John Carroll is enjoying its most successful wrestling season in recent years, and two of the reasons are senior Greg Stotler and junior Mike Babiak.
Opposing teams know they had better have a sizable lead going to the last two weight classes, because Babiak is 13-0 at 189 pounds and heavyweight Stotler is 17-1.
"We are confident we can guarantee points, and it's a good feeling," Babiak said.
Actually heavyweight is a misnomer for Stotler, who played football at 215 pounds, currently weighs around 200, and expects to drop to 191 later in the season.
"Some of my opponents outweigh me by 40 or 50 pounds and they are the good ones -- it's one of the things I hate about the class. I try and compensate by being quicker and more agile," he said. "And, in practice, I work against [teammates] Herb Frederick, he's about 235, and Kevin Votta, who's not that big but likes to mix it up."
The latest state rankings have Stotler at No. 5. J. R. Plienis (230 pounds) of McDonogh is No. 1, having pinned the previous No. 1 Kenny Hunter (240 pounds) of Mount St. Joseph in 38 seconds last week. Hunter, now No. 2, beat Stotler, 6-1, earlier this season.
"We're a young team, but top to bottom, we're tougher than in the past," Stotler said. "We have four senior starters [Stotler, Andy Dunn, Jon Cohen, and Paul Flis] and the rest are juniors and sophomores."
Stotler got into wrestling as a freshman. "It was something to do in the winter and a good way to stay in shape for football," he said.
Although an individual sport, it is no coincidence the team's fortunes have improved along with Stotler's record.
"My freshman year we were 1-9 and I think I was second or third in the MSA's JV tournament," he said.
Last year, he was 34-4 and did not place in the Maryland Scholastic Association tournament, although he went to the quarterfinals, where he lost in overtime, 6-4, to eventual runner-up Jamie Biddison of Gilman. Biddison lost 5-4 to the top-ranked Plienis in the title bout.
Earlier this year, Plienis said Stotler was one athlete who gave him trouble. The McDonogh athlete noted he had trailed every time (three or four meetings) he'd wrestled Stotler, but had managed to win them all.
Stotler said: "As a freshman, I practiced against Jake Hollan, who was an MSA finalist, and he taught me 'Practice tough, wrestle tough.' It has stayed with me. Last summer, I wrestled some freestyle tournaments at McDonogh and now, overall, I'm better than before.
"I have watched tapes of my earlier matches and I was making little stupid mistakes. I'm not making them anymore."
Babiak, the county Player of the Year in boys volleyball last fall, admits as a freshman he was talked into wrestling by a friend, "and I enjoyed it." Now, he sees major improvement from last year to this.
"I have more stamina and I'm using it better, and I have more intensity. I pushed myself in volleyball and I'm doing the same here," Babiak said.
Last year, he reached the MSA quarterfinals, where he lost, 9-7, to eventual champion Pete Karvounis of St. Paul's.
As a team, the Patriots have improved from that 1-9 season of 1991-92 to 3-8-1, to 5-5 last year, and this year they are 6-3 after losing to Loyola, 38-34, Friday night.
"What Stotler and Babiak give us are guaranteed points at the top," John Carroll coach Bill Reichert said. "I think their styles and their abilities rub off on the younger ones, too.
"Stotler is one of our three four-year veterans and team captains [with Cohen and Dunn], and he has come along to provide good leadership. Babiak is more of a free spirit, but I expect him to step up next year and be one of our leaders."