Eveleth's workdays are paying off

College wrestling: For Pennsylvania freshman Matt Eveleth, who starred at Chesapeake-AA, grueling training has led to a starting spot for the nation's No. 16 team.

College Wrestling

February 28, 2003|By Luke Broadwater | Luke Broadwater,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

It's 6:30 a.m., five hours before his first class on a typical Monday, but freshman Matt Eveleth is making his way to the University of Pennsylvania weight room. He knows he's going to sweat, ache and push himself to his breaking point.

After all, 7 a.m. means "circuit training" done NCAA wrestling style: 12 different exercises, 30 seconds at a time, no rest.

"It's insane," Eveleth said of the day's first workout. "It's the hardest thing I've ever done in my life."

If Eveleth is lucky, the day's second workout - a two-hour wrestling session at 4 p.m. - won't include a "grind match," which coach Roger Reina describes as an extremely intense "live" match that can last an entire hour.

The hard work, Eveleth is finding, has translated into making a name for himself in NCAA Division I wrestling.

After being named The Sun's All-Metro Wrestler of the Year last season as a senior at Chesapeake High School in Anne Arundel County, Eveleth has cracked the starting lineup of the No. 16 college team in the country.

Eveleth, 133 pounds, has posted a 20-15 record and placed third at the Keystone Classic. This week, he ranked third in the Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association, one of the country's tougher leagues, whose championship tournament will be held March 7 and 8.

"I've just been listening to my coaches. They have been pointing out the little things that I'm doing wrong," said Eveleth, who went 132-4 at Chesapeake. "They're making me better."

After all, Reina has a history of making kids better. A 17-year veteran with the program who has coached 13 All-Americans and an Olympic champ, Brandon Slay, Reina sees much success in the future for the Marylander.

"Down the road, the sky is the limit for Matt," he said. "This year, he's in a good position to qualify for the NCAA tournament and do well there."

Success stories have been few for Maryland wrestlers in college. Last year, only five Maryland natives qualified for the Division I championship tournament. All were seniors.

Along with the likes of West Virginia's Brandon Lauer (River Hill), Navy's Frank Edwards (Sherwood), Harvard's Max Meltzer (Bullis/Blair Academy, N.J.) and Columbia's Matt Palmer (Bullis/Blair), Eveleth is hoping to help in a resurgence of Maryland wrestling on the collegiate scene.

In a conference that takes 36 wrestlers out of 10 weight classes to the NCAA tournament, Eveleth is in a good position to make the tournament as a freshman.

But the road to the tournament won't be an easy one.

"Every match is like a state championship match," said Eveleth, who won three state titles after finishing second as a freshman. "It's unbelievable. Everybody has something up their sleeve, something they can do to beat you. It's no joke."

Meanwhile, Eveleth has held his own with some of the nation's elite wrestlers at his weight. He lost, 8-2, to returning All-American Zach Roberson of Iowa State, who owns a technical fall over Lauer this season.

In his latest dual meet, Eveleth lost, 6-2, to Lehigh's Cory Cooperman, a four-time National Prep champion out of Blair Academy in New Jersey, who is ranked No. 7 nationally.

Eveleth's performances have been impressive, Reina said. "He's an extremely hard worker. He's impressively strong physically and mentally as a freshman."

The match Eveleth said he is most proud of is a 5-4 victory over fellow Marylander Meltzer. A three-time state champion, Meltzer transferred for his senior year to Blair Academy - the New Jersey Mecca of high school wrestling - where he won a National Prep title.

"It was great beating him because he went to Blair and everything, and he was ranked ahead of me," Eveleth said of Meltzer, against whom Eveleth overcame a two-point, third-period deficit to win the match.

With the win, Eveleth is gearing for the EIWA tournament, where he expects to get a third seed - behind Alejandro Alvarez of Cornell and Cooperman, both of whom have defeated him this season.

"I'm starting to peak right now. I'm really ready for this part of the season," he said. "I have nothing to lose."

He needs to place in the top two of the tournament to guarantee himself a spot at the NCAA tournament.

Eveleth is the one of four multiple state champs from Maryland at Pennsylvania, but the only one starting. Mike Faust (Gilman) and Eveleth's older brother, Jeff (Chesapeake-AA), are taking leaves of absence from the mat. Faust, a sophomore, is training at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado in preparation for next season at Penn. Jeff Eveleth, a junior who had knee surgery recently, is expected to wrestle at 141 pounds when he returns next year. Geoff Miller (McDonogh) lost a close wrestle-off to starter Matt Herrington.

Despite his success, Matt Eveleth said he is still ribbed by teammates who hail from more traditionally successful wrestling states, such as Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

"I'll be talking about something and someone will say, `Dude, you're from Maryland,' " Eveleth said.

How does he respond? "I tell them, `Hey, we have good lacrosse.' "

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