Coaches in the Maryland Scholastic Association B Conference will have their work cut out for them this season, because there doesn't appear to be a clear favorite in the race for the dual-meet crown.
In no particular order, Walbrook, St. Mary's, Dunbar, Northern, Edmondson and Mervo could finish near the top of the standings, ahead of struggling Friends, City and Forest Park.
"I think Dunbar should figure very big," said Walbrook coach Wavie Gibson. "But you've got to keep an eye on Northern."
Edmondson coach Vernon Horton hopes to improve on last year's 5-4 record, but said, "We know it's going to be tough against Walbrook, St. Mary's and Mervo."
Things are less confusing in the C Conference, where defending champ Spalding fields the most complete team and should get its stiffest challenges from Lake Clifton.
Spalding had its best-ever season under coach Jim Nemeth last year, going 10-1. But Nemeth is on a one-year sabbatical to Hungary, and the program is being run by Ron Young, last year's assistant and a former wrestler at Arundel.
Walbrook dominated the B Conference last year, en route its second straight crown, a 12-0 record and a No. 13 metro area ranking.
Gibson was The Baltimore Sun's Baltimore City Coach of th Year as the Warriors won the City-Wide tournament, placed third in their region behind five-time 3A-4A champ Old Mill and then-No. 11 Arundel, and qualified six of eight wrestlers for the state tournament.
City champ Jamil Stoakley (160-171), a regional runner-up, returns, as does city runner-up Kevin Muldrow (135), who placed fourth in the region. Also back is Kevin Hughes (112), who placed fourth in the city, and Tramaine Horton (130), who was one bout short of placing in the city tournament.
St. Mary's, a 42-22 loser to Walbrook last season, went 10-5 and begins action in the two-day Annapolis tournament today.
Rob White, an assistant to Brad Best a year ago, is this year' head coach assisted by former La Salle wrestler Mike Stringfellow, Mount St. Joseph alumnus Brendan Kelly and St. Mary's graduate Kevin Donnelly.
The top returnees, junior captains Dave Carroll (119, 22 wins) and Tim Klepper (103, 24) were fourth and fifth, respectively, in last year's MSA tournament. St. Mary's season-opening, 36-33 loss to Boys' Latin -- last year's A Conference dual-meet runner-up -- was further testament to its strength.
"We expect to compete for the B Conference title again," White said. "We anticipate that Walbrook will be tough again and also Dunbar, because I hear they have a lot of young kids coming into the program."
Dunbar, in the end, did better than any other city team, placing eighth in the 1A-2A state meet after a 2-1-8 regular season.
Three sophomores -- Martius Harding (160, second), Bruce Pendles (112, fourth) and Hermondez Thompson (130, fourth) -- paced last year's state finish. Harding has transferred to McDonogh, but Pendles (119) and Thompson (135) return. Pendles was the city champ and a runner-up in both the MSA and regional tournaments, while Thompson was second in both the city and the regional. They form the nucleus for this year's team, along with sophomore Doug Hampton (152), a junior-league state runner-up last year in the McKim Center program.
Dunbar coach Damon Matthews will have to overcome three forfeits per match with just 10 wrestlers in the room, but says his assistants, former All-Metros and MSA champs Gary Coleman (Mount St. Joseph) and Sean Crockett (Southwestern), are teaching the wrestlers the finer points. "I've got two good assistants andkids who are ready to stick this season out," said Matthews.
Edmondson returns five solid contributors, including city champ Maurice Simmons (135-140), who was third in the MSAs. Paris Riddick (103) and Aaron Jackson (112) each were city runners-up who placed fourth in the region. Larry Dix (125) was third in the city tournament, and heavyweight Alvin Ledbetter was two points shy of placing in the city.
Mervo returns city runner-up McAnthony Thompson (130-135) and Carlos Levin (145-152), who was third in the city.
Mervo coach Dwight Warren also was pleasantly surprised by Randallstown transfer Wayne Lucas (125), who along with sophomore Millard West (119) and Sean Brodie (heavyweight) -- down from 312 pounds -- complement a balanced squad.
Northern coach Jerome Hester is thinking -- and talking -- about bigger things than last year's 8-4 record.
Manny Sterette (145-152) was Hester's highest placing wrestler last year, losing 6-5 to city and MSA champ Pierre Ford (Forest Park) before placing third in the city. Joe Rankin (140) was fourth in the city tournament, with Ed Loyal (130) and Darnell Thomas (heavyweight) coming within a match of placing.
Richard Jones (152-160) was 18-4 last season, and Broadneck transfer Mike King (125) is expected to contribute heavily to Northern's effort.
Carver was the C Conference champ two years ago, but was humbled in its first B Conference season. Its best hopes, said second-year coach Clinton Jenkins, lie in city champ Kama Owens (189). Others to watch include senior Mike Riesner (119-130), who won 17 matches last year, and sophomores Jason Hardman (130-140, 25 wins), Dan Musiker (140-145, 20 wins) and Matt Gomes (160-171, 13 wins).
Other returnees are Brent Neenan (119, 10 wins) and Tom Mallo (125, eight wins). The three newcomers -- Jimmy Foster, Peter Jones and Kevin Angelis -- are freshmen battling for the 103-pound slot.
Lake Clifton gave up 18 points in forfeits in its 39-3 season-opening loss to Northern, but has some talent.
The Lakers' Mike Booser (112) and Lloyd Cox (140) each placed fourth in last year's city tournament, with Cox also taking fourth in the regionals. The Lakers' Joe Tubman (160-171) was one bout from taking fourth in the city tournament and Dominique Folwkes (145) had a pin against Northern.
Patterson, along with Douglass, Severn and Northwestern, might have trouble reaching the .500 mark. Patterson's John Horgan, last year's head coach, will be an assistant to Scott Delpo.
The Clippers return veterans Dante Pitt (145) and Chris Henley (140), along with promising newcomers Gus Rodriguez (103), Bernard Wilson (112) and Davon Braxton (125).
"We've got every weight class filled and we have some gooyoung wrestlers," said Horgan, who lost two city place-winners from last year's 1-9 team to graduation.