It's been more than five seasons since River Hill wrestling coach Brandon Lauer took his team to a regular season bracketed tournament.
The thinking was that a bracketed tournament only allows a wrestler three or four matches, as opposed to a dual meet tournament, where a wrestle can face up to eight different opponents.
But this weekend, Lauer mixed things up by taking his defending state tournament champion Hawks to the 19-team Franklin Invitational, and apparently, the time away did them no harm.
"We've got some young kids that I wanted to get the experience of an individual tournament before the postseason, that was the mentality," said Lauer, whose team crowned five champions and scored 220.5 points to win the team title. "We wanted to come up here and wrestle a little different competition ... we figured it would be a good tournament for us."
Owings Mills, the 2012 1A/2A state dual meet finalist, finished in second place, with 206 points.
Michael Beck (106), Lee Carter (132), Brian Kirby (170), Cory Daniel (195) and Logan Kirby (220) all won championships for River Hill. Of those five, only Carter is a senior.
Taariq Mohammed (113) and Casey Guthier (160) lost in the finals to place second.
Beck, Daniel and Logan Kirby are all still undefeated.
Daniel, who pinned Hereford's Brock Turnbaugh in the second period of their finals match, was named the tournament's Outstanding Upperweight.
"I just wanted to get after it and get off the mat. I just wanted to go hard until I pinned him and that's what happened," said the junior, who improved to 27-0 at the tournament. "I don't think I've hit my peak yet, which is good. I want to hit it in a few weeks for the postseason ... I want to finish off strong."
Centennial freshman Austin Kraisser, the 138-pound champion, was named Outstanding Lowerweight.
Daniel's practice partner, junior Logan Kirby (220), kept pace by defeating county rival Ryan Hassan of Mt. Hebron, 6-2, in their championship match.
Last year, Logan Kirby (22-0) watched his teammate — 2012 county champion Jacob Benedict — wrestle Hassan (26-2) on multiple occassions.
"I got to watch them wrestle so I kind of knew what Jacob did that worked," said Kirby, who was a county champion and state finalist at 195 pounds last year. "I knew (Hassan) was going to be a strong kid and very formidable opponent, but it was nice to finally get a shot at him and get used to his type of wrestling."
The match was tied 1-1 after two periods, but Kirby took Hassan down to his back for a five-point swing with less than a minute remaining in the third period.
"My practice partner is Cory (Daniel) and we usually go 1-1 in the third period, or it will be like 3-1, so I'm kind of used to that situation," he said. "That's my training situation a lot, so I knew that if I wrestled my pace, my style of match, that I could pull something out."
Kirby was joined by his younger brother, sophomore Brian Kirby, atop the podium for the first time since junior league wrestling.
Brian Kirby (170) held a 2-0 lead over his top-seeded Northwestern opponent, Brandon Pitts, after the first period. But Pitts held Kirby (22-4) down for the entire second period to reclaim control of the match.
"He was able to hold me down. He's really strong, so I couldn't get an escape," said Brian Kirby, who lost control of Pitts early in the third period, but rallied with a takedown and two-point nearfall in the third period to win the match, 6-1. "In the third period I knew we were both tired, so if I let him up I knew I'd have to take him down. That right-off-the-whistle shot really gets tired people off guard. I was able to take him down and won the rest of the match."
Brian Kirby, a starting linebacker on the River Hill state champion football team, was a county finalist at 138 pounds last year, but had a growth spurt in the offseason and then packed on weight and muscle for football season.
"The increase of weight was really a change for me early in the year. I had to change my wrestling style up a lot. I had to get stronger, because they're a lot stronger up here. But I think I'm adapting to it really well," he said. "All spring and summer we lifted so I think that really helped me. And getting up to 185 for football, I was used to that weight, so carrying it around is fine with me."
Because of its strong ties with the football team in recent years, River Hill wrestling has earned a reputation for having outstanding upperweight wrestlers. But the lower weights have been pulling their weight.
Lee Carter (132) especially enjoyed the chance to wrestle a bracketed tournament, as he defeated Hereford's Kevin Wheeler, 4-0, to become a Franklin Invitational champion.
"I've done all right at the countys and regions, but this is the first time I've actually had great success" at a tournament, said Carter, who is now 22-6.
Carter, the fourth-seed, pinned top-seeded Alfred Martinez of Dundalk with 22 seconds left in their semifinal match.
"Today as a whole I wrestled some of the best wrestling I've had all year," he said. "I've been getting in good shape at practice, and I've been drilling shot defense, which is something I struggled at earlier in the season."
River Hill's best wrestler when it comes to shot defense might be junior Michael Beck (106), who hadn't given up a takedown all year coming into Saturday's championship round.
In the finals, Beck (27-0) finally gave up a takedown, to Owings Mills' Jake Rendelman, but he recovered to score his third pin of the tournament.
"It wasn't really on my mind at the time, but during the match when I got taken down I actually thought about it," said Beck, who lost in overtime in last year's county tournament finals. "But I won the match and that's the only thing that really matters."
As a first year varsity wrestler last year, Beck finished 38-11 without placing at the state tournament. But he is now one of the top-ranked lightweights in the state.
"In the offseason I went out to Fargo, North Dakota for a tournament, and just went to all the Team Maryland training. That just opened a lot of doors and opened up a lot of technique that I wasn't familiar with yet and just made me a better wrestler overall," he said.
The Hawks, who also got a third-place finish from senior heavyweight Justin Nestor, will now prepare for Wilde Lake on Jan. 24, and further down the line, undefeated league rival Glenelg on Feb. 1. That match could decide the regular season county champion.
"We've all been working hard," Brian Kirby said. "Of course our goal is to win states. We're on a path right now, but if we just keep our practice techniques going, and keep working hard, lifting, doing agility, I think we'll do well."
Mt. Hebron, which placed fourth as a team with 123 points, sent Hassan, Connor Strunk (145) and Joe Kendrick (152), to the finals. Jeff Hayden (113) won, 9-7, in overtime of the consolation finals to take third.