By BOB ETTINGER
For the Star Beacon
A year ago, several area wrestling teams took steps toward being elite programs. Expect more of the same in 2012-13 with Madison and Perry having returned to dominance, Edgewood and Pymatuning Valley sustaining a high level of competition and Grand Valley joining the elite last season, several programs are poised to take those same steps this season.
Riverside and Conneaut are poised to join that group with Jefferson and Lakeside hot on their heels and Geneva taking the next steps toward rebuilding a winner.
New coaches will make their debuts in Ashtabula and Saybrook Townships with Wes Cleveland taking over for Greg Stolfer, who had led the Edgewood program for 27 seasons and Jerry Brady taking the helm from Pat Ryan at Lakeside.
Here’s a team-by-team look at the just-started season:
The Spartans will be senior heavy with eight on the roster, six who are returning letterwinners. Three of those seniors qualified for the district tournament and a fourth was an alternate.
Alesha Zappitella (106 pounds), Billy Post (220) and Austin Sherman (152) were the district qualifiers and Russell Wanda (182) was an alternate. Myles Kapen (170) and David West (182) also lettered a year ago. Hoping to get in the mix this year will be Matt Blood (195) and Jay Rusk (195).
“Our strengths are that we have a large senior class and some underclassmen that have shown a lot of potential so far in practice,” coach Matt Bidwell said. We have three returning district qualifiers in Austin, Alesha and Billy and Russell was an alternate.
“I expect those four to go far in the second season and to be joined by a few others. Once we have everyone to their weights, we should also have a very competitive dual-meet team.”
Juniors R.J. Nelson (160) and C.J. Rice also lettered a season ago.
Looking to break through this season are juniors Layth Alama (182), Matt Barrickman (195) and Rodney Hennessey (132) and freshmen Isaiah Ngiraingas (113) and Cole Walker (132).
Bidwell has challeged his kids with an interesting schedule.
“We have a very busy month of December,” he said. “We will be at the Riverside Rumble, which is usually very competitive, the Laker Shaker and the Girard Holiday Duals, to name a few,” he said. “In January, we have some tough duals, tris and quads, as well as the Northeast (Pa.) Tournament.
“Our schedule schedule picks back up in February with a home dual and a quad at Orange before heading to sectionals.”
For the first time in 28 years, somebody other than Greg Stolfer will be the Warriors’ chief.
But Wes Cleveland is no newcomer. Cleveland was a member of one of Stolfer’s first Edgewood teams. He was in the wrestling room in the 90s grappling with the upper weights in attempt to help them improve. Most recently, he’d been Stolfer’s right-hand man.
The Edgewood philosophy won’t change much. And the key to that philosophy and the Warriors’ success is hard work.
“Our key is getting good, solid practice time in,” Cleveland said.
In his first season at the helm, Cleveland inherits eight returning letterwinners — seven of which are sophomores or juniors.
James Lyle (160-170) is the lone senior who claimed a letter last season. He is joined by juniors Jeron Ellis (132), Anthonie Magda (160) and Jarrod Harrah (195) and sophomores Jarrod Elrod (152), Tyler DuFour (138), Nick Camp (220) and David Ellis (138).
Nothing as far as the Warriors’ lineup is close to being set in stone. Nobody will have a have spot on the team until each weight is won through challenges at practice.
Through that process new faces will emerge to assist the older ones. Cleveland will hold true to the schedule Stolfer had assembled in previous seasons.
“Our schedule is about the same as in the past,” Cleveland said. “We have the same big tournaments.”
Eight grapplers return to an Eagles’ squad that finished second in the Premier Athletic Conference last season.
Back are seniors Christopher Warner (120), Dakota Brininger (132), Justin Ales (220) and Geoff Chapman (145), juniors Jason Huelskamp (180), James Hawk (195) and Tyler Cross (138) and sophomore Zachary Elliott (120).
Coach Tony Barszczewski is looking for the Eagles to be in good shape and to be offensive rather than defensive while on the mat.
“Conditioning is No. 1 (as a key to our success),” he said. “Like last year, we are spending a good part of our practice on takedowns and being aggressive.”
Like at Edgewood, the makeup of the Eagles’ lineup has yet to come together.
The 2011-12 season was a banner year for coach Steve Paratto and the Mustangs.
Grand Valley won the Eastern Ohio Wrestling League championship, contended for a sectional title, qualified a number of young men to the district meet and had three representatives make the trip to Columbus for the state meet.
The goal for Paratto and his 10 returning lettermen is to sustain that level of success.
“The seniors and juniors need to set the tone for all the new guys,” Paratto said. “We have a large freshman class that needs to figure out early that hard work and serious commitment is expected.
After participating in the state tournament last year, senior Sean Szitas (152) and junior Glenn Zaller will aim for repeat performances. Seniors Travis Pelles (138) and Heath Martin (126) and junior Luke Baldwin (160) are shooting to join them.
That group will be expected to set the example for the remainder of the Mustangs.
“Two returning qualifiers and several returning district qualifiers should provide great leadership to the young guys. There is not much practice time before the first tournament so we need to get to work early. There’s no time to mess around.”
Other returning letterwinners include senior Jake Wilcom (285), juniors Jason Takacs (220), Erin Bragg (285) and Jack Scott (220) and sophomore Justin Lamar (285).
Junior Jerome Walker (195) and freshmen Craig Anderson (130), Alex Marsh (113), Kyle Dodd (145), Cody Howsen (170), Cody Freeman (145), Nathan Myers (160), Murphy Griffin (132), Devan Salsgiver (113) and Michael Miller (113) will all contribute in some way.
Winning the EOWL title the first time wasn’t easy. It might be more difficult to defend that championship.
“After having won the conference last year, I’m not really sure what to expect this year,” Paratto said. “PV is always tough and South Range also some tough kids. I told my kids that last year they won it, now this year, it’s their job to defend it.”
Tom Avsec’s Falcons return 10 letterwinners, eight of whom are seniors. All eight them could break through and earn a spot in Columbus.
Back for Jefferson this season are seniors Ricker Maple (113), Joey Baitt (120), Jerry Scott (132), Joey Babic (145), Troy Stitt (160), Rocky Tripodi (171), Blake Perry (182) and Jeremy Brady (195), junior Logan Platt (132) and sophomore Daniel Gillespie (220).
Joining the party this year are seniors Caleb Harris (185) and Kevin Orvos (195), junior Jacob MacDonald (220) and freshmen Will Gant (152) and Zack Collios (152).
In order for the Falcons to reach their potential, They must stay on task.
“(We have to) stay healthy and maintain weight and work hard in the room and in competitions,” Avsec said.
Jefferson will compete for the All-American Conference championship for the first time.
“(This is our) first year in the AAC,” Avsec said. “(We’re) looking forward to being in a league again.
“There are some great teams in the AAC and we are excited about the upcoming season.”
Jerry Brady might be the new Lakeside coach, but he is only new to those outside the program. Brady has led the Lakeside Middle School the last several seasons and has built quite a relationship with his young grapplers during that time. In that time, he has aslo put together a highly success group of young men.
He will now try and continue that success on the varsity level with a 11 returning lettermen, including state qualifier Chuck Morgan (285).
Also back are seniors Otis Conel (182) and Chris Tatters (138), juniors Kyle Conel (195) and Tyler Vines (113) and sophomores
Keith Griffin (132), Josh Perry (119), Joe Kangas (145), Brandon Modic (220), Justin Wheeler (170) and Bryan Woissol (152).
Those experienced wrestlers must lead the way for the Dragons.
“We are looking for our upperclassmen to come through when it counts in tournaments and dual meets,” Brady said. “Strong leadership from Morgan, the Conel brothers and Tyler Vines is important.”
The reason Brady has won with his troops in the last few seasons is he has built them from the ground up, preaching the fundamentals and drilling them into his guys. That part of his approach will remain very much intact.
“Basics, basics, basics — we are focusing on basic wrestling — on our feet — hand fighting/head fighting and attacking, getting off the bottom and scoring with turns and pins from the top position,” he said.
No fewer than 13 sophomores and freshmen will take to the wrestling room and will need a bit of seasoning before the schedule hits March.
“Getting our young guys the mat time during the season so they can compete at the end of the year when it counts,” Brady said.
Brady understands his program cannot be successful if it isn’t built from the ground up and has done what he can to ensure that his program can be sustained for years to come.
“The PAC is extremely tough to compete in for Lakeside,” Brady said. “We are trying to beef up our numbers at the youth and junior high levels so that we are not ‘starting over’ every few years. PAC teams are constantly feeding their high school programs with experienced wrestlers so they never miss a beat and they are tough every year. Over 50 youth members and 40-plus junior high members are currently in our programs.
“We think that we are doing the right things and I think in time it will pay off. We have a solid core of group of kids that have gone to camps and stayed on the mats during the offseason. We are expecting to climb a couple rungs up the ladder in the PAC this year.”
That said, a number of the current Dragons can compete for conference titles.
“Chuck Morgan and Kyle Conel are going to be very hard to beat at all levels this year,” Brady said. “Otis Conel, Tyler Vines, Chris Tatters along with Kangas, Brady, Modic and Griffin should be solid this year.
“One thing for sure is that these kids will be ready to go any time they step on the mat.”
The Blue Streaks won a sectional championship a season ago but failed to find much success as a whole after that, a fact coach Ryan Wirtzberger is looking to rectify. Nine starters return from that team of a year ago, including seniors Nick Montgomery (138), Aaron Sweeney (160), and Tim Streisel (170), juniors Nick Farnsworth (126), Bo Ransom (145), and Drew Schiemann (182) and sophomores Corbin Post (113), Ryan Montgomery (120) and Jarrod Lasko (132).
Sophomores Matt Atha (170) and Ben Golden (160) as well as freshmen Tyler McGroder (106), Alex Kensinger (152), Sam Dull (220) and Blake Jerome (285) will have to mature quickly.
“We’ll have a lot of experienced wrestlers in the middle weights. They’ll be the heart and leaders of the team,” Wirtzberger said. “Some of the holes in the lineup are going to be filled with young, inexperienced wrestlers that’ll have to improve quickly.”
The Pirates caught more than a few people by surprise last season by going 9-1 in dual meets and winning four tournaments, including the sectional and Chagrin Valley Conference.
This time around they will be catching no one unaware and must improve in order to achieve that same level of success.
“Our Monday through Thursday focus will determine how much success we will have this season,” Rowan said. “Last year, we surprised some people because we had been rebuilding for a few years. That won’t happen this year. A key for our success is going to be how hard we train.”
Depth and experience will not be a problem at Perry.
“We have nine of our starters returning and we will rely on these experienced wrestlers to provide the motivation at practice that it takes to be successful this year,” Rowan said.
“We need to have our sights set on something we have never had at Perry — a state champion.”
Back in the fold are seniors Neil Brown (138), Drew Jones (152), Ryan Sill (170) and Evan Nichols (220), juniors Collin Dees (113), Aaran Gessic (126), Alec Schenk (160), and Billy Miller (285) and sophomores Kyle Kremiller (182) and Josh Romano (132).
Providing depth and filling in the holes will be seniors Kirk Kallenborn (126), Cory Gramberg (132), Canean Perry (145) and Kyle
Homerick (152), juniors David Mrosko (152), Cameron Winters (152) and Kyle Beyer (182), sophomores Nick Sbrocco (138), M.J. Reed (145), Brock Hurd (145), Seth
Cales (152), Jake Vicini (195) and Brandon Truhn (285) and freshmen Brady Toth (106), John Miller (113), Andy Hinton (113), Geoffrey Gedeon (120), Ricky Seghetti (120), Ethan Bixel (138), Nick Lauria (170), Nick Sarkauskas (170) and Connor VanDeweel (182).
Experience and depth will help the Pirates in
their quest to repeat as CVC champions. That said, the task will not be an easy
one with good teams all through the league.
“Our experience will help us make another run at a conference title,” Rowan said. “We will have to outlast the usual suspects: Aurora, Kenston and Beachwood, who were all young last year and will be returning many of their starters. But even some of the smaller schools — Berkshire, Cardinal and Kirtland — have some solid wrestlers that will challenge for league titles. In order for us to do well at the end of the season, which is when our conference tournament is held, we will have to depend on our returning starters and hope that our younger wrestlers can chip in by that time.
“In order to win the conference tournament, it will have to be a total team effort.”
The Lakers are a team that could come into its own this season, if a few small things fall into place.
“Our key to success this year will be to prevent injury and to get our inexperienced guys rounded out so they can produce for us,” coach David Miller said. “We have a couple of state-caliber wrestlers on our team and we are going to need them to push the room to improve overall.”
Back in the lineup for PV is state qualifier Zach Campbell (132) as well as his fellow seniors Kris Leonard (120) and Cody Ellis (182), juniors Cody Miller 138), Dominic Wolf (145) and J.T. Willis (170) and sophomore Clancy McCall (195).
Fighting for places at the table will be senior David Baker (220), juniors Collin Winkler (160-170), Austin O’Baker (195), Bruce Pavlovski (220) and Shawn Shreves (285), sophomores Gary Baker (138-145), Justin Kordic (113), Lucas Hinkle (138), Christian Sanchez (285) and Cordell McMahon (285) and freshmen Kegen Hoopes (106-113), Tyler Conoboy (132), Phillip Martin (160) and Joe Henderson (220).
The Lakers made a run at the EOWL title a year ago, only to be thwarted by rival Grand Valley. This year, they will make another run, though the conference makeup will have changed a bit.
“It will be interesting to see how things will work out with Jefferson entering the EOWL this year,” Miller said. “It will help the level of competition in the league.
“We have a tough schedule again this year with going to Kenston and Pin City as well as adding going to Greenville this year for the Sheetz Kickoff Classic.”
The Beavers have a strong core group of wrestlers returning in state placer Evan Rosborough (220) and district qualifiers senior Jake Denman (160) and juniors Nick Boggs (132) and Connor Rigsby (152).
Those four will be surrounded by seniors Dalton Anderson (126), Alex Ivary (145), Jose Llamas (170) and Steve Stocker (195), juniors Brandon Leber (132), Jeremy Junsman (138), Mike Person (145), Chad Ely (182), sophomores Zach Van Pelt (120), Nick Pruter (138), Joey Antalik (145), Brandon Ricci (160), Will Krcal (160), Zack Novak (170), Frank McKeon (170), Nick Denman (182) and Jake Militello (195), and freshmen Mecca Short (106) and Spencer Boggs (145).
If coach Scott Blank can fill a hole or two, the Beavers will be a formidable foe.
“We have several district qualifiers who won several matches at Mentor last season and have one state placer at 220 lbs. weight class in Evan Rosborough,” Blank said. “Nick Boggs, Connor Rigsby and Jake Denman were all very close to qualifying last year.
“We are still looking for a heavyweight and 113 for the team to be a strong dual team. I expect to do well this season in the tournament setting.”
Ettinger is a freelance writer from Ashtabula. Reach him at email@example.com.