It seemed no matter where Andrew Schlaffer went this college wrestling season, he ran into an old opponent.
Schlaffer, a 2003 state high school champion at Dulaney who is now a 149-pound redshirt sophomore at the University of Maryland, squared off against Rider freshman Mike Kessler, a 2005 state champion at Owings Mills, four times during the 2005-06 season.
Schlaffer, a product of the Golden Ring junior program, edged Kessler, a former Owings Mills junior league wrestler, each time - twice by a point.
"We joked around about it - that we kept wrestling each other," Schlaffer said, adding solid coaching in Baltimore County has helped both wrestlers achieve success in college.
"I have a lot of respect for Kessler. I think it shows that the junior leagues, Golden Ring and Owings Mills, taught us a lot of good basics that carry over to college."
Now, the two Baltimore County residents have a chance to meet again, as both qualified for the NCAA Division I championships, which will begin today at the Ford Center in Oklahoma City. The tournament's final round will be broadcast on ESPN starting at 7:30 p.m. Saturday.
Schlaffer and Kessler are two of the state's biggest success stories this year on the collegiate level and two of only five Baltimore-area residents to qualify for the Division I championships.
Schlaffer has a 24-12 record and captured the Atlantic Coast Conference title, while Kessler is 27-11 and was third in the Colonial Athletic Association.
Schlaffer's coach, Pat Santoro, a two-time NCAA champion, attributes his wrestler's performance to hard work.
"He's been consistent and dedicated," Santoro said. "I think Andrew shows that Maryland [high school] wrestlers can be successful at [the University of] Maryland. I've received a great response from Pennsylvania and New Jersey kids who want to come here, but I'd like to get more of the top Maryland kids."
The other Baltimore-area residents to qualify for the tournament include two seeded heavyweights.
Millersville resident Bode Ogunwole, a two-time National Prep champ at Georgetown Prep, is seeded fifth at heavyweight. An Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association champion for Harvard, Ogunwole, a junior, is 27-5 this year.
Virginia Tech's Mike Faust is the No. 8 seed at heavyweight. A senior, Faust, a three-time private schools state titlist at Gilman, recently won his second straight ACC title. He has a 34-6 record.
Kevin Artis (141 pounds), a senior at North Carolina-Greensboro, also qualified. Artis was a 2001 Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association titlist at Archbishop Curley. He is now 26-7 and a Southern Conference champion.
Also qualifying for the tournament were Montgomery County residents Max Meltzer (141, Harvard) and Matt Palmer (174, Columbia). Each won three Maryland private school titles while at Bullis. Palmer, who is 15-6 this season, was an All-American last year at 165 pounds.