Aberdeen has won the past nine team championships in the Harford County wrestling tournament, and during that span, the school accounted for 15 of the 23 state titles won by county entries.
Last year, however, the Eagles went without a state champion for the first time since 1983 -- there were two losing finalists -- and there is no clear favorite to resume that streak.
Aberdeen, however, has four returning county champions, including three state qualifiers, who are expected to be among this year's best. They come off a team that defeated runner-up Bel Air by 75 points a year ago, but a combination of factors makes such a spread unlikely this season.
Dick Slutzky, starting his 22nd season as coach, will complement an experienced group of five seniors and a junior with the youngest group he has had in recent years. As many as four freshmen could be in the starting lineup.
The chief holdovers are county champions Frank Johnson at 135 pounds; Kit Doran (140); Chad Guerrera, up to 160 from 152; and Chris Allen (189), plus Giro Cristello (125) and Mike Grant (171). All are seniors but Doran. He's a junior, ranked No. 4 at 145 on the preseason list and recovering from mild mononucleosis.
Doran and Dave Schimmel of Edgewood, who shares the No. 3 ranking with McDonogh's Todd Margolis at 135, are the lone Harford County representatives.
The county's 10 wrestling schools had season-opening dual meets last week, and all but Harford Tech were in action yesterday.
Six were in the North East tournament -- C. Milton Wright, Edgewood, Fallston, Havre de Grace, Joppatowne and North Harford. Aberdeen was at home with Bel Air, Eastern Tech and Mount Hebron, and John Carroll was in the Pikesville tournament.
Aside from Aberdeen, there should be a tighter scramble in the chase for team honors in the county, and the individual quality should be improved. Many of the schools, in fact, have boosted their schedules with much stronger opposition. It may not help dual records, but the experience gained should be of greater benefit in regional and state competition.
Reclassification also will provide some interesting matchups, as Aberdeen drops from 3A to 2A, where it will be aligned with Edgewood, Fallston and North Harford. Thus, the regional 1A-2A event will put these four with Harford Tech, Havre de Grace and Joppatowne.
At Bel Air, new coach Craig Reddish has a solid lineup (especially from 130 up), one that is expected to make a serious challenge in the team race.
The seniors include Ken Stork (140), Dan Skurdal (145), Joe Strazzire (160), Jeramiah Bowling (189) and heavyweight Dick Barwick, back after a year's absence. Among the juniors are Matt Birth (130), a county runner-up at 125 last year; Brian Stewart (135), Jason Smith (152) and Steve Thomas (171).
There is a different philosophy at C. Milton Wright, where six-year assistant Ken Bryant is the new coach. The reviews are mixed, too, as the conditioning has improved, and the intensity level is up, but the number of candidates is fewer than last year.
Dave Schmidt, who dominated the county at 103 as a freshman, is up to 112 and may be asked to work at 119 or 125. Vince Tucciarella, a losing county finalist to his cousin, Brandon Moore from North Harford, the past two times (103 and 112), also is on the move. The team's most powerful entry is a possible starter at 119, 125, and 130. Junior Brian Walter is another solid returnee.
There is an experienced lineup at Edgewood that coach Mark Zvitkovitz believes might be as good or perhaps better than a year ago, despite the loss of two county champions. There are more candidates than in recent years, particularly freshmen, which should provide some depth.
The key veterans are senior twins John and James Fortier, plus Schimmel, a junior, with the three providing a solid front in the 130-135-140 range.
At Fallston, the top performers for coach Andy Amasia are expected to include seniors Chad Taylor (125-130) and heavyweight Russell Cook, a 275-pounder who was a losing finalist last year.
Todd Paradise, fourth at 160 as a freshman two years ago, missed last season with a back injury, but returns at 160-171. Patrick Elliott, another junior, is back at 125 pounds after a learning experience in what was a loaded weight class last year.
Among the newcomers on the squad of about 30 is freshman Matt Sutphin, back from a football injury, who is working at 152-160. The Cougars will be better off from the start, as compared to last year when they had to forfeit three weight classes each time out.
There are numbers at Harford Tech, too, where Gary Siler has a squad of 20 (he had 11 at the end of last season), including three holdovers who performed impressively in the team's opening tri-meet.
Although the Cobras lost to Sparrows Point and John Carroll, senior Billy Smith pinned his opponents at 140; senior Jeff Thomas won by forfeit at 125 and by a pin at 130; and junior heavyweight Aaron Keaton recorded two pins.
Others expected to contribute as the season goes along are junior Eddie Jones (135); sophomores Leroy Simms (145), Jimmy Ross (112-119) and Kory Putney (112) and freshman Luke Holmes (103).
While several teams have improved their numbers, Havre de Grace is suffering from a lack of competitors, and coach Greg Long foresees forfeiting as many as three weight classes. Two of his best are juniors Jeff Brochu (103-112) and Corey Pascuzzi (119).
Joppatowne continues to get stronger under the guidance of fifth-year coach Larry Swift. Two years ago, it was a distant eighth in the county tournament. Last year, it had its first winning dual-meet season and moved up to seventh (10 points out of fifth, and another 10 out of third). This year, the Mariners will present another good lineup.
Senior Jamie Hunter at 145 leads an experienced group that includes several in their third year of competition. Another senior, Darren Swift, returns at 125 after having had last year disrupted by a broken elbow. Three others give the team strength in the low-middle weights: sophomore Travis Volmar (130), junior Steve Morgan (119) and freshman Ricky Desper (103).
At North Harford, the experience is in the upper weights, and only heavyweight Ted Wiley is a senior.
The others include sophomore Tom Staab (189), junior Paul Konschak (171), junior Jaysson Eicholtz (160) and junior Brent Barbacane (152) with expectations the highest for Eicholtz. Junior Zach Rose (135) has the most experience of the rest of coach Fred Holtz's squad.
John Carroll returns all but two starters and is largely a team of underclassmen. Although the record against mostly Maryland Scholastic Association schools was 3-8-1 last year, coach Bill Reichert was enthusiastic about having enough individuals to improve on that mark.
In the Catholic tournament over the Thanksgiving weekend, the Patriots came away with some solid performances and a hard-earned eighth place among 17 schools.
The lineup includes seniors John Trancucci (145) and Mike Boyle (160); juniors Jon Cohen (140), Andrew Dunn (152) and Greg Stotler (189), and sophomore Scott Davis (112).
WRESTLERS TO WATCH
* Dick Barwick, Bel Air, Sr., Hwt -- This 230-pounder returns after a year's absence and will be counted upon to provide experience and to solidify a lineup that looks good top to bottom.
* Jeff Brochu, Havre de Grace, Jr., 103 -- Third in the county and fourth in the region a year ago, he and classmate Corey Pascuzzi at 119 are the bright spots in an otherwise thin lineup.
* Russell Cook, Fallston, Sr., Hwt -- Last year's county runner-up is back, and the 270-pounder should battle Barwick for the No. 1 position.
* Kit Doran, Aberdeen, Jr., 140 -- A county champion and fourth in Region 3A-4A during a 24-5 season a year ago, he begins this season ranked No. 4 at 145 by the Maryland State Wrestling Association.
* Chad Guerrera, Aberdeen, Sr., 160 -- One of four returning county champions, he was third in the region, went unplaced in the state meet and finished 26-3.
* Jamie Hunter, Joppatowne, Sr., 145 -- He could be the team leader, replacing the graduated Brian McCarthy, as he was fourth in the county and third in the Class 1A-2A regional last year. Overall, he was 17-13.
* Frank Johnson, Aberdeen, Sr., 135 -- He upset top-seeded Brian McCarthy -- one of only two No. 1s to lose -- in the county 130-pound final, then made it to the Class 3A-4A regional final, where he was pinned.
* Todd Paradise, Fallston, Jr., 160 -- A back injury kept him off the mat last year, but he was fourth in the county at 160 as a freshman, and returns stronger and better prepared. He also might work at 171.
* David Schimmel, Edgewood, Jr., 130 -- He placed third in the county in the talent-laden 130-pound class last year, then bounced back with a Class 1A-2A regional title. He was unplaced in the state meet.
* Dave Schmidt, C. Milton Wright, Soph., 112 -- He had an outstanding freshman year, sailing through the county unbeaten, then went unplaced in the 3A-4A regional to finish 22-6.
* Billy Smith, Harford Tech, Sr., 140 -- Another who rebounded from a subpar county meet (pinned twice at 135) to take second in the 1A-2A regional. He opened his final year with two pins in a tri-meet with Sparrows Point and John Carroll.
* Greg Stotler, John Carroll, Jr., 189 -- The John Carroll and Aberdeen tournaments (he placed in both last year) will give him a chance to challenge the county's best, but for the most part he will be facing tougher opposition in the Maryland Scholastic Association. He won the 189-pound title in the recent Catholic tournament at Archbishop Curley.
* Ted Wiley, North Harford, Sr., Hwt -- The only senior for the Hawks, he was fourth in the county but failed to place in the Class 1A-2A regional at 189 last season. He will be the last of five solid team entries between 152 and heavyweight. Barwick and Cook will provide his best competition.