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Original Issue

True Grip

Its streak is broken, but a wrestling power stays on top

BLAIR ACADEMY

Blairstown, N.J.

THE ABSURD winning streak--six years and 45 tournaments--had to end sometime, and for Blair Academy (Blairstown, N.J.), it was the second tournament of the season, the Walsh Ironman, a 53-school competition held in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, that had the wrestlers most concerned. "Everybody's tough [in that one]," says Blair's Kellen Russell, a two-time National Prep champ who wrestles at 130 pounds. "And everybody wants to beat us."

No one more so than archrival St. Edward High (Lakewood, Ohio), who at the Ironman last Saturday avenged a three-point loss to Blair last season by knocking off the Bucs 260 to 237. "We didn't wrestle as well as we could," said Jeff Buxton, a former Rhode Island wrestler, who's coached at Blair since 1982. "But it's been an unbelievable run."

Yet the loss hasn't dethroned Blair Academy as the nation's most prestigious wrestling program. A private boarding school of 430 students, Blair, which retained nine of its 14 wrestlers from last season, has won eight of the last 10 national titles, including the last six, and has won the National Prep Championship an unheard-of 26 years in a row.

Blair's wrestlers credit Buxton's unconventional training methods for much of their success. In addition to about two hours each day of weight training, rope climbing and yoga, Buxton also mandates what he calls "caveman drills."

"We've got to flip giant tractor tires over and over, then hit them with sledgehammers," says Russell, who will wrestle next year at Michigan.

The Ironman was decided in the consolation bracket. Blair advanced to the finals in six of the 13 weight classes and won four of them. Eric Medina, who's headed to Maryland next year, dominated the 152s, pinning his first four opponents. Russell didn't give up an offensive point through his first four matches, then pinned his opponent in the finals. St. Edward took only one division but won the Ironman because it placed third or better in nine classes. "I told the team the streak was going to end sometime," said Buxton, who will have an opportunity to even the score with St. Edward in a dual meet in February. "It's time to start a new one."

NEWS & NOTES

Another streak ends: On Dec. 5 the girls at Las Animas (Colo.) High handed McClave (Colo.) High its first loss since 2003. The Trojans' 51--43 win ended the Cardinals' state-record string of 78 consecutive girls' basketball victories.... With their dad, Michael Jordan, in attendance, 6'2" senior Jeff (right) and 6'3" sophomore Marcus Jordan combined for 24 points, leading Loyola Academy (Wilmette, Ill.) over Hales Franciscan (Chicago) 74--66 last Friday.... Oak Hill Academy (Mouth of Wilson, Va.) beat Norcross (Ga.) 65--57 in a nationally televised showdown of powerhouse boys' basketball teams last Thursday. Oak Hill guard Nolan Smith (Duke) had 25 points.... At the Foot Locker National Cross Country Championships in San Diego last Saturday, Independence High (Thompson Station, Tenn.) sophomore Kathy Kroeger took the girls' 5K (17:29), while senior Chad Hall of Big Bear (Calif.) High won the boys' race (15:20).