Shooting for reversal

Broadneck's upset of wrestling power Hammond appears to signal a turnaround for the often-overlooked Bruins.

December 21, 2005|By LUKE BROADWATER | LUKE BROADWATER,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Headed into the finals of the Dec. 10 Bowie Duals, the chances of victory for the Broadneck wrestling team were bleak.

The unranked Bruins found themselves face-to-face with the Golden Bears of Hammond, the defending Class 2A-1A state dual meet champions, who carried with them a 31-match winning streak and a No. 3 ranking.

"I'm not going to lie," said Mike Vakas, a 135-pound senior captain at Broadneck. "We were so nervous. The whole team was nervous. Our families were nervous. Our friends were nervous. I mean, this was Hammond. They're 31-0. State champs."

But then something unexpected happened: Broadneck started to win. The Bruins went on to pull off a 33-31 upset in one of the best victories in the program's recent history.

The Bruins swept the dual's three opening bouts and took four of the first five weight classes. The strength of Hammond's lineup soon rallied back, however, taking a 31-24 lead going into the final two matches.

"I felt from the beginning of the meet that we had a chance," Broadneck head coach Marc Procaccini said. "But when we lost those matches in the middle weights, I thought our chances diminished."

Enter Jeremy Nork, a 171-pound senior who missed most of last season with a knee injury. Nork defeated Hammond's Xavier Langley, 4-3, setting up a final, winner-take-all bout at 189 pounds.

When Broadneck junior Josh Thrift pinned Kosten Harding, a wild celebration broke out on the Bruins' bench.

"I jumped out on the mat," said Vakas, who was named the Outstanding Wrestler at the duals. "I was so happy. The whole team started going crazy."

The surprising win over Hammond signals an upswing in Broadneck's program. But even so, Procaccini urges caution to his athletes.

"We're off to a good start. We have high expectations and we've got some potential," Procaccini said. "That Hammond win, it was big. But I don't want the kids to have their heads swell up. Our goal wasn't just to beat Hammond, but to win the county, region and state championships."

Caution aside, the Bruins are off to a 6-0 start heading into last night's match against Southern. In addition to Hammond, the Bruins have defeated Bowie, Bishop McNamara, Wheaton, Laurel and C. Milton Wright.

Procaccini and his wrestlers attribute the early success to hard work and team unity.

"The difference between this year and last year is simple," Vakas said. "Last year, we were a team. This year, we're a family."

The Bruins' fast start has spurred enthusiasm about the team in the hallways at Broadneck.

"Wrestling has not been a big sport at Broadneck for a long time," Procaccini said. "We're determined to change that. Some of the praise we've gotten from the administration and other people in the school have certainly helped our image at the school. People are starting to get excited about wrestling."

Vakas said he hopes a group of loud Broadneck fans, nicknamed the "Kazmaniacs" after athletic director Ken Kazmarek, will begin attending matches to support the team.

Nork, whose win at 171 was pivotal in the victory over Hammond, said he too believes the team is earning the respect of the student body.

"Our football team is usually the big team at our school," Nork said. "Now everyone is seeing our wrestling team doing good. We're going to have a lot of fans at the matches now."

Broadneck's wrestling team does not appear to have any glaring weaknesses. Most wrestling lineups are a mix of standouts and weaker wrestlers, but Broadneck features a balanced attack, with decent-to-strong wrestlers at most weight classes.

Its most established standout is Vakas, who is 6-0. With 81 wins, Vakas is on pace to become Broadneck's all-time leader in victories, surpassing the mark of 105 set by state champion Shaun Miller in 1992.

But the wins won't come easy for Vakas or his team.

The Bruins face perennial county powers Old Mill on Jan. 10, Severna Park on Jan. 20 and Arundel on Feb. 3.

They also will be participating in the tough Arundel Holiday Tournament on Dec. 28-29, usually considered the state's second-most competitive invitational, behind the Mount Mat Madness tournament in January.

"The Hammond match was a great win for us, but the Arundel tournament will be a much better gauge of how we stack up," Procaccini said.

Nevertheless, the Hammond win "set the tone" for what could likely be a memorable season for Broadneck wrestling, Vakas said.

Now the Bruins are working on keeping that success going.

"It's easy to say we want to win counties, regions and states," said senior captain Xavier Rathlev, who is 5-1 at 152 pounds. "But just because we beat Hammond doesn't mean we're automatically going to win the rest of our matches. We still need to work hard in practice. We still need to push ourselves to achieve those things."

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