Oakland Mills heavyweight Monte Spencer and Hammond 140-pounder James Burrell stood side-by-side in the Western Maryland College gymnasium like longtime buddies, telling jokes and offering motivational support.

The scene was a sharp contrast to their meeting on Jan. 23, when their teams faced in a dual meet and the wrestlers were bitter rivals.

Saturday, they were united in their quest to win state titles.

"We dropped the rivalry bit and wished each other good luck," said Spencer, a 215-pound junior who raised his record to 32-1 with his 2-1championship victory over Quince Orchards' Dave Vernier.

"Hey, the county hadn't had a state title winner for a long time, and we bothhad a chance," added Burrell, who blanked Mardela's top-ranked Bernard Dozier, 7-0, for the championship and improve to 32-4. "Even though we're big rivals, we wanted to make sure we both won. Winning was more important."

Spencer, who competed in the Class 4A/3A, and Burrell, in the Class 2A/1A, became the county's first state champions since 1988. In that year, Jeff Rosenberg (138) and heavyweight QuintonGough -- both of of Oakland Mills -- and Wilde Lake's Andy Brown (112) and Atholton's Keith Kierzkowski (189) all won titles.

Burrell also became Hammond's first-ever state champion. The previous best for a Hammond wrestler was a fourth-place finish by Rob Maurer (167) inthe 1985 Class 2A/1A tournament.

Oakland Mills (41 points) finished seventh in the Class 4A/3A tournament, won for the third straight time by Anne Arundel County's Old Mill. Howard High did not score since its only entrant -- Dominique Pierre-Toussaint -- was beaten in the first round.

Baltimore County's Owings Mills won the Class 2A/1Atitle with Hammond (32 points), Wilde Lake (30) and Glenelg (eight) finishing 13th, 15th and 31st respectively.

Wilde Lake's sixth-ranked senior, Ben Casella (171), nearly gave the county a third state champion but lost an 8-6 decision to North East of Cecil County's top-ranked Shannon McGee (32-0). Oakland Mills sophomore Adam Seidman (125, a 34-4 record) finished third and Hammond sophomore Pat Brennan (189, 25-15) was fourth.

Casella's match with McGee was tied at 6-6 with 30 seconds left when Casella forced a takedown attempt that backfired. McGee, who was fourth last year, slipped behind Casella and held on for the win.

"Going into this week, I wouldn't have thought I had a chance at winning," said Casella, whose older brother, Adam, finished fourth two years ago. "My brother wanted me to finish higherthan he did. Along with (Wilde Lake High's football state championship,) this is great."

Spencer has come full circle since the beginning of the season when he was ranked No. 1 in the state by the Maryland State Wrestling Association.

A loss to Arundel's Pat Beach dropped him to the No. 2 spot coming into the state tournament. But Saturday's victory -- coupled with a loss by Overlea's top-ranked John Swigart in the Class 2A/1A state championship -- should help Spencer to regain the top spot.

Swigart's loss came against Chopticon's John Scheer, whom Spencer beat, 4-2, earlier in the year.

Spencer used a second-period pin and a 6-1 quarterfinal decision to reach the semifinals,where he faced Surrattsville's once-beaten Chris Manion. He quickly denied Manion an opportunity for an upset, using a variety of takedowns -- including a leg sweep which had his burly opponent airborne for an instant -- en route to an 18-3 decision.

"Last night I wrestled poorly, and I think he was gunning for me and thinking he could beat me," said Spencer, who weighed 230 as an All-County lineman with the Scorpions' football team. "He was bigger and tried to use hisweight at first, but I kept tripping him. Then he tried to switch his style and tie up with me, but that's what I like the guys to do, and I just took advantage of it."

Oakland Mills coach Dan Ricker called it Spencer's best match of the year.

"He looked excellent. He did everything he wanted to with that guy," said Ricker of Spencer, who was third in last year's state tournament. "In the finals, he was kind of tight because that was the first time he'd gotten there. Monte's a good wrestler, but he's only at about 80 percent of where he could be."

Conversely, Burrell saved the best for last, emerging victorious in a weight class which featured the state's three top-ranked140-pounders.

"After he won the county tournament, I told James that he might be setting his sights too low," said Hammond coach Bill Smith. "We told him not to limit himself into thinking he doesn't have the talent to be (a state champion)."

"It's something I knew I could accomplish, but my mind wasn't into it until I got that first-period pin in my first match," said Burrell, who flattened his first opponent in 1 minute, 49 seconds.

After winning a tough quarterfinal match, 7-6, over Owings Mills' Aaron Zuckerberg, Burrell then turned his intensity up a notch to defeat Smithburg's third-ranked Doug Batey, 4-2, in the semifinals. Batey was a state runner-up the year before at 135-pounds.

"I knew I was ready then," said Burrell, shortly before his match with Dozier. "I wrestled better (against Batey), but I'm still not at my best."

Dozier (25-1), a muscular wrestler with a bruising style, was coming off of a semifinal overtime victory against Aberdeen's second-ranked Danny Osorio. But the angular Burrell proved the better wrestler on the mat, neutralizing Dozier with subtle, but slick counters.

"I knew he was good on his feet, but I was almost at my best in that match," said Burrell. "If I was at my best, I would have pinned him in the third period."

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