Every since the Maryland State High School Wrestling Association rankings began three years ago, Bullis School has been among the state's leaders.

The Potomac school had moved from No. 4 in 1983-84 to the top spot this winter. Under Coach Justin Golden and his assistant, Walt King, Bullis has posted a 95-13 wrestling record. The Bulldogs put together an ambitious tournament and regular season schedule, wrestling in quad meets on most Saturdays throughout the season.

"We are very committed to our wrestling program," said King, the school's athletic director and football coach who became a student himself in learning Golden's aggressive tactics of strength on the feet wrestling. "It is one of the key programs here that is a competitive program."

Now that the program has been established, the Bulldogs (22-3 this season) don't have any intentions of slacking off. They overpowered most area teams they faced, including Metro Conference regular season champion DeMatha, 42-27.

Since a midseason 25-20 loss to Robinson of Fairfax, annually one of the top public school teams in Northern Virginia, the Bulldogs have made winning impressively their main goal. They will defend their title at the National Prep School Championship tournament this weekend at Lehigh, Pa.

"Emotionally, the kids are really up for it," said King. "There are going to be a lot of good teams there. It's an intersectional tournament and we have teams coming from Texas, Illinois and other parts of the country. As far as how we fare, it depends on how we draw, but we're really ready to defend our title."

Bullis' wrestlers seem more than capable of retaining the title. Before entering Bullis, most participated in exceptional wrestling organizations, such as the Wheaton, Damascus and Carderock boys clubs.

"We've had a real good working relationship with the Beltway League, Wheaton Boys Club, Carderock and Damascus," King said. "We have had a lot of kids come in who have had a lot of experience and we've just had to refine their skills."

Ricky Grapes (ranked No. 1 in the state at 167 with a 39-1 record) and Chuck Lee (ranked No. 4 at 126 with a 34-6 record), are two of the wrestlers who have come from the Wheaton Boys Club.

"I came to Bullis because of the academics," said Lee. "I thought it would be better here because it had a more strenuous academic program and the wrestling team had started to build a program."

"Fortunately, we've had a good grouping of kids that have been good in academics," said King. "We've had kids leave here and go to good collegiate wrestling programs. It academics really puts a bite on them in the winter months with the intensity of our schedule."

Bullis has won the Interstate Athletic Conference championship the last six years and has won the prestigious St. Albans Invitational the last five years.

"Its a great team and a good bunch of guys to wrestle with under a great coach," said senior Brian Burkett, who is ranked fifth in the state at 132 with a 29-7 record. "I have learned mental toughness over the years."

Sophomores Scott Alban, Kaleb McDowell, Andre Kelley and Bob Bunting, along with freshman Greg Welch and senior John Holland, have been successful enough to keep King content with the program that has seven wrestlers in the state rankings this winter.

Alban is ranked No. 1 at 98 pounds with a 38-2 record, Kelley (37-4) is ranked fourth at 138, Bunting (26-7) is sixth at 112 and Holland (37-2) sixth at 145. Welch is unranked at 119, but the Tigers' only freshman has a 27-3 record.

This weekend at the nationals, Alban and Lee aim to beat Bishop Ireton's Joe Reiley (29-0) and Mark Mangrum (31-1). Reiley has defeated Alban twice and Mangrum has downed Lee twice.

"I'll probably meet him Mangrum in the finals and I'll be out for revenge," said Lee. "It is a matter of pride and I know that I have to wrestle a controlled match and get him down to the mat."

"Winning is a tradition now because the kids take a lot of pride in what they are doing," said King. "We wrestle a lot of teams from out of state and the kids really rise to the level of the competition that we are wrestling.

"I don't think we're in a league by ourselves. The biggest advantage that we have over the public schools is that we wrestle more. The more time that you have on the mat the better you get."