Mt. St. Joe riding high again

Wrestling: With coach Jay Braunstein as its guiding force, the storied Gaels' program is back on track after two years of slippage.

High Schools

January 17, 2003|By Lem Satterfield | Lem Satterfield,SUN STAFF

The action was getting rough between lightweights Bruce Dulski, Louis Ruonevar, Adam Gold and Jon Kohler during the live-wrestling portion of Mount St. Joseph's daily three-hour practice.

After a scuffle, Dulski had blood trickling from a small cut under his chin and Kohler had a six-inch welt running diagonally across his belly.

But no one slowed down.

"It's painful, but it's worth it," Kohler said, smiling as he licked sweat from his lips. "This really is fun."

After two winning but, by the school's own lofty standards, subpar seasons, Mount St. Joseph wresting is back. The Gaels have an 11-0 dual-meet record and a No. 1 ranking by The Sun and the Maryland State Wrestling Association.

Mount St. Joseph and five other Top 10 teams from The Sun poll will be tested today and tomorrow in the Hammond Invitational.

Action will start at 4 p.m. today; the semifinals and finals are scheduled for tomorrow at 10 a.m. and 8 p.m., respectively.

Much of the Gaels' turnaround is due to third-year coach Jay Braunstein, whose belief in team unity, hard work and love for the sport has been pivotal for the team.

"The first two years here were a trust thing," said Braunstein, 44, a former assistant to Mike Hampe when Old Mill won a record six state titles.

"I walked into a great system at Old Mill and learned a lot, but the kids here weren't real positive at first that they could believe in our system."

A 1977 graduate and former wrestling standout at Mount St. Joseph, Braunstein has attracted some of the area's best talent with his knowledge of the sport and emphasis on tradition.

"Coach Braunstein's always bringing alumni around," said senior Tim Bohlman, who is from Pasadena and top-ranked at 125 pounds. "He's always telling us about the past."

The past includes the winning of 22 Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association or Maryland Scholastic Association tournaments, 21 dual-meet crowns and nine National Preps championships from 1976 to 1997.

Braunstein, who is a partner in a home improvement business, exemplifies what many of his wrestlers aspire to achieve. A member of two MSA championship teams, he earned a full wrestling scholarship to Clarion (Pa.) University and twice finished third in his collegiate conference.

Pointing to a sign above the entrance to the Gaels' wrestling room that reads, "What Have You Done Today To Win The National Preps?" assistant coach Dan Youngblood said: "That's the goal of every kid in this room: Win Preps and go to a Division I school."

Mount St. Joseph senior Sam Lewnes (160) already has achieved both goals, having won a National Preps crown last year and earning a full scholarship to national power Oklahoma State.

Lewnes' success attracted others, such as his talented younger brother, Mack (152 pounds), and freshman Alex Ward (130) -- son of former NCAA champion Kelly Ward.

South Carroll transfer Andrew Gold, top-ranked at 103, also saw an opportunity at Mount St. Joseph.

Ward and Gold, a third-place finisher in last year's Class 4A-3A public school state tournament, said they contacted the Gaels -- not the other way around.

"It was my decision. I wanted to improve my technique and gain the national exposure of going to the No. 1 [Beast of the East] and No. 4 [Powerade] tournaments in the country," said Gold, who is 22-3.

"Wrestling's a big deal at St. Joe. When you walk around the school, everyone knows you're a wrestler."

It doesn't hurt that Kelly Ward, 46, occasionally comes by to offer instruction. That and Braunstein's presence are likely to keep Mack Lewnes from following the path taken by such talented Marylanders of the past as Kelly Ward, former Gaels standout Rico Chiapparelli and McDonogh's Ryan Davis.

Those three left their high schools after two years to attend New Jersey's Blair Academy.

"Why would I go to Blair when I've got a good workout partner in Sam, and I can work out with Coach Braunstein when Sam's gone?" Mack Lewnes said.

"It's a tough school, academically, and there's great competition in the room."

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