Because of the graduation of several veteran wrestlers, Catonsville coach Eric Warm had doubts whether the Comets could be as competitive in dual meets as they were last year when they went 11-3.
Unbeaten after their first seven matches, the Comets are on pace to get back to the Class 4A-3A North Region team tournament.
They qualified as the third seed last year after posting an 11-3 dual meet mark.
Although Urbana appears to be the elite squad in the region, the Comets are jockeying for the second seed with Perry Hall (9-0).
They will get a chance to make a statement when they host the Gators at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday.
Senior veterans Jordan Reynolds (285), Calloway Lee (220) and sophomore varsity returnee Andrew Southwell (112) have led the way for Catonsville.
Reynolds was unbeaten (11-0) when he suffered a knee injury in a 48-18 triumph over Towson on Jan. 7, and he hasn’t wrestled since.
Reynolds suffered the injury, but pinned his opponent 20 seconds later.
Lee and Southwell tuned up for last weekend’s Battle at the Base tournament at Meade High, by placing third in the prestigious Patriot Classic at Northern High the weekend before.
Lee (16-1) won his first three matches by pin and was dropped into the third-place bout by eventual winner Craig Burrris, of Glenelg.
The pair was tied through two overtimes, but Burris won the coin flip and escaped with nine seconds left in sudden death.
“That match actually made me better,” Lee said. “I just have to ride him out longer or don’t ever get in that situation. That match made me mentally better and physically better.”
Lee has been physically better all season while wrestling at 220, instead of heavyweight like he did last year when he weighed 230.
“I have more stamina so I’m able to last a little longer, and I don’t get tired,” he said. “I’m mentally smarter and I’m physically in better shape, stronger and faster.”
Lee qualified for the state tournament last year, but lost both of his matches and finished 30-18.
His goal this year: “State champ,” he said.
Lee thinks he has improved setting up his shots for the right situation and his timing and footwork are better this year.
Southwell (12-4) is learning to deal with losses in his sixth season of wrestling after starting in the Mount St. Joseph junior league.
“You just have to deal with it because a loss is a loss,” Southwell said. “Wrestling is a lot mental.”
“He’s wrestling smarter this year than he was last year and he is dealing with adversity better than he was last year, which shows me he is starting to grow up,” Warm said.
Southwell says he is more technically sound this season and is more confident in his moves.
Doing well at the Patriot Classic gave him a healthy dose of confidence.
“It was a really tough tournament, and I went in with a strong attitude of doing well,” he said.
Kelly Lassiter (13-3, 120 pounds) gained confidence at the Patriot meet by placing fourth.
“He’s doing real well and the guys he has lost to this year have been top- notch wrestlers,” Warm said. “He’s beaten a couple of good wrestlers as well, so he is having a surprisingly good year.”
Adam Dye (10-2, 182), Greg Eads (10-7, 160) and Kojo Danquah (11-7, 170) all placed sixth at the Patriot meet.
Danquah is a defending junior varsity champion and Dye and Eads are veterans.
“Adam Dye and Greg Eads have been starters on varsity since they were in 10th grade, so I’m expecting those guys to place in tournaments,” Warm said.
The coach has also been pleased with the progress of sophomore Jarrod Martin (11-5, 126).
“He has wrestled really well in the dual meets and the tournaments,” said Warm, noting he was one point short of placing at the Patriot meet. “He didn’t even win a match in jayvee counties last year.”
Other Comets who are over .500 this season are Mike Thome (10-5, 106) and Connor Hurd (8-6, 132).
Notes: Catonsville finished seventh in the 16-team at the Battle at the Base tournament at Meade High Jan. 17 and 18 and the following wrestlers placed in the top eight: Lee (2nd), Thome (4th), Lassiter (4th), Hurd (5th), Danquah (5th), Kamal Musallam (7th), Ben Metzler (8th) and Jarrod Martin (8th).