Lewnes tough to pin down

Wrestling: Mount St. Joseph's Mack Lewnes, who is 61-9 in two seasons, is the nation's top-rated sophomore in the 152-pound class.

High Schools

January 16, 2004|By Lem Satterfield | Lem Satterfield,SUN STAFF

Former NCAA wrestling champion Kelly Ward doesn't mince words when discussing the potential of Mount St. Joseph sophomore Mack Lewnes.

"He knows more wrestling than I did at his age, has more talent, heck, he's better than I was at his age," said Ward, who coached Lewnes alongside Wayne Hicks in the Navy Juniors recreation league program. "He's driven to be the best, and he's got so much natural talent. If he keeps improving at the pace he is, he's definitely going to be an NCAA champion."

Lewnes has returned to the 152-pound weight class in which he earned first-team All-Metro honors last season, and will compete in the inaugural Mount Mat Madness Tournament today and tomorrow at Goucher College.

Considered to be the state's most difficult wrestling invitational, the 21-team field will include host and No. 1 Mount St. Joseph, the defending private schools state champion; No. 2 Owings Mills, the defending public school Class 2A-1A state duals and state tournament champ; and No. 8 Old Mill, which last year won its state-record seventh 4A-3A tournament title. The event also features four of Delaware's Top 10 teams and two of Virginia's.

A defending private schools state champ who lost his National Prep title bout in overtime, Lewnes is the nation's No. 1-rated sophomore in his class, brings into the event a 23-2 record (15 pins) and is 61-9 in two seasons.

Lewnes also should reach tomorrow night's finals and a rematch with Delaware state champ Kyle Skinner of St. Mark's, whom he beat last season, 2-1.

Lewnes already has placed first, second and third in the Beast of the East, Powerade and Iron Man events, respectively - considered, in order, the first-, fourth- and second-most difficult high school invitationals.

Lewnes compares favorably to former Gaels wrestler and NCAA champion Rico Chiaparelli, said Rosedale resident Tom Gaylin, a 24th-year NCAA wrestling official who was referring to Chiaparelli's matches at Mount St. Joseph in the early 1980s.

"Mack's style reminds me a lot of Rico's. And yes, I believe Mack has the ability to be that good," Gaylin said. "Where other wrestlers force moves and telegraph what's coming, Mack is so fluid, so natural in his motions, that his execution seems almost reflexive or by instinct."

Ward, whose son Alex wrestles for the Gaels, often helps coach Jay Braunstein and assistant Dan Youngblood to fine-tune Lewnes' skills in practice.

"I wrestle with Mack once or twice a week, and last week, he was so tough, I had to really turn on the afterburners to get out from the bottom," Ward said. "Coming into the season, I thought I'd still be able to beat Mack going into his senior year. But after this last day, I figure he'll already be whipping me pretty soon."

Ward isn't the only one who gets worn out against Lewnes.

"I have to platoon guys on Mack, and that really helps the room out," Braunstein said. "We're all in a lot better shape because of Mack."

Braunstein watched Lewnes win twice in overtime and once in the final 10 seconds of his last three bouts of the Beast of the East tournament.

"You don't win like that and not have poise," said Braunstein, a Maryland Scholastic Association champ for Mount St. Joseph in the late 1970s. "Plus he's got a body as hard as iron, a great center of gravity and - on his feet - he can lower his elevation [for a takedown] faster than anyone I've ever seen."

Lewnes points to his genes. His father, Charlie, 61, wrestled at Annapolis High and the University of Oklahoma, and his brother, Sam, was a four-time All-Metro performer and The Sun's 2002-2003 All-Metro Wrestler of the Year.

A Mount St. Joseph graduate and a college freshman, Sam attends Oklahoma State with Ryan Davis, another former All-Metro Wrestler of the Year. Davis and Sam Lewnes often return to mentor Mack Lewnes on collegiate wrestling technique.

"[They] teach me a lot of the things they learn in college, and I try to use them in high school, and I think that's an advantage," said Mack Lewnes, who has a 4.0 grade point average.

Lewnes will meet some of his predecessors this weekend: Ernie Fischer and Butch Keaser, Maryland's two native Olympians, will participate along with Ward in the award ceremonies.

"When people compare me to those men, or compliment me, ultimately, that means they respect me," Lewnes said. "I hope to do well, go to the Olympics, all of those things, and I believe in my heart that I have the confidence and the drive to do it."

Ward goes further, adding: "I think Mack could be better than anybody. I believe Mack can be the best ever to come out of the state of Maryland."

What: Mount Mat Madness Tournament

Where: Goucher College Sports Center

When: Today - first round, 4; Tomorrow - consolation prelims, 9; semifinals, 10; consolation rounds, 12; consolation semifinals, 2:30; consolation finals, 5; championships, 7:30.

Tickets: $5 (gym will be cleared before tomorrow night's championships). All-session pass is $12.

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