River Hill rising senior Taylor Green proved he was one of the area's best 125-pound wrestlers last season by winning the county and 4A/3A North Region championships and finishing second at the state meet.
But Green's usual confidence was subdued this week as he prepared for his next tournament: the USA Wrestling Cadet and Junior National Championships in Fargo, N.D., which begin Saturday.
"That's because this is the toughest high school tournament in the world," he said. "Everyone there is very good."
Green spoke from experience. It will be his third season at the event, and he hopes to impress the college coaches who will be watching the wrestlers. Green, who will compete in the 140-pound class this coming season, has never placed at the event. There are 4,000 participants, and the top eight finishers are recognized as all-Americans.
"Top eight," he said. "That's my goal. I want to show the coaches that I can wrestle in college, and that's why going to Fargo is so big. But I still have a long way to go."
So Green, along with county wrestlers Chris Stinnett (Glenelg), Robbie Eloshway (Atholton) and Bryan Parent (Oakland Mills), gathered with 26 other members of Team Maryland, a select traveling team, on Sunday for a week of training at McDonogh School in Owings Mills before heading to the week-long double-elimination tournament.
At McDonogh, it was all wrestling, all the time. The wrestlers woke up each day at 7 a.m., ran a few miles before breakfast and then had three two-hour practices. Music filled the room as wrestlers executed takedowns, performed agility drills, jumped rope and ran laps.
"My parents gave me a choice: I could go with them to spend a week at the beach with them, or I could come here," said Eloshway, who will wrestle in the 103-pound class for the third straight season. "It was an easy choice for me to make because getting to go to Fargo is too important."
At Fargo, Stinnett, who will be a sophomore and compete in the 119-pound class, will wrestle in the Cadet bracket with other 15- and 16-year-olds. Eloshway, Green and Parent, a senior 215-pounder, will participate with 17- and 18-year-olds in the Junior division. Each wrestler will compete in a freestyle tournament, where competitors can attack any part of the opponent's body -- just like in high school wrestling -- and a Greco-Roman tournament, where only attacks above the waist are permitted.
"I'm a little worried because I don't know what to expect," said Stinnett, who last season won the county and 2A/1A South Region titles and took fifth at the state meet to finish 30-6. "I don't think I can win. I just want to place, but even that is going to be hard since I know there will be no easy matches."
At most high school tournaments -- including the state meet -- wrestlers need to win four matches to claim the title. But in Fargo, with about 120 wrestlers in each weight class, the champion will probably have to win 10 to 12 matches.
The last county wrestler to achieve all-American status was Vince Cina, an All-Met at River Hill who earned the distinction in Greco-Roman in each of the past four years, including when he won the 98-pound class in 2002.
"Any wrestler who competes on the high school team is used to one level, but at Fargo, they're going to be going against competition that is at a completely higher level than they are used to," said Jimmy Schartner, who coaches Team Maryland and at Middletown High School in Frederick County. "This is the best of the best."
To Schartner, the best way to prepare his team is with a grueling training camp. He wants his wrestlers to be exhausted by day's end, so tired that all they want is sleep in their spare time.
"The next two weeks of my life will be nothing but wrestling," Green said. "I just hope that I'll be in the zone when I get there. Pretty much all I'll do until I go to Fargo is wrestling and sleep and then get up and do it all over again."