Wrestling with expectations

After a surprising run to the Class 2A-1A state title as a freshman, Hereford sophomore Josh Asper knows the pressure is on to repeat.


Josh Asper had moderate expectations entering last year's Class 2A-1A state wrestling tournament. "I figured, `If I win, I win, and if I lose, I'll work for third place,' " he said.

But Asper stunned the field if not the entire tournament audience by completing a 39-5 season to become Hereford's first freshman state titlist. Asper's four-bout run at 135 pounds included wins over regional champs Latra Collick of Stephen Decatur, Jeffers Frazier of Calvert and Chad Cotterman of Walkersville; the three had a combined 105-3 record before meeting Asper.

"First time I saw Josh was at states, and I thought he'd get pummeled," said Hammond 140-pound junior Vince Taweel, a two-time state champion. "But he surprised everybody, showing extreme poise as a freshman the way he handled everyone."

The sophomore takes a 32-2 record and much higher expectations into this weekend's Class 2A-1A state tournament. Ranked No. 1 in The Sun at 145 pounds, Asper looks to join Steve Herbert and D.J. Scarponi as the only Hereford wrestlers to win two state titles. Herbert won consecutive crowns in 1970 and '71, while Scarponi was a titlist in 2003 and last March.

"There's more pressure to do well. This year, I'm expected to win all of my matches, with few exceptions," said Asper, 15. "Winning states will be harder, but I feel obligated to in order not to let myself or my team down."

Ron Belinko, Baltimore County's athletics coordinator who coached wrestling at Overlea and Eastern Tech for 10 years through 1979, said Asper "reminds me of Steve Herbert."

"Technique-wise, with his work ethic, and his dedication to the weight room, you couldn't find a better athlete," Belinko said of Asper, who bench-presses 230 pounds. "He's a good, strong, hard-working youngster with quickness, speed and strength. He could be a dominant force over the next few years."

But Asper faces a strong field that should include Lansdowne's Jerry Lipscomb, Atholton's Ryan Conroy, Poolesville's Roger Torres and Harford Tech's Matt Kahl. Kahl, Lipscomb and Torres return to 145 pounds, where they placed second, third and fourth at states, respectively, last season. Conroy, a two-time Howard County champ, was fourth at states last year at 140.

Asper has beaten Lipscomb three times already. Asper dominated Lipscomb, 15-2, in last weekend's Class 2A-1A regional final, outscoring him, 10-2, in the third period, including six near-fall points. Asper's other big wins are a 3-1 decision over Collick and a 5-4 decision over Broadneck's Abe Hunter, a recent overtime loser to Annapolis' Bubby Graham in their Anne Arundel County tournament final.

Asper has won tournament titles at Franklin and Francis Scott Key, along with a runner-up finish at Parkville. His only losses have come to Taweel (by 8-7) and state champ Mark Tsikerdanos of Frederick County's Tuscarora (by 5-1).

"I think Josh can clearly be one of the great ones. There aren't many kids with Josh's brand of determination," said Bulls coach Ron Causey, a '77 Hereford graduate. "I'd have been thrilled for him to have placed third, but he's working harder and is a lot more focused this year."

Asper's parents, Jeff and Glenda, learned to expect the unexpected from their son "as soon as he could walk, which was around 9 or 10 months old," his father said.

"It seemed like Josh was always getting into things. He just always had a ton of energy," Jeff Asper said. "When he was 4, we'd catch him hanging upside down from the door trim by his hands and feet. When he was 5, he'd scale our neighbor's 7-foot picket fence, go in their yard to play with their dog, or sit on top of the fence and just watch him."

A baseball and basketball player during his early years, Josh followed his older brother, Ryan, into football, lacrosse and wrestling. As a midfielder on last spring's junior varsity lacrosse team, Asper led the Bulls to a county runner-up finish. As a linebacker-running back in junior varsity football this past fall, Asper made five interceptions and scored nine touchdowns.

Asper's best finish in a state wrestling meet prior to last season was as junior leaguer in the eighth grade, when he was runner-up to Graham of Annapolis. Asper was third and second, respectively, in Baltimore County and the Class 2A-1A North regional last year.

"My freshman year was only my fifth year in wrestling," said Asper, who has a 3.2 grade point average and is an avid snowboarder and surfer. "But I was wrestling D.J. Scarponi every day, and he was a great partner because he was thinking about another state championship. Every day, D.J. and I would go at it. He helped me win and I helped him."

At states, Asper overcame Collick (36-1 record) to win, 5-4; routed Frazier (34-0), 13-4; and defeated Cotterman (35-2), a state runner-up the previous year, 8-2. This year, Asper is the central figure in what could well be the wrestling program's most successful season ever.

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