By BOB ETTINGER
For the Star Beacon
There’s always something exciting about the start of a new wrestling season.
It’s fun to try and anticipate which young men who fell just short of their goals will take that step from being really good to being great.
There’s some intrigue to how each coach will manipulate his lineup for key dual matches or big tournaments.
More than anything, it’s enjoyable to watch the younger wrestlers mature over the course of a winter.
The 2013-14 season will be quite eventful for the fans who most enjoy the latter as there is a considerable youth movement taking place across the area.
Among those looking to take that last step toward greatness are a pair of 195-pound monsters in Kyle Conel of Lakeside and Glenn Zaller of Grand Valley. Conel was second at the Division I state tournament a year ago and Zaller has twice been to the Division III state tournament and is seeking a spot at or near the top of the podium in Columbus.
Here’s a team-by-team look at the new season:
Coach Matt Bidwell has an interesting situation developing in his team’s dynamic. The Spartans return five lettermen and a trio of district qualifiers in seniors C.J. Rice (152 pounds), R.J. Nelson (182), Matt Barrickman (heavyweight) and Joe Rozalski (heavyweight) and sophomore Isaiah Ngiraingas (120). Rice, Nelson and Ngiraingas all qualified for the district tournament a season ago.
The Spartans also welcome seven freshmen to the fold.
“We are a very young team this year so we need our upperclassmen to step up as leaders and help push the younger guys,” Bidwell said. “Individually, we have some very solid wrestlers spread throughout the lineup with Isaiah at 120, Rice at 152 and R.J. at 182. I am expecting our other veterans, Rozalski and Barrickman, to be successful at our upper weights.”
Senior Nathan Vichosky (138) and juniors Scott North (182) and Cory Maldonado (160) will step into roles with the varsity this year. Freshmen James Jenkins (132), Clay Fertig (138), Nathan Zahler (106), Matt Conley (106), Vinny Nolan, Justin Mason and Emma Curry (126) will look to make an impact on the lineup.
“In order to have success as a team, I expect strong performances from our freshmen, Mason, Nolan and Fertig, and our less experienced guys to be aggressive and not get pinned.”
For the first time in years, the Spartans will compete as part of a league, as they join the Eastern Ohio Wrestling League.
“This is our first year in the EOWL, so we are only participating in the tournament at the end of the year, but there are a lot of good teams in the league and I am excited to get into such a competitive league and tournament later in the season. It really gives our kids something to work for and to look forward to.”
Coach Wes Cleveland struggled to put a team on the mat in his first season with the Warriors. Injuries knocked nearly half his team out of the lineup.
In his second go-round, Cleveland enters the season having lost only a couple of guys to graduation while returning 11 lettermen from 2012-13. The key to the Warriors finding success is fairly straight-forward.
“We just need to stay healthy,” Cleveland said.
Seniors Jarrod Harrah (220) and Nick Camp (285) provide experience at the back end of the lineup. Also returning this year are senior Jeroen Ellis (138), juniors David Ellis (145), Tyler DuFour (152) and Jarrod Eldrod (170) and sophomores Tanner Perry (113) — the Warriors’ lone District qualifier last year, Kiel Dickey (120), Zac Erb (120), Zach Noce (126) and Zac Wilpula (126).
In his first season as the Eagles coach, Chris Stamper steps into a pretty good situation with eight lettermen – six seniors and two juniors – back with the team.
Seniors Jason Huelskamp (195), Matt Kozlowski (220) and James Hawk (220-heavyweight) are a formidable trio at the back end of the lineup with Will Distler, also a senior, a strong bookend at the front of the roster. Seniors Anthony Barzczewski (145) and Tyler Cross (152) will be counted upon to anchor the middle weights. Juniors Brad McGirr (126) and Zak Elliott (132) will have to help in that regard.
The team is working hard and putting forward the extra effort that is required of them,” Stamper said. “We have some strong seniors returning this year and they’re providing good leadership and direction.”
Seniros Travis Blake (145), Shane Herter (182) and Bruce Kirk (heavyweight) are looking to step into the lineup and make a difference. Juniors Brandon Pasko (120) and Jacob Huang (182), sophomore Jacob Rogerson (138) and freshmen Brody Wigren (113), Kody Brown (160) and Juan Rodriguez (170) will all battle for positions.
The Premier Athletic Conference is a grind and should be so once again.
“The PAC has some tough teams and they’re sure to be tough again this year,” Stamper said. “We’ve picked up a couple new events this year in order to get some exposure to teams we normally wouldn’t see to give all our guys more experience to prepare them for February.”
A glance at Steve Paratto’s roster forces you to stop and look closer. He lists five seniors and seven sophomores who all won letters last season. There are no juniors on the team and eight freshmen.
A deeper look at the team reveals four returning district qualifiers, in seniors Luke Baldwin (160) and Jason Takacs (heavyweight) and sophomores Michael Miller (113) and Cody Freeman (152) as well as Zaller, a two-time state qualifier.
“We have a lot of underclassmen who will need to contribute immediately,” Paratto said. “We need the veteran upperclassmen to be good leaders and help the younger guys along. Zaller is a returning two-time state qualifier. We also have four returning district qualifiers in Miller, Baldwin, Freeman and Takacs. These guys have to build on last year’s successes and push the younger guys to succeed.”
Seniors Jerome Walker and Jack Scott, both lettermen last year, will battle every day to be the 220 pounder.
Sophomores Zach Harding (120), Alex Marsh (126), Craig Anderson (145), Cody Howson (170) and Kyle Dodd (160) are looking to take that next step after winning letters a season ago.
They are joined by freshmen Cody Rhoades (126), Nathan Rasmussan (132), Gavin Meeker (126), Bradley Turner (160), David Wilson (182), Austin Byler (220), Austin Mathis (220) and Brett Whitely (heavyweight).
The Mustangs were the EOWL Division IV champions a season ago and have every intent of taking the title again.
“I think we have a good shot at keeping our EOWL D-IV title,” Paratto said. “The tournament is later in the year and that should give our younger guys time to adjust to the competition.”
If anyone is feeling the loss of graduation this season, it is Jefferson coach Tom Avsec, who said goodbye to a big class of very strong seniors.
“It’s a rebuilding year after graduating nine seniors,” Avsec said. “We’ll try to fill weight classes and work on fundamentals.”
Just seven wrestlers with any kind of experience return, six of which were lettermen last season.
Senior Joey Baitt (126) hopes to qualify for the Division II state tournament in one of the toughest weight classes in Ohio. The only other senior on the team is Logan Platt (145).
Other lettermen returning are juniors Christian Saunders (160) and Daniel Gillespie (220) and sophomores Zach Collins (160) and Victor Toth (126).
Junior Philip Sarbiewski (152) has wrestled quite a few varsity matches despite not owning a letter and looks to anchor the middle of the lineup.
Freshmen Austin Summers (126), Tyler McKee (120), Bryce Cox (106), Justin Morris (220-heavyweight) and Mason Swiney (138) will all see plenty of time on the mats.
After losing so many experienced wrestlers, the focus will be more on growth than winning championships in the All-American Conference or EOWL.
“Again, it’s a rebuilding year,” Avsec said. “We’ll work on fundamentals and look to the future. We’ll try to get one or two state qualifiers this year, so we have to balance bringing the younger guys along and making sure our experienced wrestlers have the chance to get to their highest levels.”
Dragons coach Jerry Brady probably has the best situation of any area coach for not only this season, buyt next year, as well, with 16 lettermen returning. Eleven of those grapplers are juniors and sophomores.
Conel, the top-ranked wrestler in his weight class in Ohio, didn’t lose until the state championship match a season ago and is looking for the one highlight his resume is lacking – a state title. Fellow senior Tyler Newsome (120) and junior Keith Griffin (132) both qualified for the district tourney in 2012-13 and would love nothing more than to make the trip to Columbus with Conel.
Returning lettermen for the Dragons include seniors Riley Dell (160), Manny Lucas (170) and Kyler McEndree (113), juniors Brandon Modic (220), John McCormick (heavyweight), Joey Kangas (152), Josh Perry (126), Alex Owens (182) and JaSean Hatfield (160) and sophomores Nick Brady (145), Josh Polk (152), Jason White (138) and Isaiah Whysong (113).
Juniors Bryan Woissel (160), Joey Herron (182) and Jordan Isenberg (126) also have some varsity experience, though they did not letter last season.
Freshmen Kyle McAfee (138), Mikey DeCamillo (106), Asa Williams (126), Mike Coup (160), Adam Bryski (113) and Kaylor Heath (120) are looking to unseat the men in front of them on the depth chart.
Madison, Perry, Pymatuning Valley and Riverside did not return the requested information for this preview.
Ettinger is a freelance writer from Ashtabula. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.