Eyeing a crowning achievement

Wrestling: Old Mill senior Chris Bonner, who has rebounded from a collarbone injury last season, has his sights set on winning county, regional and state crowns.

January 27, 2002|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,SUN STAFF

Chris Bonner is guided by a purpose.

Like many wrestlers, the Old Mill senior has his sights set on championships - a trio of the county, regional and state variety. And it's obvious that he would like to exceed the 26 victories he accumulated last year.

But what drives Bonner is a chance to rewrite last season's history when he missed the county, regional, and state tournament because of a broken collarbone.

"When I got hurt, I knew that I had to work extra hard to be on top of my game," said Bonner, who wrestles in the 171-pound weight class. "Because this is my last year, after 10 years of wrestling, I finally have to get something out of it."

As far as his coach, Jim Grim, is concerned, a state crown is a given.

"No hesitation," Grim said. "There's nobody in the state who can beat him."

Some would call that arrogance, but the results seem to support Grim's prediction. Bonner is 20-3 and ranked second in the metropolitan area behind only Geoff Miller of private-school power McDonogh.

Since finishing eighth and losing three matches at the NOVA Tournament on the first weekend of the wrestling season, Bonner has captured titles at the Lackey and St. Stephens/St. Agnes invitationals and hasn't dropped a single bout.

Former Patriots coach Vern Hines, who resigned last spring, is fond of comparing Bonner to two-time state champions Chris Combs and Adam DeCosmo.

"They wanted to win, and they wanted to be on the mat," Hines said of his former standouts. "Chris has that."

The journey has been somewhat bumpy for Bonner, who has endured a number of injuries along the way. After six years as a junior-league wrestler, when he was a two-time county champion, Bonner made the leap to Old Mill, a program that boasts 17 county and two state dual-meet crowns; 12 county, 13 regional and six state tournament titles; and 23 individual state champions.

But Bonner chipped a bone in his left knee that required surgery, effectively sidelining him for his freshman year. During the summer, he underwent surgery again to remove a pin designed to fuse together the bones in his knee.

Bonner returned for his sophomore season and compiled a 9-9 record while platooning with Dan Connelly. But he chipped another bone in that same left knee and had his third operation during the summer.

Last season was Bonner's breakout year. He was 26-6 and led the team in pins (14) as the Patriots were favored to compete for their third state dual-meet crown in four years.

But in a 160-pound match at the state dual-meet semifinals, Jason Everhart of Northern of Calvert County slammed Bonner to the mat, breaking his collarbone in two places and forcing him to forfeit six points.

"He hit a throw," Bonner recalled. "I landed on my left shoulder, and he landed on my right. Everything got compressed, and it just snapped."

Old Mill eventually lost by seven points, but Hines said he believes that had Bonner not been injured, he would have won his match and the Patriots would have defeated Northern and faced eventual state dual-meet champion Paint Branch in the final.

"His injury alone could've been the difference for a second-place finish at the very least," Hines said.

Allowing six months for the collarbone to heal, Bonner resumed his training and his mission. Quiet by nature, he has become a leader who doesn't get caught up in hysterics. He prefers to lead by example, according to 152-pound senior Dominick Grossi.

"He works harder," said Grossi, who is Bonner's practice partner. "If I slack off, he steps up and pushes me even more."

Along with Grossi and 112-pound sophomore Doug West, No. 8 Old Mill is in line to defend its county dual-meet title against No. 7 Chesapeake-Anne Arundel on Friday in a tri-meet at Meade.

Bonner's strengths are technique and mental toughness.

"I've realized how intense he truly is before every single match," said Grim, who coached at North County before replacing Hines last summer. "When you see his face before he goes out to the mat, he is so mentally prepared."

Unlike many of his peers, Bonner isn't shy about stating his singular goal this season - winning a state crown.

"It would be extremely disappointing [if I didn't win], but it will be reached," he said matter of factly. "It's my turn."

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