No second thoughts

After finishing as runners-up at states last season, Harford Tech's Mike Long and Matt Kahl are determined to go out as champions.

March 01, 2006|By JEFF SEIDEL | JEFF SEIDEL,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Mike Long of Harford Tech said he'll never forget the feelings of emptiness and disappointment that overwhelmed him when walking off the mat after losing in the championship round of last year's state wrestling tournament. He immediately decided to remember those feelings and use that despair as a motivational tool for his final season.

Teammate Matt Kahl experienced the exact same emotions when he lost in last year's state final. Both wrestlers undertook a brutal workout and practice regimen in hopes of winning individual titles. They will get their chance this weekend, when the state tournament takes place in College Park.

Long was doubly frustrated because he had lost in the Class 2A-1A state title match for two consecutive years. Two years ago, Pikesville's Alex Prezenchuk edged Long, 2-1, in the 112-pound final. Long then suffered a 3-2 loss to Calvert's Ryan Buff in last year's 125-pound final. Buff finished 40-0 overall, but that didn't make Long feel much better.

"I can tell you one thing," said Long, who went 37-5 last season. "After I came off the mat, I never ever wanted to feel like that again."

Kahl didn't place in the states two years ago, then made it all the way to last year's finals at 145 pounds. However, Williamsport's Mike McGill scored a 3-1 decision over Kahl in the championship match.

"I didn't ever want to feel that way again either," said Kahl, who finished last season at 38-5. "It's made me work so much harder than I worked last year. I'm doing what I did last year - times 10."

That hard work, which began last summer, already has paid off. Long (130 pounds) and Kahl (145) both won Upper Chesapeake Bay Athletic Conference and Class 2A-1A East regional titles the past two weekends.

Long and Kahl, who both competed for Team Maryland last summer, toiled endlessly to increase their strength and quickness. Long worked with plyometrics - fitness drills and exercises pointed toward improving agility, footwork and hand-eye coordination. He also hit the weight room hard.

Kahl went to a camp that four-time Pennsylvania state champion Cary Kolat ran last summer, working on finding different moves to use during matches. Just like Long, Kahl pushed hard at finding ways to get quicker and stronger.

The work has continued throughout the season. Both are part of a group of Harford Tech wrestlers that came to regular 6 a.m. workouts at school. Kahl often works with assistant coach Mike Mazza on a variety of moves and techniques during that time. He'll then shower and go to class. Kahl later does weightlifting in a class before going to team practice after school, and adding another workout on his own at night.

Long also does extra workouts after practice and on his own.

"That's what it takes to become a champion," Harford Tech coach Gary Siler said. "I remember that I told both of them that you've got a chance to come back ... and at least you have a chance. There's a lot of kids you can't tell that to because they're seniors. Now they don't want to lose that opportunity, so they've grasped the opportunity."

Jeff Gardner (171), one of five Cobras who have won a UCBAC title, said there's no question that Long and Kahl's drive has had a positive impact on the team.

"Those two have a lot of determination," Gardner said. "It definitely boosts the morale of the team."

Long is ranked first in the state in his weight class, while Northern of Calvert's Collin Leadbeter is second - but Leadbetter is in Class 4A-3A, and the two won't meet. Kahl, however, is ranked third at 145, while top-ranked and state champion Josh Asper from Hereford is first, and the two could meet late in the state tournament.

"I don't believe that anybody, in their minds, can step in their way," Siler said. "I'm very proud of the hard work they've put in."

Kahl and Long agreed that they are going into the tournament relaxed and confident.

"I've put everything I have into it, and I'm ready to go," Kahl said. "It's what I worked my whole life for."

Added Long: "I'm looking forward to going out and taking care of business. I'm not nervous at all. I can honestly said that I've worked hard for everything."

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