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Back on Jan. 11, in the 152-pound championship bout of the ninth annual Arundel Invitational, Annapolis' Chip Cochran wrestled one of hisbest matches of the season.

The muscular senior, ranked No. 2 by the Maryland State Wrestling Association, scored a four-point takedown for an early 4-0 lead and held off McDonough's No. 5 Chris Hawkins to win, 7-3.

A flattering photo of Cochran appeared in this paper the following Monday. It showed Hawkins at a point in the match when he was nearly pinned by Cochran, who maintained a tight hold as the Charles County grappler struggled to free himself.

With that victory, Cochran captured his second consecutive Arundel Invitational crown. It remainsthe only loss for Hawkins, a defending Region III champion who currently boasts a 19-1 record with eight pins.

McDonough coach Dom Zaccarelli did not witness the match, but got a pretty good description of what transpired from Hawkins and his assistant coaches.

"I understand he had Chris tied up pretty good. He's got to be the favorite to win the states," said Zaccarelli, listing Hawkins, Laurel's third-ranked Chris Kluckhuhn and Bowie's Warren Powell, formerly ranked sixth, as possible obstacles for Cochran.

"I don't see anybody beating Cochran," Zaccarelli said. "Powell beat Kluckhuhn in the regionals last year, then Hawkins beat Powell. In my honest opinion, Cochran's the man."

Thinking that far ahead is something Cochran doesn't want to do, despite his 22-1 record, including 11 pins and a technical fall, entering tonight's 33rd annual county tournament.

"I try not to think too much about things like that, because it can get me stressed out," said Cochran, a "B" student at Annapolis who scored 1200 onhis Scholastic Aptitude Test.

He hopes his classroom excellence -- he has taken seven advanced courses -- may gain him admittance to universities like North Carolina, Maryland or West Point.

"I'm always going to feel pressure, but most of it comes from inside of me," said Cochran, who boasts an impressive 81-6 career record, including a26-3 stint as a St. Mary's sophomore.

"I haven't really noticed adifference in the way people around the state view me. Maybe I try not to notice."

Instead, he is channeling his energies toward winning his second consecutive county tournament crown. He captured his first one a year ago after pinning Old Mill's John Bliss in 3 minutes, 1 second of their title bout. A week later, he won the regional crown, 3-2, over Bliss, who enters today's tournament as the MSWA's top-ranked 145-pounder at 20-0 and as the No. 1 seed.

Cochran's second loss in last year's 33-2 campaign came in the title bout of the Class 4A-3A state tournament, where he fell, 6-4, to Thomas Stone's Vince Higgs. He also dropped a 6-5 decision to Mount St. Joseph's Khris Reina, a three-time Maryland Scholastic Association champion and a National Prep tournament runner-up.

"One of my goals this year was to goundefeated," Cochran said.

That dream was quickly erased in the championship bout of the season-opening Annapolis tournament. Cochran was decked by Mount St. Joseph's top-ranked Kevin Neville (30-2, 24 pins), who won last weekend's MSA tournament.

"Immediately after that loss, I was upset," said Cochran. "But the next morning, I was glad it happened. It was like a slap in the face, and I think it's gotten me ready for the long run."

Cochran has won 19 straight since then, wrestling up at 160 pounds "seven or eight times," he said.

"He's obviously at a weight disadvantage sometimes, but that's what helps him learn to use his technique more," said Annapolis coach Dave Gehrdes, whose 13-3 Panthers are ranked No. 5 in The Baltimore Sun poll.

A year ago, in a critical 31-26 victory over Broadneck, Gehrdes moved Cochran -- then a 140-pounder -- up to 171 pounds, where he notched a pin to help the Panthers secure a share of the county dual-meet title with Broadneck and Old Mill.

"Last year, he wrestled in five different weight classes," said Gehrdes. "He's willing to make whatever sacrifice he has to for the team."

Sometimes, that means being alone in his extracurricular workouts. Cochran often runs solo in the morning, at lunch time, at team practices and again at night, Gehrdes said. And his efforts haven't been lost on his best friend and sixth-ranked teammate, Tom Sfakiyanudas, the county's top seed at 135 pounds.

"Every time I've ever thought about quitting, I'd just look at how hard Chip works," said Sfakiyanudas, whose 21-3 record includes nine pins and a technical fall.

"He's not the kind of guy who lectures, but all of the stuff that he's talked about, we're doing ittogether now. I never really worked this hard until I saw Chip, who sets a good example."

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