Kelly Ward must wrestle with a familiar problem if he hopes to reach his coveted goal of an NCAA championship this week at Cole Field House.
Ward, the Big Eight 158-pound champion from Iowa State, has lost only five matches in two years, four of them to Lee Kemp of Winconsin. One of those decisions came in last year's NCAA final, as Kemp captured his second straight NCAA crown.
Some light finally appeared in February for Ward when he held Kemp to a 5-5 draw in the East-West matches at Lancaster, pa. That is the only blemish on Kemp's 26-0-1 record this winter. Ward is 30-1-1, the defeat coming by a 5-2 margin to Kemp in an early dual meet.
"I do get tired of looking at him," Ward said. "He's strong, quick and smart. He has a lot of ability, he's super strong and I guess he must be a real hard worker. He's got tons of natural ability, all God given.
"The thing I've got to do is take him down. I can escape from him and he can escape from me, so we wrestle most of the match on our feet. If I can take him down, I can beat him." First, of course, we've got to get to each other."
The NCAA championships are noted for their surprises, but Kemp and Ward are definitely the class of the 158 division. Their expected showdown Saturday night should be the highlight of the three-day event, which opens Thursday at 10 a.m. Eight mats will help trim the field of 354 wrestlers from 120 schools.
This is a homecoming for Ward, son of the former Maryland football All-America guard and head coach, Bob Ward. Young Ward got his wrestling baptism as a fifth grader at the Silver Spring Boys Club and was a standout for two years at Kennedy High School before concluding his prep career at Blair Academy in New Jersey.
"The NCAAs are enough incentive, but wrestling at Maryland is something extra, a little icing on the cake," Ward said. "Everybody I've known my whole life will be there. I saw my first NCAAs there in 1972. But I wouldn't care if I had to go to Mexico if I could win the NCAA. That's been my goal since I was yeah-high."
Ward was a middle linebacker at Kennedy, before he abandoned football because of his wrestling potential. So it's a little surprising to see him wrestling as a 158-pounder.
"I weigh about 175 pounds normal," Ward said. "It's not too bad cutting it, but it's no fun. A lot of guys cut more that that. I start wrestling at 170 and drop 12 more pounds before the season starts. I eat a lot of diet foods, cut my calories, work hard and dehydrate the rest."
Ward was besieged with scholarship offers, but chose Iowa State because "they were No. 1 and I wanted to be a good team. Wrestling is the big sport in Iowa. Back home wrestling is on the back pages and basketball is on the front. In Iowa it's the opposite.
"We wrestled Iowa twice and we each won one match. There were more than 15,000 people at each one and the matches were televised across the state. Iowa is our main rival, we wrestle everybody just about. We made one trip up to Seattle and Oregon and wrestled eight bouts in four days.
"It can wear us down, but it helps us when we go to the nationals. We've seen everybody, whre guys from other schools don't know what to expect. That's what makes us so tough, and Iowa and Oklahoma State too."
Ward plans to seek a berth on the 1980 Olympic team, and "if I make it fine. But right now I have just one goals, and that's Cole Field House".
He has one target, too - Lee Kemp.