The Anne Arundel County wrestling tournament, to begin today at South River, is the start of three demanding weekends - region and states to follow - that measure the degree of success for both teams and individuals.
"This is what we preach at the beginning of the season and all year, working hard and trying to get to the point where we peak for counties, regions and states. This is what it's all about," said Old Mill coach Jim Grim, whose No. 8 Patriots are not only defending county champs, but also region and state titlists.
Last season, the Patriots had star power (three county champions) and depth (12 wrestlers finished fifth or better) to get past runner-up Chesapeake.
A similar performance will be necessary this season with the question left to be answered: Which team can provide it?
From a numbers standpoint, No. 9 Arundel comes into the tournament with a county-high four top seeds led by sophomore county champ Justin Bowser (28-1) at 112.
For No. 6 Chesapeake, senior 119-pounder Corey Bowers (25-0) - one of three top seeds for the Cougars - will go after his fourth county crown.
Old Mill's lone top seed is returning county champ 130-pounder Doug West (27-0), a senior, but the Patriots once again have the tough top-to-bottom lineup that can and must rack up points to have any chance of a successful defense.
"It's going to be close between us, Arundel and Old Mill - real close," said Chesapeake coach Rex Miller. "We're looking to get as many guys in the finals as we can and go from there. Things look good in the practice room, and there's three tough weeks ahead. If everybody does their job, I think we'll be OK."
Joining Bowser, Bowers and West as returning titlists: Annapolis' seniors Ben Graham (21-1 at 140) and Andrew Smith (21-0 at 145); South River junior Andrew Mulry (seeded second behind Bowers with a 27-2 mark at 119); Chesapeake junior Jake Couch (21-7); and Broadneck senior Tyler Moyer (21-1 at 215).
"It's a tough time," said Bowers, who has pinned or won by technical fall against every county opponent this season. "You've got to practice that much harder and mentally prepare for this every night. I'm just going to go out and do what I've been doing all year."
Aiming for top mark
It's been a win-win basketball season for Arundel guard Alex McGuire - the junior's shots are falling, and the No. 1 Wildcats (18-2) are piling up victories.
With 1,314 career points on the books, McGuire needs only eight points tonight against visiting South River to become the program's all-time scoring leader. Former standout guard Sherice Proctor, a 1998 graduate, has the mark to beat, 1,321 points.
After playing inside last season, earning county Player of the Year honors, McGuire returned to the perimeter and has been shooting lights out this season.
"I worked hard over the summer on my outside shot, and everything seems to be clicking. And it's been real nice because we're winning, too," said McGuire, who is averaging 24.8 points a game this season.
In a 71-54 loss to Washington-area power Riverdale Baptist on Jan. 6, the Wildcats' last setback, McGuire became the quickest Wildcat to reach 1,000 points. The game was stopped, and Arundel coach Lee Rogers presented her with a game ball.
McGuire was caught off guard then. But that won't happen this time.
"People keep coming up to me asking, `When you going to break it?' It's neat, but I just want to keep winning ball games," said McGuire.
With 497 points so far this season, she's also closing in on Proctor's single-season mark of 547 points.
Arundel junior guard Alex McGuire is eight points from becoming the Wildcats' all-time career scoring leader. Arundel's top five scorers:
No. Player ................... Graduated .......... Points
1. Sherice Proctor ......... 1998 ................ 1,321
2. Alex McGuire ................. - ....................1,314
3. Jill Marano ................ 2001 ................ 1,291
4. Najmah Fauntleroy ....2001 ................ 1,240
5. Megan Rollins ........... 1999 ................ 1,164
Note: Patty Dages, a 1983 Brooklyn Park graduate, is the county's all-time leading scorer with 2,262 points.