Carroll County will once again provide high school wrestling enthusiasts with plenty of quality mat time this year.
There's no argument it's one of the state's finest wrestling counties.
Each of the five schools' programs appears to be in a different mode heading into the upcoming season.
Stability is one of the ultimate goals of a successful program, and Francis Scott Key has been setting the standard the past couple of seasons under 17-year coach Bill Hyson. That was particularly evident last season when the Eagles stayed undefeated in dual-meet competition until losing a 35-26 decision to Hammond in the Class 2A-1A state dual-meet final. That all happened after losing two state champions to graduation the year before.
Westminster turned it up a notch last season in Henry Mohlhenrich's third season. The Owls won their first county tournament title in 10 years and made a strong run in the postseason.
"Owl Pride is back!" Mohlhenrich said last season.
The tough part comes next.
"It's real important to show last year wasn't a fluke. It's not going to be easy," he said. "As a coach, I have to find different ways to motivate the guys, find things to use as incentives."
With a solid nucleus back, the Owls should be able to maintain the high level they reached last season.
"We have to come in with the same attitude, and some of the new guys have to develop as well as some of them did last year," Mohlhenrich said. "Again this season, there's not a whole lot of depth. On paper, things look real good, but anything can happen -- an injury, grades."
South Carroll (8-3-1 last season) finds itself in a similar situation Francis Scott Key was in last season -- losing two state champs to graduation.
You can almost double that trouble, in fact. Along with state champs Mike Chenoweth and Charlie Conaway gone, Dan Alberter and Chris Heard were a big part of the Cavaliers' strongest class in years.
"It's tough to have four place-finishers gone," Olson said. "With [returnees Jason] Hamper and [Mike] Muller, we had six guys who consistently won for us last year and just needed one other guy to win. Now, it's just two proven guys."
Olson said he'll need 20 wins from senior 119-pounder Tim Hymiller, who qualified for regionals before being injured last season, and a number of other seniors who have to get past the .500 mark.
North Carroll coach Bryan Wetzel, who replaced legendary coach Dick Bauerlein three years ago, understands the time it takes for everyone to adjust to a new system. The Panthers were the county's powerhouse team for years, winning 11 of the 12 county tournament titles before Bauerlein stepped down. They have remained competitive but have seen Francis Scott Key and Westminster pass them by.
"Things are starting to fall into place," Wetzel said. "With a new program, it takes time for everyone to get in sync. Once you establish yourself in a program and provide good ethics and morals, kids respond to that and know what is expected."
Wetzel is beginning to see rewards from juniors Ben Fleming and Travis Miller, who were new to the sport as freshmen.
Liberty's shining moment came last spring when senior Kevin Jeffress became the Lions' third state titlist and first since 1988. Coach Jeff Hash, in his fifth season, has worked hard to bring stability to the program, but it has been an uphill battle. Liberty doesn't have the feeder program other county schools have, and Hash also has lost three quality wrestlers who have transferred to McDonogh, the private school in Baltimore County.
"It's difficult to take, with the amount of time and effort you put in a program, but at the same time, those are obstacles out of my control," Hash said. "You just try to lead by example, remain positive and have the kids understand it's something we have to deal with."
With a senior-laden team, the Lions got off to an 8-3 start and finished with their first winning season in years at 9-8. With only two starters returning with winning records, they'll be starting from scratch once again this year.
Pub Date: 12/05/96