True grit Wrestling: Meade High's Matt Pandullo wasn't about to let a little thing like a broken back keep him from his favorite sport.

December 24, 1997|By Glenn P. Graham | Glenn P. Graham,SUN STAFF

Like most brothers, the Pandullo boys had their share of scraps when they were young.

All disagreements would eventually be decided with the two -- Joey, now a senior at Meade High, and his little brother Matt, a junior -- wrestling on the living room floor, in their basement or anywhere else they could find.

The current tale of the tape has Joey wrestling at the 160-pound class for the Meade Mustangs with Matt at 112. Joey has always been bigger.

"And Matt always kept coming back for more," said Joey. "You would think he would get the picture by now, but he just gets madder. He just never stops."

On the mat, when it counts, Matt has been the same way throughout his three years on varsity. Early in his freshman season, he remembers when he finished a match and was uncharacteristically out of breath and could barely walk because of pain in his lower back. The pain would go away for awhile, but then come back. Matt finished the season, going a stellar 28-5, before seeing a doctor.

"The doctor said I had a fractured vertebra in my lower back and I would never wrestle again," he said. "I was really angry. Wrestling has been my life. I have plenty of other things going for me, but my wrestling gives me the most pride and rewards."

A second opinion fortunately told him otherwise. Matt spent most of the following summer in bed with electrodes hooked to his back, did all the necessary exercises to rehabilitate, skipped the fall soccer season -- and was ready to wrestle in his sophomore season.

"Last year, he'd practice half the time and spend the other half resting with ice on his back," said Meade coach Pat Arvidson.

Coming into the season understandably out of shape, Pandullo worked through it and went 30-7, placing fourth at states.

"Once in a while there was a little pain, but for the most part I was fine," he said. "I was really proud how I did. I feel I stepped it up and, taking fourth in states, I was really happy, overwhelmed."

Pandullo started wrestling in the fifth grade with the Severn Athletic Club and turned the corner a couple years later when he joined the Arden Attackers, a junior league team out of Old Mill that has produced some of Anne Arundel County's best.

Battling through all the obstacles, Pandullo has become one of ++ them. He's 7-1 so far this season and "completely healthy for the first time in a long while."

Now, he approaches a match with the focus on his opponent and not on how his back will feel. A student of the sport, he does it all with plenty of savvy.

"He has an excellent shot -- very quick," said Arvidson. "Matt wrestles blind. He can be looking up at the ceiling and know where the leg is going to be, countering everything. He has excellent feel for a match."

Last week, Pandullo avenged his only loss of the season when he came away with a 6-5 decision over Southern state champ Nick Alley. In the final of the Meade Tournament in the season opener, it was Alley who scored an 11-6 decision.

"We took a look at the video tape [of the first match] and saw he got in deep three times, but didn't finish the single leg," said Arvidson. "The second match, he got in deep again and this time he finished. Matt took it to him and controlled the match."

The county is stacked with competitive 112-pounders, led by Alley, Annapolis junior Dan Hemminger and possibly another state champ, Old Mill's Chris Combs, if he eventually moves down from the 119-pound class. Pandullo welcomes the challenges.

"It pushes me a lot," he said. "This county is like state competition at my weight class and you have to take every match seriously. I know if I can do well in the county, I should do OK at states."

And there's still the occasional push from older brother Joey, who's also 7-1 in the early going and looking to make some noise when the state tournament rolls around next spring.

"We were constantly wrestling when we were little," Matt said. "Joey always killed me, but I kept coming after him. He made me a better wrestler. When he loses, I feel like I lost. When he wins, I feel real good."

As for other things going on, Pandullo indeed has plenty. He has a 4.08 grade-point average and just got back his PSAT scores -- 1290. He returned to the soccer field this fall, playing fullback for the Mustangs, and may give lacrosse or track a try in the spring.

He was even coaxed into doing some acting in the school's one-act play entitled "He's Having My Baby."

"We don't have a real big drama club so they needed someone and asked me," Matt said. "I played a pregnant man. There was a lot of screaming in it."

Pub Date: 12/24/97

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