Maryland wrestlers have been competing in the USA Wrestling Junior & Cadet National Championships for the past 50 years. This week, the state will send 65 competitors — its largest group ever — to the event in Fargo, North Dakota.
Logan Breitenbach, a rising junior at Archbishop Spalding, is unique among the Maryland representatives because he will be competing in the 2012 FILA Cadet Pan American Wrestling Championships in Maracaibo, Venezuela before heading to Fargo.
"I'm really excited to represent my country," Breitenbach said. "I think I surprised myself at the qualifying meets. But this is the first step to my dream of one day being an Olympic wrestler."
Breitenbach, one of 10 wrestlers on the U.S. team for the championships in Venezuela, earned his spot in the 152-pound weight class by winning the Southeast Regional Championships in Atlanta in May, and then placing fourth at the FILA Cadet Nationals in Akron, Ohio in early June.
He will compete in the Greco-Roman style in the Pan Am championships and then join his Maryland teammates in Fargo to compete in both Greco-Roman and freestyle competitions. Breitenbach will return to Maryland on July 23, his 17th birthday.
Breitenbach was encouraged to compete in the sport when he was 8 years old by his father, Jay, who was a wrestler at Chesapeake High in Pasadena.
Many of the other Maryland wrestlers appreciate Breitenbach's work ethic.
"He's one of the hardest working kids in the room," said Good Counsel's Kyle Snyder, who won the 220-pound national title in the Cadet class in freestyle wrestling as a freshman last year in Fargo and will move to the Junior level this year.
Breitenbach and Snyder joined the other Team Maryland wrestlers at the Naval Academy for a three-day workout to learn new rules, while sharpening and perfecting their moves.
The workout is part of a 12-day program organized by Neil Adleberg, who also arranges the Mount Mat Madness tournament for some of the top teams on the East Coast during the high school wrestling season.
The preparation began at former U.S. Olympian Cary Kolat's wrestling club and includes stops at the Naval Academy, American University and the University of Maryland before the team departs for Fargo on Friday. Along the way, the wrestlers are instructed by Olympians, NCAA champions and college coaches.
"Over the last 50 years Maryland has averaged 3.3 All-Americans at the national tournament," Adleberg said. "But there have been 35 in the last three years. And the highest number we've ever had in one year is 15 and that was three years ago. This year, we'd like to tie that number."
The idea of the training sessions is to help the Maryland wrestlers learn a new way to wrestle. They go from the scholastic wrestling style, called folk style, used in high school and college to the freestyle and Greco-Roman styles practiced around the world.
Navy assistant coach Mike Letts, who won a University National Championship in freestyle, said freestyle wrestling translates well to the high school version of the sport because, unlike Greco-Roman, it allows wrestlers to use the lower part of the body for offense and defense.
"It teaches good habits and principles of wrestling," Letts said. "It makes these kids pay attention to details and you'll see them not going out of bounds as much. We try to improve what they have, help them to make their moves more crisp and then show them an alternative, teach a couple new moves."
"This really helps me stay sharp," Perry Hall's 106-pound Class 4A-3A state champion Zeke Salvo said. "It also provides me with a lot of technique and lets me find out if I wasn't doing something right. The coaches at these clinics help you get the optimum out of yourself."
McDonogh rising sophomore Mike Smith, who finished fourth in the 182-pound weight class at the Maryland Independent Schools tournament this year, hopes to win two national titles in Fargo.
Austin Kraisser, who will be a freshman at Centennial in the fall, wants to earn All-American status in both freestyle and Greco-Roman by placing in the top eight finishers at 132 pounds.
Breitenbach points to his personal conditioning and desire as reasons why he believes he'll win a gold medal in Venezuela and follow that with more success in Fargo.
"I have a really good gas tank," Breitenbach said. "I can go the full six minutes and overtime without stopping. And I have a really strong passion. I want to win."