Mount Mat Madness, regarded as one of the top wrestling tournaments in the country until going on a one-year hiatus, is returning this weekend at UMBC with 28 teams from Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania and Virginia.
"Usually, when you want to go to a national, super tough tournament, you have to travel," Loyola coach Steve Truitt said. "It's nice to have this one in our own backyard."
A year ago, teams looking for tougher competition had to venture out of the area or start their own event because Neil Adleberg, the originator and chairman of Mount Mat Madness, decided that he needed a rest after eight years of running the tournament.
"It requires more than just putting mats down on a gym floor," he said. "It's a year-long process, and I absolutely needed a break."
But this year, the tournament is back for its ninth edition.
The top 11 teams from two winters ago, including defending champion Wyoming Seminary (Pa.), aren't participating this time, but the event still features several of the state's top squads.
The competing teams include: No. 4 Archbishop Spalding, No. 8 Mount St. Joseph, No. 10 Glenelg and No. 12 Reservoir, as well as Urbana, the reigning Class 4A-3A dual-meet state champion, and DeMatha, the defending Washington Catholic Athletic Conference champion.
"People were saying we really needed a tournament in the area that gave Maryland kids an opportunity to wrestle the tougher regional competition," Adleberg said. "I brought it back for the kids."
In order to get a site for the tournament, which is usually held in January, Adleberg had to schedule this year's event during the holiday break — and in conflict with the McDonogh Holiday Duals and the distinguished Powerade Christmas Tournament in Pennsylvania.
"It's not as prestigious as it was last year because many teams were already in Christmas tournaments," Adleberg said. "It's not a great week for bringing kids in, but we have  teams and we're much stronger than we were when we first started the tournament in 2003 with 20 teams and four mats."
Wyoming Seminary is one of those teams lost to the holiday scene.
"We enjoyed attending Mount Mat Madness," Wyoming Seminary coach Scott Green said in an email. "[But] we are locked into a three-year contract with [the Bethlehem Holiday Wrestling Classic], a Flo Major event in the Lehigh Valley over Christmas break."
While Green said the Bethlehem Holiday Wrestling Classic offers his kids a chance to compete against other wrestlers they don't normally see, Adelberg said he expects the strong Pennsylvania team, ranked No. 2 in the latest InterMat national rankings, to return when the tournament goes back to its regular January time period in the future.
Archbishop Spalding, a contender to dethrone No. 1 McDonogh in the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association's A Conference, is delighted to participate in Mount Mat Madness for the same reason Green is happy to take Wyoming Seminary to the Lehigh Valley event — unfamiliar competition.
"Mount Mat Madness gives us the opportunity to face different competition and tougher competition," Cavaliers coach Mike Laidley said. "It's also right here and will save us travel expense money and give the coaches more time to spend with their wives over the holidays, which is a good thing. And it allows Maryland to showcase its wrestlers."
Laidley said he hopes to see several of his wrestlers, including senior Michael Still (120 pounds), junior Matt Pente (132), senior Cole Graves (145), junior Logan Breitenbach (152) and junior Zach Abey (195), make strong bids for the top of the winner's podium at UMBC this weekend.
Loyola will feature senior David Mohler (138), junior Walter Johnson (145), senior Conan Schuster (170) and sophomore Jake Nordhausen (182), while Reservoir coach Andy McIntyre expects Gators senior Joe Quattrone (126), junior Mason Kilcarr (132) and junior Michael Sullivan (195) to perform well at the event.
"I'm glad to see this tournament back," McIntyre said. "It will challenge my wrestlers. And it's a chance for my team to push itself and see just what each of our members has to do to improve."
McIntyre and Truitt both hope the tournament will push their wrestlers to the edge.
"As a coach, I try to give my team easy, medium and hard matches," Truitt said. "We need to see tough kids to give my kids tougher challenges. If all the matches are cupcakes, if my kids haven't been tested by being down in a match or by losing, I haven't done my job and they won't be ready [for the postseason tournaments] by the end of the season."
Coaches know the competition won't be what it has been in previous years, but they all see it as a step up from what they face on a daily basis.
"For us, it is probably still a little above where we should be," said Boys' Latin coach Drew Haugh, who has freshman Nick Malinowski (106), junior Anthony Wyler (145) and junior captain Evan Dohler (170) leading the Lakers. "But it will open my team's eyes to what quality wrestling really is. We've got a really young team with four freshmen. I'm looking at it as a wake-up call."