Pair pins hopes on unusual feat

Civan, Taweel try to take down 4 straight titles

November 29, 2006|By Lem Satterfield | Lem Satterfield,Sun reporter

At age 7, Eren Civan struggled with reading and writing before his father, Ibrahim, enrolled him in the Gaithersburg Eagles' youth wrestling program "to channel his energy" and "turn him around." Vince Taweel, a rough-and-tumble 10-year-old, often was called for fouling in youth soccer games before his father, Ramsey, signed him up for youth wrestling's Howard County Vipers.

The slender boys took their lumps for years before winning junior league state titles as eighth-graders. Still, entering high school, neither was as highly touted as predecessors Danny April (Eagles) or Brandon Lauer (Vipers), three-time state champs, respectively, at Churchill and River Hill.

"Modest," said Taweel, describing his expectations of himself as a Hammond freshman. "I figured to be a steady contributor at best."

But Taweel and Civan, who wrestles for Montgomery County's Walt Whitman, enter their senior seasons on the verge of winning their fourth straight Maryland public school titles. They would be just the third and fourth wrestlers to do so.

Taweel (110-7 career record) will compete at 135 pounds - one class below 140, where he decisioned Stephen Decatur's Latra Collick last year for his third 2A-1A crown. Civan (120-0) rises to 160, where he is favored to add a fourth 4A-3A crown. Civan beat Taylor Green, River Hill's three-time finalist, at 152 for his third title last year.

Maryland national team assistant coach Brad Howell called Civan "probably the smartest wrestler I've ever coached," and Taweel "a brilliant match wrestler with uncanny mat sense."

Both are "A" students. Civan will wrestle at Columbia University. Taweel has drawn interest from Columbia as well as Maryland, Duke, American, Princeton and Harvard.

"Vince and I have become good friends over the past few years," Civan said. "In the offseason, we travel to tournaments together and practice with each other."

Taweel and Civan are not unlike Matt Slutzky and Steve Kessler, neither of whom was a junior league champ. Yet as a 135-pound Aberdeen senior in 1992, Slutzky (122-5-1) became Maryland's first four-time public school titlist. Then, in 1997, as a 152-pound Owings Mills senior, Kessler completed a 148-0 career record by winning his fourth state crown.

"Not winning in junior leagues made me hungrier. Winning states meant the world to me," said Slutzky, 32. "I bet it's the same with the other guys."

Others came close but failed to win four titles. Three-time champs Fran Jackson of North Carroll and Craig Middledorf of Paint Branch lost title bouts as juniors. April failed to win a fourth title as a senior in 2004, when he also lost a dual meet bout, 5-3, to Civan.

"I don't speak in terms of when, but if I can keep the streak intact," said Taweel, a winner of 17 straight matches and 48 of his past 49. "Sometimes, I get so jumpy about a match it makes me sick."

Characterized by sleek upper torsos, thick, muscular legs and deceptive leverage and power, Taweel and Civan rely on mental toughness, savvy and a wealth of moves.

"It's not necessarily being stronger, more powerful, more physical, as much as good positioning, timing, weight distribution and a willingness to learn," Slutzky said.

Like Kessler, Civan was an undersized 130-pounder in ninth grade who earned his first title against a senior in double overtime. Kessler edged Northeast's Matt Jewer on riding criteria; Civan escaped four seconds into the extra session to win, 9-8, over Woodlawn senior Corey Lawson.

"I worried about Lawson's quickness, his ability to attack from any position," said Civan, who overcame three takedowns by Lawson, a stalling point penalty and a booing crowd. "My emotions ran high, but I kept my composure."

In their first title bouts, Taweel and Slutzky faced rivals for the fourth time. Wrestling at 119, Slutzky scored his third straight win, 8-2, over Fallston's Dan Jenkins, whom he battled to a tie in their first match. Wrestling at 125, Taweel required an escape for a 1-0 decision and his third straight win over Oakland Mills senior Jeff Plasse, against whom he lost, 3-2, in their first meeting.

"Losing to Plasse was motivation for my next three matches against him," Taweel said. "It's one of the landmark matches, like last year's win over [Hereford's repeat state champion] Josh Asper."

But as public school wrestlers, Taweel and Civan "have doubters" among those from private schools, DeMatha assistant Drew Robertson said. Twice National Prep champ, Robertson believes Civan's reputation took a hit when a scheduling conflict kept Whitman out of last year's Mount Mat Madness Tournament - considered one of the nation's premier events - even though Civan won it as a sophomore. Taweel failed to place at last year's MMM after suffering a shoulder injury.

"I'm sure Civan wanted to be there," said McDonogh graduate Bryn Holmes, who won Civan's weight at the MMM. "Civan's one of the nation's best, and I want to wrestle the best."

lem.satterfield@baltsun.com

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