Brandon Lauer's countdown has begun.
Seven more victories and Lauer becomes Maryland's fourth wrestler to complete an undefeated high school career -- joining Paint Branch's Brian Crane, Bullis School's Len Bernstein, and Owings Mills' Steve Kessler.
Lauer, a River Hill 125-pounder ranked No. 3 in the country by USA Wrestling, is 104-0 over three seasons. He's 32-0 this season.
This weekend, the two-time state champion wrestles in the Class 3A-4A North region tournament at Dundalk, where he will likely face Franklin's No. 2-ranked Stan Wagner. Lauer defeated Wagner earlier this season at the dual-meet regional championships, 13-5.
At the state championships March 3-4, Lauer might face Wagner again. Others who pose a threat at states are Broadneck's Rick Boulay and Montgomery County champion Blake Roland, of Springbrook -- Lauer's cousin.
"I've never wrestled him [Roland] and really don't want to, because he's family," Lauer said. "He's my dad's sister's son, and I'm real close with him."
Lauer almost lost the streak three times.
In his sophomore year, he cut weight from 117 pounds to 105 pounds and wrestled Kevin Stine at the Delmarva Classic. Lauer trailed by a point in the final period but scored an escape and takedown with 45 seconds left to win, 7-5.
"After my sophomore year, I wanted to lose a match because I thought there'd be too much pressure my senior year if the streak was still going," Lauer said.
For his junior year, he bumped up to 125 from 117 to wrestle Lackey's Jesse McKeever in a dual meet. After some wild scrambles, Lauer led 7-6 after two periods. Then he rode out the bigger McKeever the entire third period, despite taking two injury timeouts.
His biggest scare came in that season's state quarterfinals at Western Maryland College. Leading 2-1, his streak at 69-0, Lauer walked into a headlock against Towson's John Narlis and, five points later, trailed 6-2 after one period.
"My dad [River Hill coach Earl Lauer] was having a heart attack," Lauer quipped. "There were 2,000 people going nuts, rooting for Narlis. I didn't panic. I thought that this was not going to be how the streak ended."
Lauer still trailed by three points entering the third period, but he escaped after a minute and scored a takedown with 30 seconds left to tie the bout at 6.
"Then I did the gutsiest thing I've ever done," Lauer said. "I cut him [let him up, conceding a point] and then took him down with a short drag [scoring two points]. Other coaches said they had respect for me after that. And I knew I had the streak under control."
Lauer's climb to the top began at age 9 in the Western Howard County Wrestling Association, which his father started with River Hill assistant coach Marshall Dauberman. He went 13-6 with five pins that first recreation league season.
Nine years later, the 5-foot-4 senior has compiled a 32-0 record, which includes 21 pins, four major decisions and seven forfeits.
Highlights along the way: two Amateur Athletic Union national titles, an Eastern National title, fifth place at the Cadet World Team Trials, fifth at the Junior Nationals and third at the National High School Open Championships, where Junior World Freestyle champ Harry Lester, from Ohio, reversed him with 28 seconds left for a 3-2 victory.
'He doesn't make mistakes'
He weighed only 90 pounds his freshman year in high school, so he sat out, compiling a 54-5 junior-league record that season.
Lauer has no signature move. He's a technician whose style is aggressive. He tries to beat opponents mentally and physically. And he's a scrambler who strings together combinations of moves with breathtaking speed.
"He's real quick and doesn't make mistakes," said North Hagerstown's Paul Toomy, whom Lauer pinned in 5: 12 at the state dual-meet semifinals for his 100th victory. "He was intimidating because he was unbeaten. I tried to avoid his throws and not get pinned."
In the dual-meet state finals, which River Hill lost by two points to Old Mill after leading by 10 with two bouts left, Lauer bumped up to 130 pounds to wrestle third-ranked Adam DeCosmo. After being taken down by the state runner-up in the first period, Lauer stormed back to win 15-4.
"He was able to get ticked off a bit and take it to another level," said Lauer's father, who started the wrestling program when River Hill opened four years ago. "He's not going to sit on a lead. No one can wrestle move-for-move with him. They have to stall, back up, and try to steal it with a big move at the end of a period. There's nothing he does that's unusual. He's just physical with basic, high-percentage moves."
Tom Salb, a former Damascus travel-team coach who is well-known in Montgomery County wrestling circles, has followed Lauer's career since Lauer began wrestling against Salb's son at age 9. Lauer twice has been named Outstanding Wrestler at Montgomery County's "Big M" Tournament at Magruder.
"No one can touch Lauer," Salb said. "He's Maryland's premier wrestler -- bar none. I've watched him beat more state champs than you can shake a stick at. He never fails to amaze me. You can't teach the instincts that he has. He's one of the top three in the nation now and can be successful as a college freshman."
Lauer has signed with West Virginia on an athletic scholarship, citing his ambition to one day wrestle in the Olympics and the fact that West Virginia's assistant coach, Zeke Jones, was an Olympic silver medalist.
'A great ride'
Lauer hopes to teach and coach in Howard County. He already sits in the assistant coach's chair at matches, yelling instructions, leading cheers, and giving pep talks beforehand.
In addition to wrestling, Lauer has earned letters in cross country, outdoor track and soccer. He'll earn 10 letters in all.
He is also involved in several after-school programs, sits on the county's Interscholastic Athletic Advisory Committee, helps coach a travel wrestling team with four-time Howard County champ Jeff Rosenberg, and works with the police department speaking to fifth-graders on the dangers of using drugs.
"He's provided me with a lot of satisfaction," said his dad. "I couldn't ask for anything better. It's been a great ride."
River Hill's Brandon Lauer is looking to become the fourth wrestler in Maryland to go undefeated in high school. The others:
Name High school Class Record College College highlight
Brian Crane Paint Branch 1982 83-0 Princeton NCAA qualifier
Len Bernstein Bullis School 1984 110-0 North Carolina Fourth NCAAs
Steve Kessler Owings Mills 1997 148-0 Neosho County (Kan.) CC JUCO national champ
Note: Kelly Ward, 47-0 at Kennedy in 1973-74 and 1974-75, was a two-time Maryland champ. He ended high school at Blair Academy in Blairstown, N.J., going 43-0 as a senior, and then, at Iowa State, won an NCAA title.