The 2011-2012 wrestling season is shaping up to be a year of firsts for Howard County.
Not only will wrestlers be forced to get used to 10 new weight classes, the most drastic change to weight classifications since 1989 when the 103-pound class was introduced, but more importantly, two wrestlers have the opportunity to become the county's first four-time state champions.
If Centennial's Nathan Kraisser (132 pounds) and Oakland Mills' Tony Farace (120) end this season the same way that they have ended each of their first three, with a win in the state finals, they will become the fifth and sixth four-time state champions in Maryland history.
Three Howard County wrestlers — Oakland Mills' Jeff Rosenberg (1986-1988), River Hill's Brandon Lauer (1998-2000) and Hammond's Vince Taweel (2004-2006) — ended their high school careers as three-time state champions.
"I'm excited for this year. I don't want to look too far ahead to states but I want to go out there and have fun and wrestle hard and keep up what I've been doing," said Kraisser, who has committed to wrestle for the University of North Carolina next year. "It's the last year of high school. I'm the upperclassman now, I'm the guy, but I'm also thinking that next year is college, so I can't relax. Next year is a big step so I've got to keep going strong."
Farace lost to Kraisser in the county tournament finals each of his first two seasons, but will be looking to win his second consecutive county title this year.
"I've just got to work a little harder this year like always, put a little more into everything I do, more weights, more cardio, more drilling," he said. "I don't really feel a lot of pressure because it's the same as the past three years ... I think I'm really just having more fun with it than anything ... but it's also kind of sad to know that my high school career is coming to an end."
While Kraisser has his college plans in place, Farace is motivated by his lack of a college commitment.
"I'm definitely planning on wrestling in college ... and I'm just hoping to get a spot on a real good team," he said. "I'm really hoping to get to the level that Nathan is on nationally and get some more support from some big-name schools."
As for the new weight classes, 103 pounds is out and 106 is in. As a result, nine other weight classes have been adjusted to 113, 120, 126, 132, 138, 170, 182, 195 and 220. Four weight classes, 145, 152, 160 and 285, will stay the same.
The change was made, according to the National Federation of State High School Associations, to create weight classes that have approximately 7 percent of the total pool of wrestlers in each weight class.
"It's a bit different. There's not as much of a gap so there are going to be more people squeezed into 132 and 126," said Kraisser, who is considering dropping down to 126 for tournaments. "I'm trying to lift and get bigger and get ready for bigger college guys soon, because those guys have man strength."
In team competition, Glenelg will attempt to defend its county tournament and state dual meet titles, though the Gladiators will get a stiff challenge from the likes of Hammond and River Hill, winners of 14 combined county tournament titles since 1993, along with Oakland Mills and Reservoir.
Only two programs will break in new coaches this year, and one of them — Atholton's Bruce Lindblad — really isn't that new at all. Lindblad coached Atholton from 1995 to 2009, when he switched positions with junior varsity coach Haroon Rashed. After two years coaching the JV squad, Lindblad is back as varsity head coach.
At Howard, Shea Conway takes over as head coach. Last year's coach, Tim Murdock, is recovering from surgery. Conway graduated in 2005 from Glenelg, where he was a wrestler and lacrosse player. He went on to play lacrosse for Lycoming College, graduating in 2009, and is now a special education teacher at Howard High.
Last season: 1-10 league, 2-26 overall, 10th at county tournament
Coach: Bruce Lindblad, first season (15th overall)