Several of the state's best wrestlers will take to the mat this weekend in the Class 4A-3A North Region tournament at Dundalk High.
The regional, a qualifier for next weekend's state tournament at Western Maryland College, features 21 teams from Baltimore, Harford, Carroll and Howard counties, including fourth-ranked defending region champ River Hill, the two-time Howard County champ.
Also contending is third-ranked South Carroll and Baltmore County champ Eastern Tech, ranked fifth. No. 7 Franklin, No. 13 Fallston and No. 14 North Carroll also will be there.
"It's definitely a very difficult field," said Eastern Tech coach Joe Gast. "I've been coaching for 29 years, and this is the toughest regional in terms of teams and wrestlers."
There are six regional tournaments involving Baltimore-area teams scheduled to begin today and end tomorrow. But if there are postponements today because of possible school closings, the tournaments would likely become one-day events tomorrow.
"That will be the case in most cases, with slight changes in the times," said state wrestling committee chairman Bruce Cowan, adding that some regions could make up the event on a different day depending on county policies on Friday closings.
None of the counties in the 4A-3A North Region at Dundalk -- Baltimore, Carroll, Harford and Howard -- call for eliminating their teams from Saturday competition in the case of school closure due to weather.
"Of course, everything depends on road conditions," said Ron Belinko, Baltimore County's coordinator of athletics.
Any competition tomorrow at Dundalk would start at 10 a.m.
The region boasts five former state champs in Franklin's Matt Schuster (130) and Sam Mays (171), Eastern Tech's Trent Dixon (112), South Carroll's Bryan Hamper (140) and North Carroll's two-time champ Fran Jackson (145).
In addition, five more wrestlers have placed third or higher in previous state tournament appearances. Kenwood's Jason Laubauch (140) and Franklin's Luke Mays (160) have each placed second and third at states; South Carroll's Dan Patterson (135) placed third; River Hill's Ryan Green (130) and South Carroll's Kellen Weber (125) both placed fourth.
The 103- and 112-pound classes appear to be the most difficult. Perry Hall wrestlers Jim Van Daniker (103) and Nick Ramsel (112) are the favorites in each, with records of 28-1 and 30-0, respectively.
Another interesting development has Kenwood's Richard Wemple (145), the tournament's only other unbeaten wrestler at 11-0 with 10 pins and one technical fall, having to wrestle a preliminary match before facing No. 2 seed Jackson in the quarterfinals. The loser can, at best, finish only third.
Wilde Lake's No. 1 seed, Matt Ennis (119), who is 23-1, looks to avenge a loss from a year ago to Westminster's Carroll County champ, Adam Tenney, the No. 2 seed. Ennis is much improved over last season, having twice pinned Hammond's Russell Tebeleff, who went into overtime before losing to Northern of Garrett County's state champ, Pete Stein.
"It's a tough tournament all the way around," said Franklin coach Scott Delpo. "I just hope we don't beat each other up too much for states."