The season had yet to start, but Old Mill's first-year coach Vern Hines already was talking late last fall like a seasoned veteran.
When assessing his team's prospects, he simply said: "Everything goes through Arundel. To call it a successful season, we have to win there."
Now, two months later, Hines' No. 2-ranked Patriots are a perfect 12-0, and No. 3 Arundel has held up, going 13-0. The teams will meet about 7 p.m. tonight in Gambrills, but you might want to get there a little earlier, because a packed gym is a promise.
The county's regular-season dual-meet championship is on the line.
"What I like is this comes at the end of the season and is good preparation for what will follow," said Hines, an assistant to former longtime coach Mike Hampe the previous four seasons. "It's great for the kids -- the pressure, intensity and packed gym. It's a great situation."
Last season, Old Mill ended Arundel's 31-match winning streak with a 37-27 victory in Millersville, taking a 33-0 lead and eventually clinching the match in the 152-pound bout.
The Patriots had a tougher time against the Wildcats in the Class 3A-4A East region dual-meet final, escaping 25-24 before going on to claim their first dual-meet state title with a win over Westminster.
Arundel, however, answered with its second state tournament championship.
Which brings us to this season.
"You have to give them the nod," said Arundel coach Buddy Hepfer. "They beat us twice last season and basically have the same team. They're tough down low, and we're going to need to have a better start. We can't be playing catch-up again, and it will be crucial to stay off our backs. They have the senior leaders this year."
Then he added: "We'll show up on Friday. We're not going to run."
Both lineups are stacked.
Four Arundel wrestlers are ranked by the Maryland State Wrestling Association, led by heavyweight Jeff Blachly, second in the state at 20-1 with 12 pins. Pat Ortman is ranked fourth at 130 with a 19-2 mark; Greg Klingler ranks fifth at 145 at 20-2; and Shannon Webber is sixth at 112 at 19-4. Four others have at least 18 wins.
Old Mill counters with two-time state champ Chris Combs, No. 1 in the state at 125 pounds with a 21-2 mark. Josh Liston (25-2 at 130) and Eric Hill (21-5 at 135) are both ranked sixth. Six other Patriots have 17 or more wins.
Combs said Old Mill's 38-25 victory against Severna Park Tuesday served as good preparation for tonight's match.
"Severna Park pushed us, and we hadn't had a close match prior to that. It's a good ice-breaker for Arundel," he said. "We'll have to wrestle a lot better against Arundel, because they won't let us get away with some things on Friday. It will be a great match, two undefeated teams. Arundel is an excellent team, and we're going to have to step it up to beat them. I have a feeling we're going to make that step."
The lighter bouts will be vital. The middle weights will feature some of the night's most interesting confrontations, most notably Arundel's Pat Ortman vs. Old Mill's Josh Liston at 130. And the Wildcats should have a slight edge at the upper weights with Matt Neidig (20-2 at 171) and Blachly providing a strong anchor, if the match score is close enough.
Pub Date: 2/05/99