Wrestling's junior achievers Champions: Old Mill's Chris Combs and Southern's Nick Alley work hard with an eye toward the future despite last season's state titles as sophomores.

December 03, 1997|By Glenn P. Graham | Glenn P. Graham,SUN STAFF

For Old Mill's Chris Combs and Southern's Nick Alley -- Anne Arundel's two returning state wrestling champions -- their success starts with a simple ingredient: hard work.

It means wrestling throughout the year, constantly lifting weights, running to build endurance and not cutting a single corner in the practice room.

"You can't mess around or you'll lose your edge and it can cost you a match," Alley said.

Their reward comes when the referee raises their hands in victory, which happened plenty for both last season and promises to continue once again this year.

Combs went 35-1 at 112 pounds to become the first sophomore to win a state title at Old Mill, which boasts 20 individual champs.

Alley, lightning quick with an aggressive approach, was just as impressive in his sophomore season for the Bulldogs, going 36-2 at 103 pounds and closing it out with a first-period pin against Mardela's Kevin Stine in the final.

Their respective paths to the top of the championship podium last season were similar.

Combs was 8 years old, weighing 49 pounds when his football coach saw him holding his own against 75-pounders. "He said I should give wrestling a try," Combs said.

Alley was also 8 when a friend talked him into coming out for youth wrestling team in Crofton.

In last year's state final, both wrestlers found themselves going up against the opponent they defeated in their region finals.

Combs battled through a tough bracket and eventually scored an 8-0 major decision over Annapolis' Dan Hemminger for the state title after defeating him 5-0 earlier in the region championship.

"I knew what I had to do and it was a good feeling. I wrestled well up there," he said. "I realized all the hard work paid off and I was grateful to my coaches."

Alley earned a major decision over Stine the first time they met, but he closed it out a lot quicker to win his first state championship. His pin came at the 1: 56 mark of the first period.

"It was a great feeling -- better than most anything. I was real shocked because it was over so quick. It took me by surprise," Alley said. "You can't hold anything back [at the state meet]. If you hesitate, you'll probably lose, so i just went for it."

Perhaps their most similar trait is that they both hate to lose.

"With a passion. Always have no matter what it is I'm doing," Combs said. "There's also the will to win and seeing what it takes to win. You have to be willing to put forth the effort."

That's never been a problem with either. As returning state champs, both will be targets.

Alley, who stayed in the junior leagues as a freshman and won the 90-pound title, will be moving up a weight class to 112 as a junior.

"Some kids will be a little more intimidated, while most others will want to go out and beat him. Beating Nick means a little more now," Southern coach John Mayberry said. "He's stepping up even more and is in better shape this year with a lot more confidence."

Wrestling has taken Alley all over the country. In August, he competed in freestyle competition at the Junior Olympics at Charlotte, N.C., and placed fifth in the 106-pound division.

Now, his attention is set on the long winter ahead with thoughts of a return to Western Maryland College and another state crown.

"It will be a little harder now because everyone expects me to win," Alley said. "Everyone will be aiming to knock me off so I've got to concentrate even more."

Combs, who may jump to 119 this season, understands it's a new season.

"It's a great feeling [winning the state title] and I hope to do it again," he said. "But it's a different year. I have to move on, work a little harder and hopefully get the same results."

Old Mill has a rich tradition and Combs wants to be a bigger part of it before his career is done.

"You hear all about the great tradition at Old Mill and then you become a part of it and see why. The coaches put a lot into it and do a great job," he said. "There are two more records out there. There's never been a three-time state champion and also [career] wins."

Charlie Royer, a 1984 grad, has the school mark for most wins after going 115-7 in his career. Combs, with a 62-5 mark in his first two seasons, is comfortably on pace.

"Chris hates to lose and that really motivates him," said Old Mill coach Mike Hampe. "In his first year as a freshman, he wrestled very well and then moved to the next level [as a sophomore]. He's excellent on his feet, very hard to hold down and improving more and more on top. He keeps working hard on eliminating any weaknesses. And hard work gets him there."

Pub Date: 12/03/97

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