Kessler looks to improve on perfection


Being the third of four wrestling Kessler brothers, Steve Kessler faced plenty of pressure last season as a freshman at Owings Mills.

His brother Kevin, 22, was a state champ for Chesapeake High in Baltimore County in 1989. Greg, 18, won three state titles for Owings Mills from 1990 through 1993 and enters his freshman year of eligibility at Rider University this fall. Mike, 7, placed second in the first junior league tournament he wrestled.

"Because he [Steve] was my brother, people always tried to get inside his head, but he's not the kind of kid who gets flustered by that," said Greg, who has a full scholarship at Rider.

Steve, who had living room free-for-alls against his older brothers since he was 6, withstood that pressure and did what neither Greg, Kevin or any other freshman in Maryland could: He went undefeated, winning Baltimore County, regional and state titles along the way.

Steve, who went 36-0 with 14 pins, combined the styles of Kevin, a patient bruiser, and Greg, a quick technician, to become the first freshman to be chosen All-Metro by the Baltimore Sun in wrestling.

In his 1A-2A state-title bout at 130 pounds, Steve Kessler overcame a 4-1 deficit to beat Northeast's fourth-ranked Matt Jewer, a county and regional champ who brought a 29-2 record, 19 pins and two technical falls into their bout.

Since then, Kessler (at 132 pounds) has won four of seven freestyle tournaments, been a runner-up in two others and defeated some top-notch guys along the way.

His next challenges will come in the Old Bridge, N.J., Wrestling Festival, July 16-24. It is expected to include some of the nation's best.

"Since winning the states, a lot of my focus has changed," said Kessler, 15. "I want to be undefeated through my high school career and be a four-time state champ, but I don't think about it all the time."

Matt Slutzky of Aberdeen became Maryland's first four-time champ two years ago.

Since winning the state title in March, Kessler has garnered a 10-2 victory over Todd Beckerman, a two-time national prep champ with a 110-1 record in two years at DeMatha.

He also escaped in the last few seconds for a 10-9 decision over 3A-4A state champ Sydney Billups, who went 31-0 for Laurel last season.

Steve's sound technical style has improved during his two-hour workouts with Greg twice weekly at McDonogh.

"Sometimes, we go full speed and Greg uses his strength and beats me pretty badly," said Steve, who also goes cycling and lifts weights four times weekly.

"Steve's pretty tough to throw around because he's got such great balance," Greg said. "He's improved 10 times over and he's starting to perfect the things he did last year. If he wrestled every guy from last year again, I think he'd beat them worse."

Every wrestler except 3A-4A state runner-up Alex Leanos of Dulaney, who handed Kessler a 7-8 setback -- one of three defeats this spring. The bout was a rematch of their county title, won by Kessler, 3-1.

"I knew Alex would be tough because he's a real strong guy," said Kessler. "When I beat him at counties, I was able to get a lead and hang on. I couldn't do that this time and I just didn't wrestle well."

Greg Kessler has warned Steve that he needs to "concentrate on wrestling every match better next year, because everyone will be gunning for him.

"That can be a lot of pressure for anyone to worry about, but Steve knows it's not going to get any easier for him," Greg said. "And if he continues to work as hard as he has, I don't think anyone will be able to catch him."

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