Hammond gets tough, wins state 1A-2A final Bears beat F.S. Key in championship, finish 16-0

February 11, 1996|By Rick Belz | Rick Belz,SUN STAFF

Mental toughness is something most athletes must be taught.

It's something Hammond (16-0) learned this season, and it served the Bears well as they won their first 1A-2A state dual meet wrestling championship and recorded their first undefeated season yesterday at Howard High.

Top-seeded Hammond defeated two unbeaten teams to reach the ultimate goal of any team. It turned back Rising Sun (13-1) in the semifinals, 35-25, and came back with a 35-26 victory over Francis Scott Key in the finals.

Hammond's toughness is tempered by a strong emotional bond among teammates, as evidenced by the free-flowing tears and many hugs after the victory.

"I told them at the beginning of the season that they could do this," said Hammond coach Jeff Starnes, one of the few who was not crying. "Overcoming their mental blockage so that they'd believe they could win was the biggest thing. The mental, emotional and physical all have to come together."

When seventh-ranked Hammond found itself trailing 15-6 to Rising Sun after losing four of the first five matches, the mental toughness came through.

Hansel Henry, Hammond's vocal team leader, called for a team meeting three times to implore his teammates to reach down for all they had.

"We called the meetings to let us know that we had to turn our fear into pride," Henry said.

And they did.

Mike Loula pinned Brian Price at 135 pounds in 57 seconds to begin a streak in which the Bears won six of seven matches, including major decisions by Josh Zillmer (140) and Henry (189), pins by Tony Dakis (152) and Don Clark (171) and a crucial 7-4 decision by Tom Borrego.

Rising Sun had dropped Will Street down from 171 to 160 to avoid Henry, who normally wrestles there, and the move backfired because of Borrego's strong effort.

Starnes had used an old coaching ploy to get his team psyched up before the match.

"A Carroll County paper had printed that even though we were No. 1 seed, the state champion would come from the Owings Mills-Francis Scott Key semifinal," Starnes said.

The Bears remembered that, and used it to start fast in the championship against the No. 6 Eagles (15-1), who stunned top-ranked Owings Mills, 32-27.

Hammond won six of the first eight matches, three on pins by Jared Zillmer (112), Tony Tan (119) and Loula (135).

Tan's pin (over Brian Sanders) was unexpected. He was trailing 7-2 after two periods.

"I kept thinking that I can't lose," Tan said. "I hit a Peterson and turned him to his back."

Hammond led 15-0, but the Eagles won the next two matches on a technical fall and a disqualification, to make it 15-11. That's when Loula came through with his second pin, and Josh Zillmer followed with a major decision.

Adam Clark (145) trailed 6-4 after the first period, but rallied to a 16-10 victory. After Dakis lost a 9-7 thriller to Key's Tony Calhoon at 152, Borrego earned an 8-4 victory over Brett Cowan.

Henry, who dropped back to 171 for the Key match, clinched the victory with a 17-4 decision.

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