No. 7 John Carroll, No. 9 Curley take aim at No. 5 Owings Mills at Franklin Invitational

John Carroll wrestling coach Keith Watson believes his No. 7 Patriots should be ranked higher than No. 5 Owings Mills. Archbishop Curley coach Gregg Kessler thinks the same about his No. 9 Friars.

To prove their points, they've committed their teams to the Franklin Invitational wrestling tournament that begins Friday.

The reason John Carroll and Curley have chosen to wrestle at the 15-team Franklin tournament also has something to do with Mount Mat Madness, a tournament they usually attend, being canceled for this year. But both have made a point that the rare chance to face Owings Mills is one they don't want to pass up.

"It has nothing to do with Owings Mills coach Guy Pritzker," said Watson, whose team is 10-1. "I admire what he's done with his team in a difficult situation. In fact, I think he is probably right up there with the greatest coaches we've had in the state. But this is the only way we can get on the map with Owings Mills. I can't get him to wrestle my team in a dual meet. It's a philosophical difference. I want my team to be toughened during the season. He won't wrestle any of the private schools. He won't schedule any team he thinks has a good chance at beating him."

For Kessler, who wrestled for Pritzker at Owings Mills — as did his two younger brothers, Steve and Mike — the reason is similar, though the personal feelings for his former coach keep him from being quite so blunt.

"I'm very much looking forward to the tournament because it will give me a [rare] opportunity to coach against my best friend," said Kessler, who won three state titles wrestling at Owings Mills. "I also want to see how my team measures up against good public school wrestling."

When told Owings Mills (15-1) is having injury, weight and health issues that have taken at least four starters out of the lineup, Kessler allowed some of the competitiveness he feels to escape.

"I don't know if our match would be close even when the lineups were at full strength," he said.

Besides Franklin, Curley, John Carroll and Owings Mills, 11 other schools will be in the mix: Centennial, with its nationally ranked 126-pounder Nathan Kraisser, Hereford, Westminster, Overlea, Eastern Tech, Northwestern, Mount Hebron, Glen Burnie, Joppatowne, Glenelg and Mount Airy Christian Academy.

Pritzker's teams are often ranked among the top 10, both locally and statewide (Owings Mills is No. 8 by the Maryland State Wrestling Association). And Pritzker admits freely his philosophy is to take his team to tournaments in which they can do well. But, he says his goal is not to win a tournament so much as it is to go where his individual wrestlers can do well and build their confidence for a strong postseason run.

"We don't go into tournaments looking to beat another team or make a point," Pritzker said. "We go for the experience. Having John Carroll and Curley at Franklin will make a good competitive tournament. I'd never root for a private school team, but if I have to lose to one, I don't mind losing to Gregg's team. He was like a son to me, like family. Gregg was my favorite wrestler from the time he was five or six years old.

"Gregg is a better coach than me. He should beat me. But I think I can beat the John Carroll coach. I think if he wants to go on the mat, I could take him. But if anyone beats Taran Carr [160 pound, state 1A-2A champion] they have to be at the top of their game. He's the best wrestler in the state."

That statement sets off another debate, but there's no denying the competition at 160 will be fierce with Carr, Curley's Brett Brigman, John Carroll's Hunter Ritter and Hereford's Billy Hess in the mix.

While all the pre-tournament fireworks are going on, Franklin coach Mike Slaughter is just trying to stay out of the fire. But when asked if he'll be rooting for fellow public school Owings Mills against John Carroll and Curley, Slaughter said no.

"I wouldn't say I'll be pulling for Owings Mills," Slaughter said. "They're our big rivals. I think we might take some pleasure [in seeing them getting beat]."

The tournament begins at 4 p.m. Friday with the quarterfinals set for 7 p.m. It continues Saturday at 9:30 a.m. with the championship finals scheduled for 5 p.m.

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