Asking John Carroll senior George Weber about his possible matchup Friday with McDonogh junior Jack Clark, the 2012 National Prep champion at 145 pounds, is a "sensitive" subject, Patriots coach Keith Watson said. Weber has lost to Clark in every match between the two wrestlers, including two state championship bouts and once already this season.
But the matches have mostly been close, some of them painfully so.
What separates the Maryland State Wrestling Association's No. 1 and No. 2 wrestlers in the 145-pound weight class is not easily discerned by the coaches who have seen them both numerous times.
"They're both really good wrestlers," McDonogh coach Pete Welch said. "When two good wrestlers meet, it's often not that one is better than the other. Sometimes it's just that one guy turns one way and the other guy another way, and it just works out that one winds up on top. Jack has been fortunate to come out on top in most of them."
But that could change when the Eagles and the Patriots wrestle the first match in the 10-team McDonogh Holiday Duals tournament this weekend.
In fact, it could be a weekend full of surprises, as No. 5 John Carroll has quietly been preparing to take on three defending state champions — No. 1 McDonogh (Maryland Independent Schools), No. 2 Winters Mill (Class 2A-1A) and No. 3 River Hill (Class 4A-3A).
"John Carroll is as good as all three of us," Welch said. "They could run the table."
McDonogh and John Carroll will kick things off at 2 p.m. Friday in the two-day, round-robin event that will give each of the competing teams nine matches.
"It's a MIAA match," Watson said. "Neither Pete nor I want to risk a kid getting injured before our match, and we want our teams fresh because it counts in our league records."
A key match between the teams will be the one between Weber and Clark.
Though the two could meet several more times this season, depending on how they fare in early rounds of postseason tournaments, this is expected to be their second meeting of the winter.
The two faced each other in the quarterfinals of the prestigious Beast of the East tournament in Newark, Del., last weekend.
Clark topped Weber once again, this time with a 5-0 decision. He finished second at 145 pounds in the tournament, while Weber took sixth.
"It would mean a lot to me to beat him," Weber said. "I've come up short. He's won states, and I've been second each of the last two years. We'll see each other in the first match at the McDonogh Duals and I want him. I've been training for him. He's the guy I have to take out."
Watson said his wrestler "is definitely good enough" to beat Clark — or junior Toby Hague, the No. 1-ranked wrestler at 152 pounds, who could drop down a weight class and wrestle in the spot.
"But Clark kind of gets in his head," Watson said. "It's not a good thing."
And it's not a secret either, as far as Weber is concerned.
"He was definitely in my head," Weber said. "But I've done a lot of digging, a lot of hard work to build my confidence. I know I've been working harder than him. We work out together on the same club team, Raw 241 in New Jersey. We're friends off the mat. I've been studying him, and I've been working on how I wrestle.
"I know he got seventh at the [Walsh, Ohio] Ironman tournament. That's not that good, and I know he's hungry for a win and [ticked] off. In the past, he's won our matches in the third period. One of them when it was 2-2 with 10 seconds left. He wanted them more. It's something you can't teach."
Weber said there is a saying about wrestling matches: "The first period goes to the better wrestler; the second to the one in better shape; and the third to the one who wants it more."
"It's extremely mentally tough," he said. "I've discovered when I go conservative, wrestling not to lose instead of to win, I make mistakes. I'm not wrestling like that anymore. I'm going all out. It's working. Every takedown won't be perfect, but it doesn't have to be perfect.
"When I meet him this time, I can set the pace. I've done the work. I know I am not going to get tired and, when we get to the third period, I know I want it more. Oh, he may beat me, but he'll be tired if he does, and I'll be pretty upset. But you've just got to keep trying. So many people have given up on a dream when they've been that close [Weber holds his thumb and index finger barely apart]. You've got to keep working."
If Weber does win the match, Archbishop Spalding coach Mike Laidley, who is taking the No. 4 Cavaliers to the Mount Mat Madness tournament this weekend so his wrestlers won't have to see the same teams they always see during the season, said it would only be a mild upset.
"Weber is a really solid kid," Laidley said. "I'm sure he's closed the gap."
Welch seemed to agree with that sentiment, providing a cautious message for his wrestler.
"It's hard to beat a good guy a bunch of times," Welch said. "Jack knows George is a tough wrestler, and that he'll have to raise his game if he wants to win."
McDonogh Holiday Duals
When: Friday and Saturday
Time: 2 to 9 p.m. Friday; 9 a.m. to 5:45 p.m. Saturday
Where: Rollins-Luetkemeyer Athletic Center at McDonogh
Cost: Adults — $15 (2-day pass) or $10 (1-day); Students and kids — Free
Format: 10-team round-robin dual meets
Teams: No. 1 McDonogh, No. 2 Winters Mill, No. 3 River Hill, No. 5 John Carroll, No. 13 Wilde Lake, Gilman, Old Mill, Chantilly (Va.), Langley (Va.), Washington (W.Va.)
More information: McDonoghWrestling.com