,Sun Staff Writer

At 190 pounds, McDonogh wrestling coach Pete Welch often had the upper hand in practice against J.R. Plienis when the Eagle competed at 189 pounds last year.

But that was before Plienis started hitting the weights -- still perhaps not as much as Welch would like -- added poundage and put together the best summer of his wrestling life.

Competing nationally at 209 pounds, Plienis went 7-0 in the Greco-Roman category and 9-0 in freestyle, pinning 10 of his 16 opponents.

His efforts helped him to become Maryland's first double-event Cadet national champion, earning USA Wrestling's Cadet Belt, given annually to the nation's best 15- to 16-year-old.

"J.R.'s been working really hard this year and he's become a real leader to the team," said Welch, a former All-American at the University of North Carolina.

"He knows he could be doing more to improve, but he's pretty good right now."

Welch isn't the only NCAA wrestler against whom Plienis has been successful. He has a 5-3 record against college opponents in open tournaments. His high school record presently stands at 70-10, including 13-1 with eight pins this season.

Welch set a goal of Plienis reaching 240 pounds by Christmas -- and at 6-foot, 235, the McDonogh junior nearly made it. He's shooting for the Olympics in the year 2000.

"He's bigger and much more aggressive," said Welch. "Last year, I could smack him around. This year, he smacks back."

En route to a third-place finish in last weekend's Mid-Atlantic Tournament in Wilmington, Del., Plienis got a measure of revenge against an old nemesis, Mount St. Joseph's Kenny Hunter.

Hunter, who badly beat Plienis in junior leagues long ago, entered the tournament ranked No. 1 in Maryland. Despite his excellent off-season, Plienis, then ranked No. 2, was considered the underdog by many.

Both were Maryland Scholastic Association champions last year. Hunter, a National Prep runner-up last season, won as a heavyweight, while Plienis, third in the National Preps, was coming up in weight.

Just days before the tournament, Hunter, a senior, had said: "[J.R.] hasn't wrestled anyone as strong and as quick as I am."

Hunter's coach, Paul Triplett, has said: "Against Kenny, he'll need more than a headlock."

As it turned out, a headlock was all Plienis needed.

For an instant, both wrestlers stood facing each other.

But within seconds of the bout-opening whistle, Plienis had clamped down on Hunter and flung him on his back. Arms pinched skyward and useless, it seemed Hunter's 240-pound body was stapled to the mat.

"He came out pummeling, I bumped him a little and he came in with double under-hooks trying to bear-hug me, which was just right for the headlock," said Plienis.

"There were two referees: One said, 'This shoulder's down.' The other one said, 'So is this one.' It was one of the tightest headlocks I've ever had."

The victory was Plienis' eighth pin of the year in 12 matches and gave him the No. 1 state ranking. Hunter's ranking dropped to No. 2, and his record to 15-3.

Plienis' only loss came earlier in the tournament to Matt Gaul of Pennsylvania's Hill School, a wrestler against whom Plienis is 2-3.

"He beat me, 13-11, in overtime in the semifinals of the National Preps last year, and he went on to win it," said Plienis, 16.

"But I pinned him a few weeks later. I'll probably see him again at Preps."

He'll also likely see Hunter again, possibly four more times. And another obstacle is John Carroll's fifth-ranked Greg Stotler, whose only loss was by 6-1 to Hunter earlier this year.

"I've beaten Stotler three or four times, but every time he was winning and I had to come back and beat him," Plienis said.

"There are some tough guys out there, but it's not my style to worry about the names or the faces. They're all just the next tough guy in front of me."

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