Dundalk junior Ricky Staab learned what it was like to be an unknown commodity last year.
In fact, things were a little easier then, Staab said.
"Last year, people didn't know who I was," said Staab, who enters this weekend's Baltimore County tournament as the top seed in the 140-pound class with a 19-1 record and 10 pins. He is ranked sixth at 140 pounds by the Maryland State Wrestling Association.
Staab captured last year's county crown after a first-round default, a quarterfinal decision and consecutive pins, including a fall in 3 minutes, 28 seconds over Pikesville's Mike Malinowski in the title bout.
His success continued into the Class 4A-3A Region III tournament, where he finished third, and into the state meet, where he placed fourth to cap the season with a 28-6 record.
Not bad for a sophomore.
Staab prepped himself for his junior year by wrestling in the preseason Dundalk tournament, losing a close decision to a guy named Tod Helman. It was the same Tod Helman who is third-ranked at 145 pounds and who last weekend captured his second consecutive MSA title to improve his record to 30-0.
So far this year, Staab has won every tournament he has entered -- Arundel, Loch Raven and Hereford. His only loss came in a dual meet with county rival Kenwood on Jan. 3. In that match, Staab wrestled up a weight class at 145 pounds and dropped a 7-3 decision to Chuck Williams.
"When you're ranked," said Staab, "it seems like more people are looking to get at you."
"He's lifted weights and gotten a lot stronger, a lot more muscular," said Dundalk coach Bob Hutsler, whose team is 10-3 in dual meets, 7-3 in the county's 4A-3A league. "He's become more of a team leader this year. He's tenacious on the mat, and extremely dedicated."
That dedication translates into a 3.81 grade-point average in the classroom,
Now he's looking to upgrade his mat performance over last year, when he lost in the regional semifinals and finished fourth in the state.
In the state meet, Staab nipped Suitland's Damon Stephens in overtime, 18-12. He then lost, 14-4, to eventual state champion Brent Layman of Old Mill in the semifinals.
Staab knows he may have to meet Stephens again if he's going to win a state title. He hasn't forgotten, however, that Stephens was good enough to beat Lackey's Jason Batchelor -- currently the top-ranked 145-pounder -- to win his regional title a year ago.
And what about Quince Orchard's Jorge Garcia? A 130-pound state semifinalist last year, Garcia already has edged Stephens, 8-7, this season.
"I think it can go anyone's way; it just depends who wants it more," said Staab. "But I've improved my technique and I'm stronger, so I get out of jams a lot more efficiently. I think I've got a pretty good shot."