The 2011-2012 wrestling season is shaping up to be a year of firsts for Howard County.
Not only will wrestlers be forced to get used to 10 new weight classes, the most drastic change to weight classifications since 1989 when the 103-pound class was introduced, but more importantly, two wrestlers have the opportunity to become the county's first four-time state champions.
If Centennial's Nathan Kraisser (132 pounds) and Oakland Mills' Tony Farace (120) end this season the same way that they have ended each of their first three, with a win in the state finals, they will become the fifth and sixth four-time state champions in Maryland history.
Three Howard County wrestlers — Oakland Mills' Jeff Rosenberg (1986-1988), River Hill's Brandon Lauer (1998-2000) and Hammond's Vince Taweel (2004-2006) — ended their high school careers as three-time state champions.
"I'm excited for this year. I don't want to look too far ahead to states but I want to go out there and have fun and wrestle hard and keep up what I've been doing," said Kraisser, who has committed to wrestle for the University of North Carolina next year. "It's the last year of high school. I'm the upperclassman now, I'm the guy, but I'm also thinking that next year is college, so I can't relax. Next year is a big step so I've got to keep going strong."
Farace lost to Kraisser in the county tournament finals each of his first two seasons, but will be looking to win his second consecutive county title this year.
"I've just got to work a little harder this year like always, put a little more into everything I do, more weights, more cardio, more drilling," he said. "I don't really feel a lot of pressure because it's the same as the past three years ... I think I'm really just having more fun with it than anything ... but it's also kind of sad to know that my high school career is coming to an end."
While Kraisser has his college plans in place, Farace is motivated by his lack of a college commitment.
"I'm definitely planning on wrestling in college ... and I'm just hoping to get a spot on a real good team," he said. "I'm really hoping to get to the level that Nathan is on nationally and get some more support from some big-name schools."
As for the new weight classes, 103 pounds is out and 106 is in. As a result, nine other weight classes have been adjusted to 113, 120, 126, 132, 138, 170, 182, 195 and 220. Four weight classes, 145, 152, 160 and 285, will stay the same.
The change was made, according to the National Federation of State High School Associations, to create weight classes that have approximately 7 percent of the total pool of wrestlers in each weight class.
"It's a bit different. There's not as much of a gap so there are going to be more people squeezed into 132 and 126," said Kraisser, who is considering dropping down to 126 for tournaments. "I'm trying to lift and get bigger and get ready for bigger college guys soon, because those guys have man strength."
In team competition, Glenelg will attempt to defend its county tournament and state dual meet titles, though the Gladiators will get a stiff challenge from the likes of Hammond and River Hill, winners of 14 combined county tournament titles since 1993, along with Oakland Mills and Reservoir.
Only two programs will break in new coaches this year, and one of them — Atholton's Bruce Lindblad — really isn't that new at all. Lindblad coached Atholton from 1995 to 2009, when he switched positions with junior varsity coach Haroon Rashed. After two years coaching the JV squad, Lindblad is back as varsity head coach.
At Howard, Shea Conway takes over as head coach. Last year's coach, Tim Murdock, is recovering from surgery. Conway graduated in 2005 from Glenelg, where he was a wrestler and lacrosse player. He went on to play lacrosse for Lycoming College, graduating in 2009, and is now a special education teacher at Howard High.
Last season: 1-10 league, 2-26 overall, 10th at county tournament
Coach: Bruce Lindblad, first season (15th overall)
Top returners: Seniors Emilio Altamirano (170), Ashton Stennett (160) and Dan Shin (138); juniors Matt Fields (195) and Jay Johnson (132); sophomore Phil Frazier (126).
Top newcomers: Juniors Pat Mullens (152) and Payam Sojdehei (285).
The gameplan: Altamirano was injured last year at the Grapple at the Brook tournament in mid-January after compiling a 15-3 record, and missed the rest of the season. His return along with Mullens, who also missed last season, will give the Raiders a welcome boost in the middle weights. Stennett and Shin each won 15 matches last year as well. Stennett and Fields, who each placed fifth, were Atholton's top finishers at the county tournament last year.
Bonus point: Mullens led Atholton's county champion football team this year with three fumble recoveries and rushed for five touchdowns.
Last season: 3-8, 7-15, eighth at county tournament
Coach: David Roogow, fifth season
Top returners: Seniors Nathan Kraisser (132) and Ian Harrison (145); sophomores Hutson Baumann (138) and Sam Boulos (145/152).http://content.p2p.tila.trb/content_items/edit/66560769
Top newcomers: Junior Nizami Barton (152).
The gameplan: Kraisser, Centennial's only returning regional qualifier, is already on the short list of the state's greatest high school wrestlers of all time. But the Eagles do have a few other wrestlers who are hoping to find some success this year. Baumann scored a pin in last year's varsity consolation finals and can only benefit from having Kraisser as a practice partner. Harrison was a JV county champion last season.
Bonus point: Kraisser scored 24 pins and ten tech falls last year, and enters this year with a high school record of 116-3.
Last season: 11-0, 31-2, county tournament champions, 1A/2A state dual meet champion
Coach: Chris Rosas, second season
Top returners: Juniors Ryan Carter (138) and Anthony Pagnotta (160); sophomores Joe Zoller (132) and Austin Pagnotta (145).
Top newcomers: Seniors Justin Jung (220) and Sean Twigg (285); freshman Tim Null (106).
The gameplan: Although the Gladiators graduated three county champions and four regional champions, their goal is still another county championship. Brothers Anthony and Austin Pagnotta, Carter and Zoller each won at least 20 matches last season. Among the newcomers, Jung and Twigg each won JV county championships last year, while Null brings a good deal of junior league experience to high school with him. In all, Glenelg had six JV county champs last year, more than any other team.
Bonus point: Nick Caffrey (128 wins), Jack Borkowski (104) and David Pruett (90) combined to win 322 matches for Glenelg before graduating last spring.
Hammond Golden Bears
Last season: 8-3, 21-10, seventh at county tournament
Coach: Jason Freiert, third season
Top returners: Seniors Jonathan Goodwin (152) and Wilson Low (132); juniors Raven Coleman-Brooks (145), Bryan Overton (160) and Humphrey Anuh (195).
Top newcomers: Seniors Michael Waters (182) and Melvin Iwukuoa (220); junior Josh Thibodeaux (170).
The gameplan: Goodwin, Hammond's most experienced and polished wrestler, missed much of last year with a knee injury and is looking to make up for lost time. Overton, a county finalist who won more than 30 matches last year including two in the state tournament, looks poised for a breakout season. Iwukuoa is the latest in a long line of football crossovers which last year included state placewinners Baldwin Asala and Payton Rose.
Bonus point: Hammond assistant coach Ryan Mackin, who won a state title for the Golden Bears in 2001, is 4-1 as a professional mixed martial artist.
Last season: 2-9, 6-13, 11th at county tournament
Coach: Shea Conway, first season
Top returners: Seniors Mike Frazier (285) and Nick Loiselle (170/182); sophomores Nate Schiavone (113) and Vince Schiavone (132).
Top newcomers: Junior Robert Bruffey (138); freshmen Nick Williams (106) and Bryan Crumback (119).
The gameplan: Things are looking up for the Lions. They have good numbers, around 38 at the start of the season, and a good influx of junior league talent, headlined by Williams and Crumback. Frazier pinned 12 of his first 20 opponents last year, and hopes to qualify for his first state tournament. As first-year wrestlers last year, the Schiavone twins took their licks, with Nate placing third at JV 103 and Vince fifth at JV 112. With some experience now, they should be ready to be varsity contenders.
Bonus point: Conway's younger brother, Brendan, won 138 matches for Glenelg between 2006 and 2010, leading the Gladiators to their first state tournament title.
Long Reach Lightning
Last season: 0-11, 0-18, 12th at county tournament
Coach: Joseph Novotny, second season
Top returners: Senior Jay Rathod (130); juniors Ronald Hindman (106) and Matt Ellis (145).
Top newcomers: Junior Jon Liam (195); sophomore Kyle Fleisher (138).
The gameplan: Numbers are still down at Long Reach — they've got about ten wrestlers on varsity and eight on JV — but Hindman gives the Lightning a legitimate talent. He went 9-11 last year and finished seventh in a very deep 103-pound weight class at the county tournament. Ellis and Rathod got some varsity experience under their belts as well, and should be able to hold their own.
Bonus point: At last year's District V Duals, Hindman went 4-1 with a pair of pins.
Marriotts Ridge Mustangs
Last season: 4-7, 13-14, ninth at county tournament
Coach: Jason Conley, seventh season
Top returners: Seniors Codi Parton (132) and Jeff Barbera (113); junior Michael Min (160); sophomore Chris Park (195).
Top newcomers: Freshman V.J Stout (180); junior Lyle Fugate (170).
The gameplan: The Mustangs have about 40 kids in the wrestling room, so having an experienced wrestlers at each weight class shouldn't be a problem. Parton and Barbera won a combined 44 matches last year and are the Mustangs most experienced wrestlers. Fugate was a JV county finalist last year, and claimed a spot in the varsity starting lineup during the preseason. Stout will have his hands full wrestling at 180 as a freshman, but he does have junior league experience.
Bonus point: Last year, Ian Hochuli (119) became Marriotts Ridge's first county champion, finished his senior year with a record of 40-2, and placed third at the state tournament.
Mt. Hebron Vikings
Last season: 6-5, 17-12, sixth at county tournament
Coach: Todd DeCrispino, fifth season (23rd overall)
Top returners: Junior Joe Kendrick (145); sophomore Ryan Hassan (220).
Top newcomers: Junior Nick Lucchesi (160); freshmen Jeff Hayden (106) and Connor Strunk (126).
The gameplan: The Vikings have more than 50 wrestlers in the room, which may be the most in the county, and they'll need them after graduating seven varsity starters and almost 200 wins from last year's team. On the plus side, Hayden and Strunk already have excellent junior league résumés and should be able to thrive as freshmen. Kendrick and Hassan each won about 20 matches last year, and Lucchesi was a JV county finalist. Kendrick looked ready to make a good postseason run, but had to injury default out of the county tournament.
Bonus point: Alex Stewart became Mt. Hebron's first regional champion since 2003 last year before graduating.
Oakland Mills Scorpions
Last season: 7-4, 20-10, fifth at county tournament
Coach: Brad Howell, 14th season
Top returners: Seniors Tony Farace (120), David Ulysse (152) and Michael Moore (138); juniors Zach Hensley (106), Dominick Clarke (182) and Roy Kadje (285).
Top newcomers: Senior Will Hester (220); sophomore Dylan Juskus (160); freshman Jaron Smith (145).
The gameplan: Many would argue that the Scorpions lightweight duo of Hensley and Farace is one of the best one-two punches in the state. Farace is a three-time state champion and Hensley finished last year 41-2 with a third-place finish at the state tournament. There's no reason that they couldn't both finish this season atop the podium at the state meet. Ulysse, who finished 27-15 last year with a state tournament appearance, is the next most experienced wrestler in the lineup. Smith, a junior league vet, could be fun to watch.
Bonus point: The Scorpions have won the annual Overlea Invitational tournament three years in a row.
Last season: 8-3, 14-8, fourth at county tournament, 3A/4A East regional champion)
Coach: Andrew McIntyre, second season
Top returners: Sophomores Mason Kilcarr (113/120) and Hans Wicklein (120/126).
Top newcomers: Sophomore Michael Sullivan (195); freshmen Troy Kilcarr (106), Trent Kilcarr (113) and Sam Rowell (138).
The gameplan: Not only do the defending regional champion Gators have to deal with graduation this year — they lose a pair of 100-match winners in two-time state champ Mark Colabucci (141-18) and Josh Hamilton (108-16) — but also relocation. Seth Rowell, who was Reservoir's youngest county champ as a sophomore last season, transferred to Mount St. Joseph, and Donovan Peek, who won 23 matches and was a county finalist as a freshman, moved out of state. But the Gators do have youth, raw talent and numbers (40). Mason Kilcarr, who won a regional title as a freshman and finished with more than 32 wins, is back as the team's veteran leader. His younger brothers, Troy and Trent, have kicked around the junior league circuit for years and will be a big help. Rowell's younger brother, Sam, is another junior league star. Sullivan was a JV county finalist and Wicklein finished fourth in the varsity tournament.
Bonus point: Hamilton (34) and Colabucci (26) combined for 60 pins last year, and Hamilton pinned his opponent in the third place match of the state tournament in only 18 seconds.
River Hill Hawks
Last season: 10-1, 28-8, county tournament runner-up
Coach: Brandon Lauer, sixth season
Top returners: Seniors Jason Johnson (285), Jacob Benedict (220), Omar Messallam (182) and Jack Noonan (152); junior Taariq Mohammed (113); sophomores Cory Daniel (170) and Logan Kirby (195).
Top newcomers: Sophomore Michael Beck (106); freshman Brian Kirby (138).
The gameplan: The Hawks, who were long known for their depth in the lowerweights, are now the envy of the county when it comes to upperweights. Between 152 and 285 they have three 30 match winners (Johnson, Benedict and Daniel) and three 20 match winners (Messallam, Kirby and Noonan). All six were regional qualifiers, and Daniel and Benedict both made it to the state tournament, where Benedict placed sixth. Mohammed also went to the state tournament last year and finished the season with 32 wins. Brian Kirby is the latest in a line of four brothers, after Sean, Cameron and Logan, to lend their considerable talent to River Hill wrestling.
Bonus point: Lauer had to wait until December to get the full attention of two of his best upperweights, Johnson and Logan Kirby. Both were standout defensive linemen for River Hill's 3A state champion football team, which defeated Thomas Johnson, 41-13, at M&T Bank Stadium Dec. 3.
Wilde Lake Wildecats
Last season: 6-5, 11-10, third at county tournament
Coach: Azmar Hagler, fifth season
Top returners: Seniors Alex Polonsky (120/113) and Ryan Drazenovic (152/160); juniors Jordan Trinh (113) and Tola Morakinyo (152/160); sophomore Noah Polonsky (108).
Top newcomers: Juniors Nate Haase (195) and Kris Hines (182); sophomores Tyler Anderson (126) and Malik Jackson (132).
The gameplan: It would be impossible to replace the production of county champions Alvin Harris and Zathy Ndiang, who also won a state title, in the upperweights, but the Wildecats should be strong down low with the Polonsky brothers and Trinh. Alex Polonsky won a state championship as a sophomore, and hopes to go out as a senior with another strong showing. Morakinyo broke out as a sophomore, finishing third in the county and winning 24 matches. Drazenovic made it back in time for the county tournament last year after recovering from heart surgery. He struggled, but has a track record of success and is capable of big things this year. Anderson and Jackson, JV county champs last year, headline a booster crop of incoming talent.
Bonus point: Last year Wilde Lake had five JV county champions — Noah Polonsky (103), Anderson (112), Jackson (125), Adam Satterfield (171) and K.C. Collins (215).