Depth and star power may give No. 4 Hammond the nod as favorites to repeat in this weekend's county wrestling tournament, but there's a number of teams qualified to unseat the Golden Bears.
The tournament is set to start at 3 p.m. Friday and continue through Saturday night. What unfolds in that time is a question left to be answered because of the growing parity.
Four teams - River Hill, Glenelg, Oakland Mills and Atholton - have enough firepower to make a difference, and the remaining schools have quality individuals who also can make an impact on the team scores.
"I think it's been a continual move toward this over the years," said Oakland Mills coach Brad Howell. "Howard County was often one or two teams deep for several years, but it's moved to a deeper competition level."
River Hill coach Earl Lauer, who passed on the head coaching duties to his son, Brandon, in the middle of the season but remains with the team, said two of the biggest factors in the spread-out success are the further development and growth of the junior league program in Howard County as well as coaching stability among the top schools.
It should add up to a quality tournament.
The Bears' quality starts at the lighter weights with Devon Gillett (112 pounds), Zach Halper (125), Jose Maldonado (135) and two-time state champ Vince Taweel at 140. River Hill, which had won five straight county crowns prior to being dethroned by Hammond last year, is anchored by returning county champ Taylor Green (152), Ben Diamond (171) and heavyweight B.J. Benning.
Glenelg's big three are the Bichner brothers - Matt (160) and Dan (119) - and 125-pounder Chris Stinnett. Sophomore 112-pounder Brian Marcoux, who upset Gillett in last week's regional dual meet semifinals, also will be a factor for the Gladiators.
Halper and Stinnett likely will see each other for a fourth time this season. Halper has taken two of the first three, including a 2-0 overtime decision in last week's region dual meet semifinals.
Atholton will count on 103-pounder Rob Eloshway, who likely will get a challenge from Howard's Tyler Bulger, and 140-pounder Ryan Conroy, who may run into Taweel.
The Oakland Mills wrestling season has been a pride thing.
Before the start of the season, Scorpions coach Brad Howell used the acronym "P-R-I-D-E" to further motivate the solid group he had to work with.
"We thought, 'How are we going to be successful?' So we came up with the word 'pride' and within that the five letters stood for certain individual things," Howell said.
Specifically, they stood for Physical, Respect, Intensity, Discipline and Empowerment, and Howell said the Scorpions, who went 11-2 in dual meets and qualified for the Class 2A-1A South regional dual-meet tournament last week, have lived by those values this season.
"We've all taken stock in the team and each other and the values of the team have carried us," Howell said. "[In] our room, for instance, everything starts exactly on time and the kids are always prepared. Everybody has displayed discipline in the room and outside the room. Win or lose, we're very proud of the boys."
Jeremy Askew and Kevin Klink are the senior captains and two of six state qualifiers the Scorpions had back from last season.
The River Hill girls basketball team entered the final week of the regular season poised to match the perfect county record the Hawks achieved last season.
What are the differences between the two teams?
Size and smarts.
With 6-foot-4 All-Metro center Brittany Gordon graduating last year, the No. 8 Hawks (20-0, 16-0 in the county) don't have a 6-footer for the first time since coach Teresa Waters took over the program in 1998. What the team did bring back, however, was an experienced group that is a year wiser.
"I don't know if we work harder, but we just work smarter. I think the kids know when to pick it up and when to slow it down," Waters said. All-Metro senior guard Keisha Eaddy averages around 22 points and five assists per game to lead the way. Kelsey Erdman and Cari Haas, both averaging 11 points a game, have helped boost the offense, and it's been a collective effort rebounding and on defense.
The Hawks, who likely will host Atholton or Mount Hebron in the county championship game next Tuesday, won 25 straight games last season before falling to Milford Mill in the state semifinals.
Wall on rise
Long Reach senior guard Davon Wall has picked up his play in the second half of the season, and Lightning coach Al Moraz Jr. has taken note.
After averaging around 11 points a game in the early going, Wall has averaged 18-plus in the last 12 games for the Lightning. That has further enhanced the one-two punch with forward Darryl Webb.
"I think a lot of it is just confidence as he's gotten more games under his belt this season," Moraz said. "He's an athletic kid who's all over the place. It's huge for Davon and us because teams can't just key on Webb as much now."