Old Mill wrestler Justin Faithful is entering his third year of competition this winter, and to get ready he's taking on some of the best the country has to offer.
Faithful is one of six Anne Arundel County wrestlers heading to the USA Cadet and Junior National Championships in Fargo, N.D., a competition some describe as the Super Bowl of youth wrestling. The weeklong double-elimination tournament begins Saturday.
With the large number of successful wrestlers who have competed in this tournament in past years, including Olympians Kurt Angle and Cael Sanderson, participants believe Fargo prepares them for the high school season ahead and gives them a chance at college scholarships. Many college coaches attend the tournament, which draws more than 4,000 high school wrestlers.
"A kid that is wrestling in this tournament will be recruited," said Jim Schartner, who coaches Team Maryland and the Middletown High School team. "[That wrestler] has shown the qualities college coaches are looking for. . . . He's wrestled free[style] and probably Greco[-Roman style] which will make him better, and he's accepted the challenge of wrestling against the best.
"Fargo is the most demanding tournament for these kids at this level," he said. "Fargo is two levels above" high school wrestling.
Maryland's 30 team members qualified in spring tournaments or through recommendations from state coaches. The cadet level is for wrestlers ages 15 and 16, while juniors are 17 and 18 years old.
At each level, wrestlers compete in freestyle, the traditional high school competition that allows moves throughout the body, and Greco-Roman, which allows attacks only to the upper body.
Faithful, a junior varsity wrestler at Old Mill last season, is going to nationals for the first time and thinks he has little chance of winning the tournament in his 275-pound weight class. He went undefeated during the regular season at Old Mill, which has four wrestlers on the national team, and is hoping to put together a similar record on varsity this winter.
"He's working hard. He's a good, mobile heavyweight," Schartner said. "The doors can open for him out there -- for anyone if you get hot. . . . Good, mobile heavyweights usually do well."
The Team Maryland wrestler with perhaps the best chance is Arundel sophomore Nicole Woody. Woody, 17, has been to nationals twice before, winning the girls' freestyle competition in the 95-pound cadet weight class in 2004. In high school competition last season, in which girls compete with boys, Woody placed third in the county and fourth in the 4A/3A East Region after wrestling on junior varsity for most of the season.
"She's got the experience. She knows what to do," Schartner said. "She's seen the competition out there."
Said Woody, who failed to place in her first year at nationals: "It was great being on the podium instead of watching." She believes she can finish first or second in the women's freestyle again. Woody will wrestle against boys in the Greco-Roman style because there is no girls' division in that style, and she hopes to finish sixth or seventh in the that event.
"I haven't really been wrestling guys this summer, so I haven't been able to scope out the competition," Woody said. "I have no clue how tough this year will be."
Austin Clouse, who lives in Annapolis and wrestles at Mount St. Joseph in Baltimore, earned all-American status last year by finishing in the top eight in the cadet 84-pound freestyle division. This year he wants to go further.
"My goal is to win it all," Clouse said. "Last year I didn't know what to expect. This year I'm taking it a little more seriously and I'm going to take it as far as I can."
Also competing in Fargo are junior Greg Saumenig, junior Nic Box and senior Dallas Evans, all from Old Mill.