Coach Mike Hampe dug up an old campaign cry of Wayne Hardin when Old Mill was shooting for an unprecedented fifth straight Class 3A-4A championship last season.
In the 1960s, when Hardin was Navy's head football coach and going for a fifth consecutive victory over Army, he urged his troops: "Go for five."
It worked for Hampe as well as it did for Hardin. Now what will Hampe use as a motivational tool?
"Try to get a fix on six," Hampe said, smiling.
If his campaign slogan is a bit weak, Hampe's team is not. Old Mill is clearly the class of the county. Coaches are in general agreement on that.
"We can't beat Old Mill," said Broadneck coach John Mayberry. "I don't think anybody can."
"Old Mill," said Annapolis coach Dave Gehrdes, "is the cream of the crop. Arundel is a close second. For the county championship, it should be Old Mill, Arundel and Northeast."
Oh, yes, and Northeast, the defending state 1A-2A champion. "They're coming on like gangbusters," said Arundel coach Buddy Hepfer.
The bad news is that Annapolis was 2-8 last season. The good news is that almost everybody is back from that team, more experienced and stronger.
The Panthers were 12-1 in 1991 and tied for the county championship. They followed that with a 12-2 record in 1992. Graduation left coach Dave Gehrdes unarmed last year.
"We lost just about everybody from 1992, so we had a lot of young kids," said Gehrdes, now in his 13th season. "They got their indoctrination through battle. We didn't have as good a season as we had hoped, but now we've got everybody back."
Almost everybody, anyway -- 10 of the 13 regulars.
The top returnees are seniors Mike Zambernardi, Dan Buckingham, Jack Copus and Matt Smear. All had records of .500 or better.
Zambernardi was third in the region at 130 and lost his first match in the state tournament by one point. Buckingham was fourth in the region at 145, Copus was fifth at 152 and Smear compiled a .500 record at 189.
"Copus has been our most consistent wrestler over the years," Gehrdes said. "As a sophomore, he was fourth in the county and fifth in the region at 145 and was fourth and fifth again last year."
Other returnees include seniors Morgan Hurt, Andy Lyons and ** Cary Lukens and sophomore Lenny Bromberg. The leading newcomers are freshman Gideon Lukens and sophomores Justin Hans and Rich Tarsley.
"If things fall the way I think, we should surpass last year's record," Gehrdes said. "We won't be good enough to compete against Old Mill, Arundel and Northeast for the county championship, though. We're a notch below those three."
With Jim Nemeth on a one-year sabbatical to Hungary, the head coaching job has fallen to Ron Young. A former Arundel High wrestler, Young was last year's assistant.
Spalding was 10-1 and won the Maryland Scholastic Association C Conference championship. The team's strength was numbers, with at least three boys fighting for jobs in each weight class.
"We had a really good season after a slow start, when we entered a large tournament and got our butts kicked," Young said. "But we learned from that and rolled into the season with a good attitude."
This year's team is built around the four captains -- senior Michael Riesner, 17-12 last year, and sophomores Jason Hardman (25-9), Dan Musiker (20-13) and Matt Gomes (13-10).
Other returnees are Steve Angelis, Brent Neenan, Tom Malloy, Mike Meinhardt and heavyweight Bob Wiltshire. The three key newcomers are Jimmy Foster, Peter Jones and Kevin Angelis, all freshmen battling for the 103-pound job. The two losers will compete for the 112-pound position.
"Our goal is to repeat as C Conference champions," Young said. "If we don't have a lot of injuries and if we get rolling early, we can do it."
The big match will be against Douglass in mid-January, probably for the C Conference championship.
"Most of the teams we faced last year had only six or seven wrestlers," Young said. "Douglass was the only one with 13, and that's why I say they'll probably be our toughest opponent."
Expectations at Arundel might be soaring were it not for an occurrence beyond coach Buddy Hepfer's control.
The Waters brothers, Don and Dan, moved with their families to Delaware. Dan was fourth in the state at 119 and Don reached the state tournament last season.
"With them in the lineup, we would have had a decent group of six varsity wrestlers coming back," Hepfer said. "As it is, we have four, and that's a big difference."
Hepfer, whose first season at Arundel was 1970, would have had reason for optimism. The Wildcats posted an 11-3 record last season and finished third in the county tournament, second in the region and seventh in the Class 3A-4A tournament. Their lone dual-meet defeats were to state champions Northeast (1A-2A) and Old Mill (3A-4A) and Gilman.
Arundel will be buttressed, however, by the return of Phil Meenan, who finished third in the state at 119 as a sophomore and then transferred to Riverdale Baptist. He should help compensate for the loss of the Waters brothers.
Arundel's leading returnees are senior Fred Beadenkopff at 112, juniors Tim Kelly (135) and Mark Chesla (152) and heavyweight John Noon, who advanced to last year's state tournament and lost in the first round.
"That's it," Hepfer said. "The rest are all JV kids. If we come around and the JV kids take the big step up, we'll be all right. It'll be hard to match last year, though."
Coach John Mayberry is puzzled by this year's team. He says he doesn't "know about it," in part because last season's team was so mystifying, too.
"We beat some teams we shouldn't have beaten and lost to some we shouldn't have," said Mayberry, who's starting his 10th year. "We had our ups and downs. It was a rebuilding year, but we still hoped to do better than 7-7. I mean, the year before we had beaten [perennial 3A-4A power] Old Mill."
The Bruins are aiming high, intent on muscling into the region's elite in the company of Old Mill, Arundel, Chesapeake and Severna Park.
Mayberry will lead with junior Todd Betz, who was fifth in the region at 119 as a sophomore, and Isaac Putnam (135), James Donner (112) and Matt Superczynski (189). Promising newcomers include sophomores Lonnie Donner (125) and Mike Schardt (130).
"We're young, real young," Mayberry said. "Most of the kids are 10th- and 11th-graders.
"We have only two seniors, Superczynski and Pete Borradaile, a heavyweight who's in his first year of wrestling. He's a football player who was talked into coming out by the kids."
The way Mayberry figures it, Broadneck can qualify for the state team tournament if it can beat Arundel, Chesapeake and Severna Park.
If the Cougars can take the next step -- which coach Tom Slichter thinks is realistic -- they could finish in the top 10 in the state in Class 3A-4A.
Last season Chesapeake finished 9-5 and was fourth in the county and the region. Three of its dual-meet losses were to state champions -- two to 1A-2A Northeast and one to 3A-4A Old Mill.
"We've been competitive, and now we have to move up," Slichter said. "We have some work to do. We can do better than last year. I'm cautiously optimistic."
Chesapeake lost four key wrestlers to graduation, two of which, Ron Alexander and Chuck McConnell, placed in the states. The top returnee is Doug Horton, who was county and regional champion as a junior and has more than 50 career wins.
He is joined by Travis Gottlich and Kevin Bonk, both county JV champions last season, and Steve Davis, Rob Zittle and Greg Vurgich.
"We'll probably be as good if not better than last year," said Slichter, who's in his ninth year. "We have a lot of new people, up from the JV, yet to be tested."
He ticked off the names: Don Hall, Jeremy Michalke, Jason Schmidt, Bernie Schultz, Gottlich and Bonk.
"A lot of times a match is determined by a good start at the lower weights," Slichter said. "That's where we have the kids up from the JV, and I'm not sure how capable we are there."
Glen Burnie Gophers
Coach Bruce Sider thought it was nice that Glen Burnie went 5-8 last year, but he doesn't want the school's wrestling fans to consider it a sign of many more wins to come.
"We did better than expected," said Sider, who's in his 14th season. "We won some matches we didn't expect to win. We're just not a good dual-meet team.
"Because of so many inexperienced kids, I don't expect to do that well again. I just hope a few guys have good seasons and we go to the states."
That's the main objective at Glen Burnie -- qualifying wrestlers for the state tournament and, Sider said, "having fun and learning the sport."
Last season was a good one in part because three wrestlers qualified for the state tournament. Darrell Miner, now a senior, and sophomore Jay Queer both finished fourth in the region and reached the states. The Gophers' third qualifier, heavyweight Paul Musil, graduated.
"We were shut out from the states the previous three years," Sider said. "It was nice to send some kids and I hope we can do it again."
Although only a sophomore, Queer is Glen Burnie's most seasoned wrestler. He has four years' experience, some of it in a junior league.
"My most experienced kids have three or four years, and that doesn't get you very far," Sider said. "They need time on the mat to develop."
Aside from Queer and Miner, the returnees are Kevin Soistman, Jason Baldwin, Mike Abbott, Tom Ferger, Tierre Thomas and Jeremy Bruce.
"As the season goes on, we'll get better," Sider said. "Hopefully, we'll peak at the right time and send kids to the tournaments. Most of my kids don't step on the mat until Nov. 15. We'll try to fill all the classes on the JV as well as the varsity, and we'll win some meets because of that."
The two key newcomers are seniors Chuck Harthausen at 189 and Jimmy Dulay, a 275-pound heavyweight. Both are football players whom Sider has wooed for several years.
In his first season, coach Tom Kelly doesn't inherit much. An ex-Marine who wrestled for Annapolis High in the 1980s, Kelly has a team that went 0-12 last year.
"I understand there were a lot of ups and downs and not much unity," said Kelly, a special ed teacher. "They were down to six wrestlers at midseason, which really killed them because they had to forfeit matches. They only filled six out of the 13 weight classes."
As a first step, Kelly conducted weight-training classes early this fall to give the wrestlers "a chance to meet me" and to see how the program might unfold. He held an organizational meeting and brought in Lloyd Keaser, a Naval Academy graduate and an Olympic silver medalist in 1976.
"That inspired the kids," Kelly said. "They began to believe it might be different this year."
Although 80 percent of the squad consists of first-year wrestlers, the turnout of more than 30 will enable Kelly to have a full JV and varsity.
"Our goal is to maintain the full squads and shoot to win some meets," he said.
His leading wrestlers are junior Adam Butts at 160 and seniors Wayne Boyd at 145 and Ryan Pachoca at 140.
"Adam was one of the six people who stuck it out," Kelly said. "And he had a winning season."
A freshman, 240-pound Danny Todd, will be the heavyweight. "He seems to be a natural," Kelly said. "It's his first year of wrestling, but he's beating out a lot of juniors."
Add Rommel Pachoca, a 103-pound sophomore, to the list and that accounts for the wrestlers with even an iota of experience. The others are in their first year.
North County Knights
Larry Radford classifies himself as a "new-old coach." After 18 years at Andover, he left in 1987 to coach his son, Shawn, in a junior league.
Last year, when Shawn was a junior at Old Mill, Radford returned to high school coaching in midseason as an assistant at North County to Song Chang. When Chang left to pursue his studies at Salisbury State, Radford became a head coach once more.
"Once you get a taste of it, you hate to let go," Radford said. "I enjoyed the work as an assistant, but I'm looking forward to stepping back in as a head coach."
Returning from the team that went 2-12 are "a lot of young kids, but real good ones with a good attitude and determination." The ace probably will be Cory Fowler, the defending county heavyweight champion.
There are nine other returnees, including James Collins (103), Jason Steigler (119), Richard Collins (125 or 130), Shawn Potwin (130 or 135), C. J. Jones (135 or 140), Brian Bolonis (140 or 145), Kevin Bloomquist (150), Joe Key (162) and Jimmy Lee, who was second in the region at 189 last season and qualified for the state tournament.
Radford has 31 wrestlers, most of them freshmen and sophomores, an indication that North County soon will be strong.
"They'll take their knocks this year, though," Radford said. "The only ones with more than two years' experience are the Collins twins, Potwin and Fowler.
"The kids have a great attitude and I'm pleased with their athletic ability. They're coming along. It will take awhile to gain the experience necessary to compete in Anne Arundel County."
The Eagles' riches start with twins, Marty and Mike Kusick. They are the returning state champions at 103 and 112, respectively, on the team that captured the state 1A-2A championship.
"It was an exceptional year, but it wasn't a freak," said Al Kohlhafer, whose first year at Northeast was 1969. "We had a lot of good kids. The program has been steadily growing. It's through a good building process that we're where we are today."
Most of the team is back. The major losses to graduation were Al Grunder, state champion at 160, Jeremy Funk (171) and Bill Katzenberger (145). Ron Katzenberger and Jason Grunder will replace their brothers and Ken Fowler will replace Funk.
The team leaders are the Kusicks, both juniors. Marty had a 33-0 record last season and Mike was 32-1.
Kohlhafer's other blessings include Steve Smiddy, state runner-up at 130; Jason Grunder, third in the states at 152; and Matt Jewer, fourth at 135.
"I hope we do OK, but a lot can happen -- injuries and sickness," Kohlhafer said. "We're not a real big school, and we don't have that many kids on the team. Sickness and injuries can be a key factor."
Kohlhafer has reason to believe this year's team can be as strong as last season's. Northeast was 13-1, losing only to state 3A-4A champion Old Mill in what Kohlhafer recalls ruefully "was a blowout."
The Eagles rebounded to win the state title, their first in wrestling since 1976, when they became the first Anne Arundel County team to accomplish the feat.
How good is Northeast? Kohlhafer isn't sure. A magazine, USA Wrestling, rates Northeast No. 19 in the country. Kohlhafer dismisses that as "somebody's opinion."
"We're not that good," he said. "We'll see what we do. We hope to be competitive."
Old Mill Patriots
The Patriots will open this season the same way they did last year -- by competing in the Northern Virginia Region Tournament in Fairfax, Va., which begins a two-day run today.
That was the tournament that triggered Old Mill's drive to an unprecedented fifth state 3A-4A title. There's no stiffer competition around than in the Virginia event.
"That was our toughest competition," said coach Mike Hampe, whose team went 13-1, losing only to North Carroll. "Virginia wrestling is excellent. I don't worry about wins and losses early in the season. We just look for individual weaknesses, and then work on them."
Hampe is in his 24th year as a head coach, 19th at Old Mill. Before that, he was at Annapolis and Glen Burnie and in the Severna Park Green Hornets youth recreation program.
The heart of Old Mill's lineup was claimed by graduation. State champions Kenneth Seavey and Todd Hultgren and Mark Procaccini, Kevin Seavey and Rick Olesczuk, who finished in the top four in the states, were all seniors. They're in college now, although not all are wrestling.
Their departure leaves Old Mill scrambling. "We're a little young," Hampe said. "We'll try to get old real fast. Not rebuild. I don't like that term. But we try to make sure the ninth- and 10th-graders, by the time they're ready for the varsity, are capable of moving in. In other words, keep the experience factor going."
Top returnees are Jason Bryant, third in the state tournament at 112; Mike Hines, the county champion at 145; Don Patterson, fourth in the county; and Shawn Radford, Paul Hultgren and Eric Donoway.
"We're looking for leaders to come forth, two or three," Hampe said. "That's most important. A leader is a guy who's a good wrestler, helps his teammates, has a good work ethic and has the young guys looking up to him."
The seniors who led Old Mill to the state title last year had those traits.
St. Mary's Saints
St. Mary's draws its strength from numbers. In the MSA B Conference, not all teams field full lineups, forcing them to forfeit in some weight classes.
Last season, in posting a 10-5 record and finishing second to Walbrook in the B Conference, the Saints had almost 30 wrestlers. The squad is down to 20-plus this season, but even that is an advantage at this level.
The team is coached by committee. The organizer is Rob White, who never wrestled and in real life is the school's director of admissions. The on-mat coaches are Mike Stringfellow, who wrestled at La Salle; Brendan Kelly, ex-Mount St. Joe; and Kevin Donnelly, a St. Mary's wrestling alum.
The Saints lost eight senior starters, most notably Scott Thompson, who was second in the MSA tournament and now is wrestling as a freshman at North Carolina State. The leading returnees are junior captains Tim Klepper and Dave Carroll. Klepper was fifth in the MSA tournament at 103 and finished with a 24-8 record. Carroll (22-10) was fourth at 119.
Three seniors expected to contribute include Mike O'Neal, tri-captain Justin Anderson and Kori Azarkhish, a transfer from Arundel who sat out last year.
"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."
The Saints' schedule bristles with muscular teams such as Boys' Latin and St. Paul's of the MSA A Conference. But the strongest opponent is Old Mill, the defending state 3A-4A champion.
"We've practiced with Old Mill," White said. "I like that, the way coaches share. Our kids saw the work ethic in a top program, how it's conducted. To be the best, you have to compete against the best."
Severna Park Falcons
Because he exercised the right of any high school sophomore and grew, Jamie Kuch might find the competition tougher this year.
Kuch was the only Severna Park wrestler who advanced beyond the county tournament, winding up second in the state tournament at 112. Now, as a junior, he's at 119.
"That's the toughest weight class in the county," said Ralph Toomey, the Falcons' fourth coach in four years. "There are so many kids returning at 119, plus county and region champs moving up. It's very competitive."
Toomey, captain of Old Mill's 1978 team as a 145-pounder, kept abreast of wrestling after high school and, in particular, stayed in touch with Old Mill coach Mike Hampe. One day he saw an ad in a newspaper for the Severna Park job.
He took over a program that was 6-7 last season and that has been "generally inconsistent in recent years." On the squad of 30 are 18 returnees, including seven seniors. Two of the seniors are the Henry twins, Jonathan and Mike, competing at 130. They'll wrestle off, Toomey says, with the loser probably moving up to the next class.
Other returnees include Jason Binder, Kelly Harris, Jerman Davenport, George Mamalis and Kell and Justin Russell. "Mamalis has a bright future at 135, but he hyper-extended his elbow, so we'll keep him out of the Annapolis Tournament this weekend," Toomey said. "We hope he'll return for the Chesapeake Tournament next week."
Newcomers include Mike Stewart, a 103-pounder with three years of junior-league experience; the Counterman brothers, Lucas and Caleb; and heavyweight Mike Ensor.
"Our goal is to get over .500," Toomey said. "I think we can do that. We can be an up-and-coming team in the county next year."
Coach Tyrone Neal has a rare assignment. He has to find a successor to his oldest son, Sherrard.
Sherrard won the Anne Arundel 130-pound championship last season, making the Neals the first father-son combination to pull that off in county history. Sherrard is now at the Naval Academy Preparatory School.
There's still another Neal on Southern's mat. Tyrone Jr. went 26-4 as a freshman and finished second in the state at 119. He is back, at 125 or 130, as a leader, along with seniors Harold Glenn and Nate Booth. Glenn was third in the county and second in the region at 140 and Booth was second in the county and fifth in the region at 125.
"Glenn, Booth and Tyrone should win a lot of matches," said Neal, whose Bulldogs were 4-8 in his third year as coach.
The team also will be buttressed by sophomore Tommy Inzer (103), junior Billy Andes (189), senior Danny Day (160) and freshmen Josh Creekmore (119) and Eddie Phelps (125).
Neal will learn a lot about his team in this weekend's Annapolis Tournament that has attracted 13 top teams, including Mount St. Joseph, Bullis and DeMatha.
"It'll be a gauge, a way of rating my kids against strong competition," said Neal, who wrestled st Southern, Montgomery-Rockville and Maryland, graduating in 1975. "Facing the best teams is the best way to find out how much work you still have to do. Last year we were sixth out of 18 schools."
With a young but reasonably experienced team, Neal hopes to win eight dual meets. He thinks he has eight wrestlers sufficiently experienced to carry the team. A possible weakness is at heavyweight, where Marcus Hicks, Darnell Walls and Billy Andes (now at 189) are competing. If one of the three emerges and wrestles consistently, Southern will have a balanced lineup.
South River Seahawks
If anyone had told coach Chilly Orme before last season that South River would go 8-5-1, he'd have been ecstatic. South River did, but he wasn't.
"We could have been 12-2," said Orme, who's in his ninth season. "We lost by a lot to Old Mill and Northeast, but all the others were so close they came down to the heavyweight match. Twelve-and-two would have been outstanding, darn near tops in the state."
The team will be led by the Reid brothers, sophomore Gene and senior Jamie, and Travis Murdock, a junior who will be at 112 or 119. Gene was fourth in the county at 103 and Jamie had an 18-3 record at 125.
"All three are capable of going to the states this season," Orme said.
Other leading returnees include seniors Steve Spies, who was ++ second in the region at 145 but hurt his ankle and missed the states, and Jeff Schrumm and David Neall. "Spies was second in the region but didn't place in the county," Orme said. "I don't know from meet to meet which one of him will show up."
South River dropped from Class 3A to 2A. The Seahawks still will face a full county schedule rippling with the likes of Old Mill, Arundel and Broadneck, but then probably will meet less resistance in the region tournament.