Dick Bitzer often tells his wrestlers at Annapolis Area Christian School that "adversity helps build strength."
They have plenty of reminders.
The team practices in a warehouse underneath a convenience store in Pasadena that sits about nine miles from the school. Injuries have sidelined a couple of wrestlers. And the Eagles don't have a home match this season. They don't even have a gymnasium.
Despite these inconveniences, the Eagles are off to another blistering start, having won three of their first four matches and taking first place in the St. Michael's Tournament for the second straight year.
Their only loss came against Annapolis, and the 35-27 score was a moral victory of sorts for a tiny program that has fewer than 100 boys to draw from and has to compete with the basketball team for athletes.
"We were excited about that match," said Bitzer, who has been with the wrestling program since its inception five years ago. "We'd like to get into the public school schedules more and more, it's just a little bit tough to do. And we're not ready to take on Old Mill. But there are some around that we can compete with. As it is, we travel an awful lot now to try to wrestle schools our own size and in the same area of development as us."
The students at Annapolis Area moved into a new school last January, leaving the church that had served as their home. But the facility won't have its gymnasium ready until after the season. There was no other alternative for the Eagles. They had to hit the road.
Even in past years, the conditions that they have practiced and wrestled under haven't been the envy of the county, but they haven't let it affect their performances. They've won eight matches in each of the last two seasons, and Bitzer said he is "excited about how things have worked out so far" this year.
He has seven starters back from last season, including standouts Josh Palumbo (19-4) at 103 pounds, Jesse Rosquist (22-4) at 125 and Seth Adema (23-3) at 130. Brad Harrison (140 pounds), David Sloat (145), Sam Brown (152) and Sean Brown (171) also return.
Three other wrestlers with varsity experience are sophomores Josh Taylor (135) and Jason Bogaczyk (275) and junior Nate Poskitt (189).
Palumbo and Adema have won their first six decisions, and newcomer Matt Aird, a 189-pound freshman, is 5-2. Palumbo, Rosquist and Aird each registered pins against Annapolis.
Other freshman newcomers include Steven Campbell and Kevin Brown at 103, Christian Early at 112, Matt Tyler and John Wetzold at 119 and David Larson at 135. Kevin and Sean Brown are brothers. The Eagles also have added junior Jeff Griffith at 130.
"We're hoping to match what we did last year," said Bitzer, whose team competes as an independent and will conclude its season with a tournament in Philadelphia that it won last winter. "The kids feel good about themselves after their good showing with Annapolis."
He never has to question their desire, especially the boys who live in Bowie and Upper Marlboro. Anyone willing to put in the hours -- and the miles -- necessary to wrestle at Annapolis Area has proved their dedication.
"We don't look at those things as downers," Bitzer said, "but rather as things that encourage us to go even harder."