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While going 21-10 during last year's wrestling season, Severna Park's slender Paul Ehemann often fashioned himself as the team's comedian.

But as evidenced by his 18-4 record so far this season -- including 10 pins and a technical fall -- the 135-pound senior has become more of a straight man.

"I've just stopped playing around," Ehemann said at the school just before Wednesday afternoon's practice. "I've had to stop, actually, because everyone around here has a more serious attitude this year.A big match is just another match. We're optimistic instead of pessimistic."

Ehemann, who was fourth in last year's county tournament and third in the regionals, is a good example of the Falcons' turnaround from last year's 2-12 campaign, in which they finished ninth in the 12-team county tournament.

"Just stay off your backs," the operative phrase of a year ago, has become "just go after the guy."

And the Falcons have gone after every opponent, to the tune of a 9-3 record -- including eight straight victories -- heading into tonight's match with three-time defending Class 4A-3A state champion Old Mill, the Maryland State Wrestling Association's top-ranked team.

At theseason's outset, second-year Severna Park coach Dave Caprio said, "In the county, I think we can go .500."

"Needless to say, the team has surpassed my expectations," Caprio said Wednesday. He is assistedby Carter Rigsbee, a former Severna Park state champion, and Chris Carver.

Of the several returnees to the squad, the Falcons' big guns are Ehemann, returning county champion Scott Woodland (140, 18-3) and fourth-ranked 189-pound senior Aaron Cree (19-2, 12 pins), who placed fourth in last year's county tournament.

Ehemann, who pinned his way to the Broadneck tournament title three weeks ago, owns a pin over Mount St. Joseph's fifth-ranked defending Maryland Scholastic Association champion Chad Votta. Ehemann placed second in the season-opening Annapolis tournament and was third at the Chesapeake Invitational.

Cree, the Chesapeake tournament champion, was a runner-up at both Broadneck and Annapolis, losing 5-0 to Old Mill's third-ranked Ernie Longazel at Annapolis.

After becoming the Falcons' first county champion since Yves Archey in 1986, Woodland placed fourth in last year's county and regional tournaments.

Unbeaten this year in the 140-pound class, Woodland's only losses so far have come while he waswrestling up at 145 pounds. There, he dropped two decisions against Mount St. Joseph's sixth-ranked Danny DeVivo and lost once against Riverdale Baptist's fifth-ranked Randy DeHaven.

Woodland, a senior, captured the Broadneck tournament crown, was a runner-up at Chesapeake and owns a victory over Chesapeake's sixth-ranked returning county runner-up Doug Horton.

"But it's not just a few guys who contribute to the team," said Woodland. "I think we've always got a chance forsome upsets (individually) because we match up well against most of the teams in the county."

The "upsets" have come.

There was senior Dave Rupert (130, 16-7) recently winning, 7-4, to hand South River's fourth-ranked Bill Whitcher his first loss in 21 matches.

South River's 103-pound Travis Murdock (19-5) had just beaten Old Mill's Annapolis tournament champion Jason Bryant, when Falcons' freshman Jamie Kuch (15-8, eight pins) beat him.

Severna Park freshman GeorgeMamalis (112, 14-7) owns a pin over Southern's Sherrard Neal, who was third in last year's Class 2A-1A state tournament, and Falcons' sophomore Joe Stolkovich (125, 6-1-1) battled to a tie with Glen Burnie's Mark Nevin, who at one point had a 9-0 record.

Other Falcons whohave come a long way since early season losses are senior heavyweight Jason Evans (7-2), last year's junior varsity county champion and aBroadneck tournament runner-up, 119-pound Mike Henry (6-5) and 145-pound Rodney Wallace (7-8-1). Travis Koballa (160) was fourth at Chesapeake.

"When someone picks up a big win, it just sparks the whole team," said Rupert. "We knew we had the talent to win like this."

Severna Park has dropped a 37-28 decision to Broadneck, ranked No. 7 by the MSWA and No. 4 in The Baltimore Sun poll. The Falcons also lost, 42-21, to Chesapeake and 43-17 to North Carroll, No. 5 and No. 3 in The Baltimore Sun poll, respectively.

"After the first few matches, people figured we wouldn't do so well," said Cree. "But we practiced harder, and some guys started doing better than we thought they would. The hard work is starting to show. Now that we've won a couple,we feel we can win a lot more."

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