A glance at the birth certificates reveals the equivalent of a groupof babies, but Wilde Lake High School's varsity wrestling team sure is growing up fast.

Consider Wilde Lake's precocious make-up. Three freshmen, five sophomores and two juniors complement two seniors. Four of the 12 wrestlers were novices in November. The Wildecats have no heavyweight.

Now, consider the Wildecats' recent performances as they gear up for this weekend's county tournament at Atholton High School.

Ten days ago they threw the biggest scare of the year into defending league champion Oakland Mills, staying with the Scorpions for 11 matches before Oakland Mills pulled away to a 37-25 victory. Five days later the Wildecats traveled to Hammond and knocked the Golden Bears from undisputed, second-place status with a 38-25 victory.

Wilde Lake (6-7-1 overall, 4-3 county) moved into a three-way tie for second placewith Hammond and Howard, a standing they relinquished Thursday nightwith a 32-28 loss at Centennial.

Turner did not wrestle at Centennial Thursday night, but Jackson plans to have him ready for the county meet.

Wilde Lake's season essentially can be explained in two acts.

In Act One, the Wildecats showed their age and their corresponding inexperience by losing dual meets to such superior non-league powers as Calvert Hall, Loyola and McDonogh and by struggling to an 11th-place finish in the Douglass Tournament in December.

Rich Jackson, Wilde Lake's 20-year coach, recalls the Wildecats' state of affairs.

"We were so young we didn't know what was going on," Jackson said. "Some of the young kids were whining, we had diet problems, we had kids missing practice.

"Now, the younger kids are beginning togrow up."

That brings us to Act Two, which began to take shape sometime last month after Wilde Lake lost to Howard in its second county dual meet.

From there, the Wildecats quietly beat Mount Hebron and Glenelg, before giving Oakland Mills a run for its money. Granted,Scorpions coach Dan Ricker moved numerous wrestlers up one weight class to give them a break before the postseason -- a decision that opened the door for Wilde Lake to mount a tougher challenge -- but Ricker was wary of the Wildecats going in.

"Rich has done a good job with them," Ricker said. "They've got some tough kids; they've been improving. I expected them to give us a tough time."

"I think those early losses are helping us in the long run, because I think we're peaking at the right time," Jackson said. "To have such a rough early schedule and to be 6-6-1 at this point isn't too bad. I still think Oakland Mills has too much depth (to lose the county meet), but we'll have to see. We're looking to surprise some people."

Wilde Lake's resurgence can be traced directly to the maturity of its younger wrestlers. Like 112-pound freshman Antoine Harris, who has shaken off a 4-6 start to go 6-0 in the county. He has pinned eight of his 10 victims. Or sophomore 160-pounder Nate Casella, who has improved on a decent 8-5 pre-county start by going 5-1 against the league. Then there's freshman 125-pounder Chris Turner, who has gone 3-3 against the county.

Lump the young blood together with the team's linchpins -- seniors Jay Turner and Ben Casella -- and one can see how the Wildecats have become contenders. Turner (145) is the team's top wrestler with a20-2 record, 6-0 against the county. Casella is 5-0 against the county, 8-3 overall, at 189 pounds.

Wilde Lake's victory at Hammond, the Wildecats' most satisfying of the season, wasn't exactly shocking.But the Wildecats may have surprised some observers by taking the early lead and never looking back. Hammond trailed by at least six points the whole way.

The Wildecats set the tone by taking a 12-0 lead, as Fernell Howell pinned Dan Proulx in the 103-pound bout, which was followed by Harris' third-period pin of John Motley. Hammond cut the lead in half when 119-pounder Chris Mercurio pinned freshman Tom Mazzo in 33 seconds. But Wilde Lake extended the lead to 19-6 with decisions by Chris Turner (125) and sophomore Tony Crawford (130).

Hammond cut the lead to six again when Omar Williams pinned Bob Ferace in the 135-pound match, while the Wildecats were penalized a point forunsportsmanlike conduct. Wilde Lake then took command -- but not without a scare of its own.

After sophomore Robert McGrain earned an 18-7 decision over Josh Stokes in the 140-pound division to make it 22-12, Jay Turner and James Burrell squared off in the 145-pound match.

Turner built a 7-0, second-period lead. Burrell crept to within 8-5 early in the third period. With 40 seconds to go and Burrell on top and desperate for a pin, he tried to roll Turner over but instead was called for an illegal move after he bent back Turner's outstretched leg and left the Wilde Lake senior lying injured, face down on themat.

When Turner failed to get up, the Wildecats were awarded sixpoints by default, making it 28-12. The meet was stopped for 20 minutes and resumed after Turner was taken to Howard County General Hospital, treated for a lower back strain and released.

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