New maturity pulls Puller from teammates' shadows Wrestling: Chesapeake wrestler is working more seriously than ever with the result a 17-2 record and nearly a half-season left.

January 15, 1998|By Glenn P. Graham | Glenn P. Graham,SUN STAFF

Aggressiveness and an overwhelming competitive fire are two things Chesapeake senior Keath Puller always has brought with him to the mat.

A third ingredient, however -- a complement to those first two -- has helped him reach new heights this season.

"My maturity level is higher," said Puller. "In past years, I didn't prepare as hard as I should have, joking around in practice instead of working hard. I'm more serious about wrestling now, and it's helped me step it up a notch. I'm more of a leader than a follower."

The evidence is on the mat, where Puller already has 17 wins to only two losses with the season a little past the midway point. That's two more wins than he had last winter, when he went 15-5 HTC in his second varsity season.

"He always had the ability. It was just a matter of growing up and working harder. He's done that," said Chesapeake coach Tom )) Slichter. "He's aggressive and comes out with a lot of confidence. The No. 1 thing that stands out is his maturity this season."

Puller, who's considering wrestling at Essex Community College next season with possible plans of going on to a four-year college from there, understands this is his last chance to reach his goals in high school.

His "one-match-at-a-time" approach has paid dividends.

Early in the season, Puller won a tough 160-pound weight class at the Dundalk Invitational. After a 12-7 decision in the semifinals over Kenwood's Matt Myrick -- who pinned Puller in the same tournament last year -- he was able to get past Eastern Tech's Hector Santana, 7-6, in the final. Both opponents were ranked in the state.

Puller also won a title at the Aberdeen Tournament and was third at Chopticon.

"I know I have to stay focused on what I have to do and not let anything get in the way," he said. "I take it match by match and hope for the best. All week long during practice, I find out who I'm wrestling and focus on the match and my first move."

Chances are that first move will come in a hurry. Puller, a football linebacker and goalie for the Cougars' lacrosse team in the spring, enjoys the one-on-one challenge that wrestling presents.

"I've always been an aggressive person, and I think that helps me out a lot in wrestling," he said. "I always take it to them [an opponent], even when I was younger and didn't know much about wrestling or all the moves. If you're aggressive and smart about it, you have the upper hand. If you're laid back and let others take it to you, you're not in control."

The Cougars are 2-6 on the season in dual-meet competition but have talent to get things turned around. Jeff Eveleth also is 17-2 ++ at 103, and Ryan Howard is 15-4 at the 130-pound class. Another solid grouping starts at 152 with John Mosca (12-4) and ends at 171 with Melvin Guthrie's 17-2 record. In the middle is Puller, who's definitely pulling his weight.

"In years past, he's been overshadowed by some others, but he's emerged this year," said coach Slichter. "He's quick on his feet and finishes off his takedowns well. In everything he does, if he's not on top, he's upset. He's competitive by nature, and that's something you can't teach. Either you have it, or you don't."

Puller has it and would like to take it all the way to the state finals at Western Maryland College.

"It feels like it's all falling into place," he said. "We'll find out how it turns out in the county, region and states. But for now, I'm looking at it one match at a time."

Pub Date: 1/15/98

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