Paul Maltagliati of George Mason and George Washington's Joe Corbett will be the first wrestlers from their schools to compete in the NCAA championships when the national title meet begins today at Iowa State University in Ames.

Navy is sending seven contenders: Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association champions Frank Shaffer (150 pounds), John Reich (167) and Mark Phillips (177), and Mike Rodgers (158), Pat Ryan (190), George Fears (unlimited) and Dave Halladay (134).

Maltagliati and Corbett, coming from comparatively new programs, would seem to be at a disadvantage against wrestlers from defending national champion Iowa or Iowa State, where the sport is almost as important as corn. George Washington Coach Jim Rota sees only one major difference between wrestlers from this area and ones in the Midwest.

"The intensity of those major wrestling schools is a factor," said Rota. "The people they wrestle between their schedule and just what they face in the room is greater than what we face. It's a lot like a club pro in golf playing against (Jack) Nicklaus. While the club pro is good, Nicklaus has been there. I do think Joe can compete with anyone out there, and it would be a big boost for our program if he does well."

"Our program is improving," said Corbett. "We had three others who finished second in the (Eastern) region but didn't get bids. There will definitely be more wrestlers from GW going to the nationals in the future."

"It's more of a development time here," said Maltagliati. "Out there, there might be three or four state champions from all parts of the country in one weight class. I'd say there are just as many people in that school who had wrestled as there are people wrestling now."

Maltagliati and Corbett obviously would like to win their weight classes. Both, however, would settle for finishing in the top eight in a 32-man field and achieving all-America status.

"I think I have a chance to get to the finals," said Maltagliati, a 6-foot-1 1/2, 240-pound junior from Camp Springs, Md. "I won't sell myself short, I think I can beat anyone . . . but I'm really looking to get into the top eight."

Corbett, a 150-pound senior from Mount Holly, N.J., received an at-large bid after losing, 4-2, in overtime to Keith DeGraaf of Slippery Rock in the finals of the Eastern Regional tournament.

"Of course I'd like to win, but, realistically, I'm thinking top eight," Corbett said. "I thought I'd win the regions this year and qualify that way, but I'm happy I got the at-large bid after losing."

Corbett and Maltagliati have had success before. Corbett has averaged 30 victories a season for four years at George Washington and has shown steady progress: he was fourth in the region his freshman year, third as a sophomore and second the last two seasons. He is 31-4 this season.

Maltagliati, third in the Maryland state championships as a senior at Crossland, was fourth in the region last year, has a 39-6 record this year and recently won his class at the Eastern Regional tournament.

"Paul will have to wrestle each match as if it's for the national championship," said his coach, Mike Connor, in his first season after two years as an assistant at Clemson. "I've seen 95 percent of the heavyweights out there and Paul can stay with them if he wrestles offensively. The best defense in wrestling is offense, and if he starts wrestling defensively, he'll be in trouble."

Both Corbett and Maltagliati are in peak physical condition, so fatigue probably won't be a factor.

"I'm not thinking about fatigue at all," said Maltagliati. "At this point, in my mind, I've wrestled zero matches this year."