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W. Maryland, Hopkins try to pin down title; Centennial Conference wrestling tournament begins at JHU today; State notebook


One local team is poised to go beyond its normal successes, while another hopes that it may be able to outdo its rival in the future.

Both -- Western Maryland and Johns Hopkins -- will be on display this weekend at the Centennial Conference wrestling championships beginning at 9 a.m. today at JHU's Goldfarb Gymnasium.

Tickets will be on sale at the door, $4 for adults and $2 for youth ages 13-18. Centennial Conference students with ID and children under 12 will be admitted free.

The Green Terror enters as one of the favorites to win the conference title, which would be its second in three years after being upset by Ursinus last season.

Charlie Conaway (184 pounds), Rob Johns (157), Vinny Pedalino and Chris McNally (197) have led Western Maryland to a 12-3 record, the program's best mark since a 14-0 campaign in 1969.

The team also tied Gettysburg for its third-straight dual-meet title, which coaches John Lowe and Steve Smitty duly note on their voice mail at the WMC campus in Westminster.

The Green Terror could send seven wrestlers to the NCAA Championships.

It's a long way from where the Green Terror was in the early 1990s before Lowe took over the program. It was on the verge of extinction, with only six wrestlers.

In order to turn the program around, Lowe's strategy was to call every high school wrestler and to be everywhere wrestlers were to be found, even going so far as to referee matches.

"There was a lot of good PR," Lowe said, "so when the time comes, people say, 'Why not Western Maryland?' "

The one thing Lowe has not been able to do is get his team ranked among the top 20 nationally in Division III, despite wins over two top 25 teams this season.

Still, Lowe thinks his team can achieve that status by the end of the NCAA Championships.

"Wilkes was ranked 25th and we gave them a pretty good beating," Lowe said. "Definitely, we should have a top 20 finish if we wrestle the way we can."

At Homewood, it's enough to have the 5-7-2 record the Blue Jays have been able to muster in the first season with co-coaches Kirk Salvo and Steve Thoma.

A success, even as modest as the one 2000 has brought, is new to the Hopkins wrestling program, though there's apparently enough tradition to support an upcoming JHU wrestling reunion that's expected to play host to over 100 people.

Before the arrival of Salvo, a graduate of Mount St. Joseph, and Thoma, Salvo's college teammate at Brown, the Blue Jays had never won more than four dual meets in any season since 1993-94. They finished 1-14 last year under Rob Nusum.

One factor was a lack of staff. The wrestling program has had one coach, who was usually part time. Salvo and Thoma compensated by building a volunteer staff with four more coaches.

"It's a lot of work for a part-time job that pays two-thousand bucks," Salvo said. "If I was doing this all by myself, I'd be overwhelmed."

Four JHU wrestlers have good chances of qualifying for the NCAA tournament out of this meet: Alok Moharir (125), Jose Gonzales (165), Cory Falgowski (141) and Aaron Moak (184).

Salvo sees Western Maryland's program as a blueprint for his, a seedling that might grow into an oak. Maybe into a redwood.

"John Lowe has done such a great job in promoting that sport and that program," Salvo said. "I think that we have an advantage in the long run in the reputation of the university that can draw nationally as opposed to regionally."

Not going quietly

Ward Lambert hasn't figured out what he'll do when his 30th and final season ends, or what he'll keep of the stuff he's collected in his office over the years.

"There's a lot of things in there," said the Salisbury State men's basketball coach, who announced his retirement plans in October.

Lambert's been too busy guiding his team into contention for an NCAA playoff berth in Division III, his team in position to be the No. 2 seed when the Capital Athletic Conference tournament starts next week.

The Sea Gulls (16-7) -- playing the team basketball that garnered a national quarterfinal appearance in 1997 -- have been a bit of a surprise. The team had a shot at the CAC title until a loss to Catholic earlier this week.

Still, in the heat of a playoff race, reality looms. "It dawned on me when I saw the ad in the NCAA news," Lambert said. "I said, 'That's my job!' You always want to get that next season in, but my time is due."

Phelan battling pneumonia

Trumping Lambert's tenure is the 46th season of Mount St. Mary's men's basketball coach Jim Phelan, now in a bout with pneumonia that has kept him out of action for the last week, a sabbatical that could extend to two weeks.

Phelan, 72, said he never gets sick and thought he had a mild case of the flu before he visited Dr. Alan Carroll earlier in the week and found out his illness was more serious.

"I'm surprised, because pneumonia's funny. You don't feel that bad," he said. "But it's the biggest killer of older people in the country."

Phelan said he hopes to be back to campus by Monday. The Mount's athletic director, Harold Menninger, will be happy if the coach is able to return for the home finale on Feb. 26.

Menninger said there shouldn't be any doubts about a 47th season for Phelan, who is being relieved by Don Anderson.

"This hasn't raised any red flags," Menninger said. "Jim Phelan can coach here as long as he wants to."

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