Catonsville coach Eric Warm likes to build up his wrestlers by entering them in tough tournaments during the first two months of the season. But after the Battle at the Base at Meade High School Friday and Saturday, the Comets will focus on a challenging dual meet schedule, beginning at home against Hereford on Jan. 27.
Should Catsonsville defeat winless Woodlawn on Thursday, the Comets will be heading into the Hereford match with the best dual meet record in school history, 10-0.
They won their eighth and ninth matches last week, beating Western Tech, 63-6, and Parkville, 63-15. Catonsville also started 9-0 last year on the way to an 11-2 finish.
Hereford is also 9-0 in dual meets and has won four Baltimore County tournament titles since the 2000-2001 season, including the most recent one in 2013.
Franklin, last year's Baltimore County tournament champion, lost to Catonsville, 47-32, on Dec. 23, one year after the Comets lost to them.
Two Catonsville wrestlers who avenged Franklin defeats from last season were juniors Naseef Kareem (220 pounds) and Andrew Southwell (126). Kareem upended Luis Belmontes and Southwell defeated LJ Bell, who is ranked in the top 25 in the state.
"When he walked off the mat (after beating Belmontes), he could hardly breathe and the first thing he said to me was, 'I wasn't going to lose to him again.'" Warm recalled.
"I attacked more instead of playing defense this time," Kareem said.
Kareem (8-1 league, 18-5 overall) has only one loss in league dual meets, but seven Comets have not lost in a dual meet to six county foes and Calvert Hall.
Seniors Robert Johnson (106, 16-6) and Kelly Lassiter (120, 18-5) and juniors Southwell (126, 18-5) and Jarrad Martin (132, 23-2) are 9-0 .
Sophomore 113-pounder Eduardo Kelly (6-0, 10-1), senior 195-pounder Kojo Danquah (4-0, 9-2) and senior 152-pounder Alejandro Mendez (1-0, 4-4) have also not lost in dual meets.
Like Kareem, senior 138-pounder Conor Hurd (8-1, 19-4) has only lost once and he likes the way the juniors and sophomores Kelly, Aditya Anandram (145) and Trey Glover (182) have developed.
"When people don't understand something they will go to the older guys and the older guys will help out," Hurd said. If two people are partners and they work hard they are going to make the other guy better.
Glover has benefited while posting a 7-2 dual record and 18-5 mark overall.
Seniors Luke Mercier (6-3, 17-8), at 170, and Danny Bruno (7-2, 17-6), at 285, and junior Brian Taylor (2-7, 14-11), at 160, have also had distinguished wins.
Mercier has been in the program four years and Bruno is wrestling for the first time this season.
"We are a lot more tight-knit this year then we've been in previous years,"Mercier said. "Coach takes us to those tournaments to get beat because you learn from your losses. If you go to a tournament and it is real tough, you learn through your matches."
Mercier finished fourth at the Bear Cave Brawl and Hurd, Martin and Taylor were third.
Catonsville won all seven dual meet matches at the Bear Cave Brawl and went 6-1 at the District Duals tournament at Mt. Hebron, but those tournament wins don't count toward the state's dual meet team standings.
That doesn't hide the fact the Comets were elated to beat Mt. Hebron.
"It was at their house and it was the last match and the whole gym was empty," Hurd said. "It was just us and they hadn't been beaten."
While the Comets think comraderie and competitive practice partners have made the team better, the coach also attributes it to maturity.
"The key is there are a lot of juniors and seniors in the room and the younger guys are seeing that and they are understanding how the program works because most of these seniors that are doing very well right now, were not very good freshman year," Warm said. "They bought into the program and worked hard in the offseason to get to where they are now and the younger guys see that and that's how the program gets better."