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As Team Maryland wrestling grows, so does program's prominence

D.J. Grindle has heard nothing but great things about the chocolate milk.

Up in Fargo, N.D., on the campus of North Dakota State University, the chocolate milk is part of wrestling lore. The taste is prime, even if the glasses are small. Wrestlers brag about it whenever they return to their home states.

"That's what everyone's told me," Grindle said.

A graduated senior from Perry Hall, Grindle said he plans of see what all the fuss is about over the next week. He and the rest of Team Maryland will be in Fargo for the USA Wrestling Cadet and Junior National Wrestling Championships, which are held every year at the FargoDome.

It'll be Grindle's first time at this tournament, which runs from Saturday to July 26. He'll be competing at 138 pounds as a Junior, the older of the two age groups set forth by USA Wrestling, the sport's national governing body.

The Cadet and Junior national tournaments are said to be two of the toughest tournaments in the world. College scouts flock to the FargoDome each July to watch the country's best prep wrestlers compete for national championships in Freestyle and Greco-Roman, wrestling's international styles — or Olympic styles, as they're also called.

Maryland wrestlers have added to the stiff competition in recent years. Just last summer, between both the Cadet and Junior teams, 17 Maryland wrestlers — nine Cadets, seven Juniors and one women's Cadet freestyler — brought home All-American honors from Fargo.

Six years ago, such results might have seemed impossible. Maryland wrestling was not very competitive on the national scene, especially in the international styles.

"They just weren't very popular," said Neil Adleberg, Maryland wrestling's National Team Director. "The state tournament only had about 30 kids in it [six years ago]. In the past, the average number of All-Americans from Maryland was 3.3 over a 50-year period.

"And I thought, 'You know, we should do something about this.'"

So Adleberg, with the help of Cary Kolat — who twice medaled at the FILA World Championships, and is often regarded as the world's best wrestling technician — created the "Path to Fargo" program, a grueling series of weekly training sessions, technique clinics, camps and smaller tournaments that prepare wrestlers for Fargo.

The program, in its sixth year, begins at the end of March and stretches all the way to the national tournaments in July. It's separated into different phases, primarily for preparation and competition. The week before the team flies to Fargo is called the "peaking phase."

In each year of the program, Adleberg has coaxed coaches from all over Maryland — and some from around the country — to come in and help the wrestlers learn and perfect their technique in the international styles.

"It's very extensive," said Adleberg, who previously coached Mount St. Joseph. "Everybody has jumped on board and has been a part of something that's really turned the state around. We've turned a lot of heads out at Fargo."

Over the last five years, 73 Maryland wrestlers have earned All-American honors at the Cadet and Junior National Championships, an average of just over 14 per year.

Last year, Maryland's Cadet Freestyle team placed seventh with 26 points, behind six of the country's most prominent wrestling hotbeds: Illinois, Pennsylvania, Ohio, New Jersey, Oklahoma and Iowa. The Junior Greco team tied for fifth with 30 points, behind only Illinois, Minnesota, Wisconsin and California.

Since the program's been implemented, the state has also had a steady flow of wrestlers ranked among the top recruits in the country. The class of 2014, according to InterMat — a high school and college wrestling website — featured five Maryland wrestlers among its top 150 recruits, including the top-overall recruit in Good Counsel's Kyle Snyder.

Snyder first went through the program in his tenth-grade year. He earned double All-American honors that summer with a Greco-Roman national title and a third-place finish in freestyle. His accomplishments reached the international level too, as he won a FILA Junior world title last year at 96 kilograms. Snyder's the youngest American wrestler in over 20 years to do so.

Without the Path to Fargo Program, Snyder — who will wrestle at Ohio State this season — said he likely wouldn't have reached the heights he has over the last few years.

"The program really allows for the state's best wrestlers to train all in one place," Snyder said. "They learned from each other and got better at all three styles [freestyle, Greco-Roman and folkstyle].

"And you can just tell now that Maryland has gotten a lot better. Part of the reason why is kids go through the program and train throughout the summer and make those gains."

It's that idea — that summer wrestling makes winter champions — that also attracts more wrestlers to the program. Wrestlers that successfully completed the program have often done well in college, too.

Kerry McCoy, the head wrestling coach at the University of Maryland, has a handful of in-state wrestlers on his roster that went through the program. He said those wrestlers appear more prepared than others.

"These guys are also exposed to elite-level preparation and coaching, and that's one of the biggest things," McCoy said. "These guys understand the coaching at the next level. There's not that much of a learning curve."

That's where Grindle is at, preparing for the next level of wrestling. He's set to join the Waynesburg (Pa.) wrestling program this fall.

He had wrestled for most of his life, but didn't start taking it seriously until he was a sophomore. He practiced more throughout the summers at the urging of teammates, who he admitted were better than him.

His hard work last summer helped him parlay an 0-2 performance at the state tournament his junior year into a fourth-place finish this past season.

Now, with a full summer in the Path to Fargo Program under his belt, his focus is on Fargo. He said it would be awesome if he were to bring home some hardware and become an All-American.

And, of course, he wants to try that chocolate milk.

cgoodwin@baltsun.com

twitter.com/codygoodwin

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