Aiming higher

No. 1 McDonogh refuses to rest on its laurels


December 05, 2007|By Glenn Graham | Glenn Graham,SUN REPORTER

Before each season, McDonogh wrestling coach Pete Welch asks his team to make a list of individual goals along with details on how to achieve them.

They can be as basic as a younger wrestler wanting to get a takedown on teammate and National Preps champ Nick Schenk during practice or as challenging as becoming a first-time state champion.

After All-Metro senior tri-captain Josh Fitch carefully compiled his list, he made sure to save room at the bottom of the page for his biggest goal.

"I put a star down and next to it I wrote: `If I lose a match, I'm not going to be satisfied with the way the season went.' I just want to win - keep pushing forward and get as good as I can," said Fitch, a three-time Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference and private schools state champion.

Fitch has the highest of standards, and the same could be said for the No. 1 Eagles, who are aiming for their third straight dual meet title along with their third straight in the conference and state tournaments.

The numbers and impressive resumes in the wrestling room warrant the lofty expectations. The Eagles have 13 starters returning from last year's team that went 17-3 and finished ranked No. 1 by the Maryland State Wrestling Association.

As a freshman, Schenk went 43-0 in the 103-pound class, with MIAA and state crowns to go with his National Preps title. Fitch and juniors Shane Milam and Curtis Holmes came away with MIAA and state crowns, while junior Alex Pagnotta was an MIAA champion. Four other returnees were MIAA runners-up.

Just how deep are the Eagles?

Fitch said it's not rare to see a state champion get beat at practice in an indicator match.

Welch said the quantity that comes with the quality is the clear strength of the team.

"There's not one superstar in the room," he said. "We have a national champ, but we also have a three-time national place-winner; four state champs in there and 10 or so state place-winners. We had Nick Schenk go undefeated last year, but he also has to battle in our room every day because there's so many good, older kids in there."

After starting their run in 2005 behind senior standouts Bryn Holmes (older brother of Curtis) and Joe Breen, last year's team had promising underclassmen minus the experienced leadership that helps keep a team together. With a more challenging schedule that featured more national-level competition, the 2006 Eagles "just kept amazing us all the way through," Welch said.

With seniors now at the front - led by Fitch and fellow captains Ben Levin and Kramer Whitelaw - McDonogh has beefed up its schedule like never before to try to get the most out of the talented cast.

"This season is a little different because, opposed to last year, we had no seniors that mostly started for us," said Levin, a state runner-up last season. "Last year was the first time we ever competed with that heavy a schedule, and now we're just taking it another step forward. Our competition and experience has grown, and I think we as a team have grown with it."

While the out-of-conference schedule will present one difficult test after another, the Eagles are well aware what the demanding MIAA competition brings. Constantly lurking are fellow metro-area powers Archbishop Curley and Mount St. Joseph, with the likes of Calvert Hall, John Carroll, Loyola and St. Mary's among the others ready to push back.

"Our initiative to begin with is that we want to wrestle as strong and competitive as we can in every weight class. Against a team like McDonogh, who we know has a solid performer at every weight class, that just further intensifies what each one of our guys needs to do," Curley coach Greg Kessler said. "You really have to wrestle a very sharp match."

That's what the Eagles have come to expect - every team's best.

"Every match in the MIAA, there's something we're fighting for - whether it's a seed for the tournament or just pride because it's a crosstown rival," Welch said. "There's always a lot on the line when we wrestle all those teams, and that's what makes it so exciting."

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