When he was 7, Greg Saumenig didn't want to start the sport; now he doesn't ever want to stop, and that's a big plus for Old Mill

The Baltimore Sun

Playing soccer, baseball and football growing up, Greg Saumenig was always the most diminutive player on the field. When he was 7, his father broached the idea of trying wrestling.

"He was a small kid, but with his body and athleticism, I thought he'd be a good wrestler," said Art Saumenig, Greg's father and an assistant wrestling coach at Old Mill.

There was just one problem: Greg wasn't interested.

"Just give me one practice, and if you don't like it, I promise, I'll never bother you again," Art Saumenig recalls telling his son.

Thirty minutes into that first practice, during a water break, Greg approached his father.

"He said, 'Dad, when's the next practice?' And from that moment he was hooked," Art Saumenig said.

Now a senior, Greg Saumenig has gone on to become a standout wrestler at Old Mill. He wrapped up a dominating junior season by winning the state championship in the 112-pound class, as well as his second straight Class 4A-3A East regional title and Baltimore County tournament championship.

An All-Metro selection last year, Saumenig, 5 feet 3, had 136 takedowns along the way to a 35-1 record, defeating three state champions and three runners-up in the process.

Improving on those accomplishments as he moves up to wrestle in the 119-pound class this year might prove difficult. But judging by his development over the years, no one should be surprised if he does just that.

When he first began wrestling, Saumenig loved the intensity and aggressiveness of his new pursuit. He immersed himself into practices and happily walked onto the mat to compete.

But because of his small stature, he wrestled against bigger kids - often with more experience - and did not fare well.

"During his first two years competing in the sport, he hardly ever won a match," his father said. "He took a real beating, but he enjoyed it."

While most 10-year-olds enjoyed having schools closed during Christmas vacation, Saumenig grew agitated. Locked schools meant no place to wrestle.

Art Saumenig received permission to bring Greg to the Naval Academy's recreation program practices, thus beginning the Saumenigs' annual holiday tradition.

"We spent the whole Christmas holiday wrestling in the evenings," Art Saumenig said. "Almost every holiday since then, we've been at the Naval Academy."

Greg earned the nickname "Mat Rat" because he spent 11 months of the year wrestling. During the offseason, he pestered his father to seek out new challenges for him.

"I'd want him to take a break and he'd come up to me and say, 'You need to find me a tournament,' " his father said. "Other coaches would see us at all these different tournaments and tell me, 'You're going to burn him out.' I'd tell them, 'It's not me, it's him!' "

As a 90-pound freshman at Old Mill, Greg wrestled in the 103-pound class. Although he was outweighed by 10 to 15 pounds in every match, he finished third in the region and was 2-2 at the state championship meet.

"He's been a force since Day One," said Old Mill coach Jim Grimm, who played football and lacrosse in high school with Greg's father. "He was fluid, very technically sound, dominant and tough, even though he was underweight."

The first two times he faced Hammond's talented Devon Gillett, Saumenig got pinned on both occasions. In their third matchup during their freshman year, Saumenig won, 5-4.

"He's mentally strong and doesn't believe that anybody can beat him," Grimm said. "The wrestling community is very close and everybody's his friend. But whoever they send out onto the mat, it doesn't matter if it's his girlfriend or his grandmother, he becomes their worst enemy and he's there to put them through hell."

In addition to his usual offseason conditioning program of calisthenics, Saumenig spent more time in the weight room this year to improve his strength. A takedown technician who is very good on his feet, Saumenig has recently been focused on developing better tilts and top moves.

"I want to go undefeated, win the Mount Mat Madness Tournament and a state championship," he said. "That would complete my year and be a good ending to my high school career."

Away from the mat, Saumenig remains consumed by the sport. He's not averse to playfully grappling with his 10-year-old sister on the living room floor.

"They're both so small, we don't have to clear out any furniture," Art Saumenig said. "I jump in and referee and make sure that she wins. She's got a mean headlock that he taught her."

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