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St. Paul’s wrestler Daniel Planta tries to join elite group

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Daniel Planta has won three state titles, and will go for a fourth this season.

It's an illustrious group of five wrestlers, including the state's all-time wins leader and a three-time NCAA All-American, that together have a combined 1,018 victories.

St. Paul's senior Daniel Planta hopes to be next.

Planta, a three-time Maryland Independent Schools champion, is on the verge of becoming the sixth wrestler to win four MIS titles.

"I figured it would be something like that. It's hard to do and obviously it would be pretty cool," Planta said of joining DeMatha's Mike Rowe, Mount Saint Joseph's Mack Lewnes, Bishop McNamara's Alfred Bannister, McDonogh's Josh Fitch and St. Paul's Eric Friedman as four-time private school state champions. "I remember my dad, back in my freshman year after my first year winning it, he said, 'That's your first one on your path to four, but you have to go one at a time.' That's kind of the thought process I've had."

Planta, who is currently ranked No. 16 in the country at 126 pounds by InterMat and is committed to wrestle at the University of Pennsylvania, has a long list of accomplishments on and off the mat. The three-time first-team All-Metro selection is 143-20 in his career and has won three Maryland Independent Athletic Association titles. He has also won Maryland State Wrestling Association Freestyle state titles and been named to the all-academic team by the association the last three years.

But even first-year St. Paul's coach Rob Eiter knows how special it would be for his senior leader to be the 11th wrestler — public and private — in the history of Maryland high school wrestling to win four state championships.

Aberdeen's Matt Slutzky, Owings Mills' Steve Kessler, Hereford's Josh Asper, Southern-Garrett's George Scheffel and Centennial's Nathan Kraisser each won four public school state championships.

"To be honest with you, I didn't know there were only a handful of guys to do that," said Eiter, a 1996 Olympian and former head coach at Penn and assistant at Maryland. "I'll explain it to him — that might not be a big deal to Daniel but it will be looking back, to put his name in the record books and be in that class of Maryland athletes. It would be special for him and will be something five or 10 years from now he can look back on and say, 'That was pretty cool.'"

Despite all the success on the state level, Planta has yet to make a major splash on the national stage. He hopes to change that narrative this season and make a run at winning titles at the Beast of the East, Powerade and National Preps tournaments — three of the toughest tournaments in the country.

"I want to place better at some of those tournaments. Winning MIAA and MIS states are obviously goals, since I've done that the last three years, and Preps is another big goal since it's at the end of the year," said Planta, who has placed third twice and sixth last year at National Preps. "This year I know I have a legitimate shot at making the finals, if not winning it. I really want to make a good showing there since it's going to be my last go-around.

"I have a lot of motivation this year to get to those finals. I want to be in the finals of all three."

Planta isn't the only Crusader with high aspirations this winter. Kurt McHenry and Dale Tiongson both won MIAA and MIS titles last year and finished in the top three at National Preps in their respective weight classes. Planta thinks the key to him and his teammates reaching the top of the podium at season's end could be their new coach.

"I think through my first three years at St. Paul's we had some really solid coaches, but I think having coach Eiter ... it's a whole [new] level," he said. "He's been just about everywhere — he coached in college, wrestled on the Olympic level. He knows what it takes to reach those levels."

No. 3 St. Paul's kicks off its regular season Saturday at the Skyline Tournament in Virginia and will host Boys' Latin and No. 1 Mount Saint Joseph on Wednesday.

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