North Hagerstown nearly did it all last wrestling season, winning Washington County, MVAL Antietam and Maryland Class 4A-3A West region titles and setting a single-season school record for dual-meet victories at 19.
“That group last year had a very special chemistry. I wouldn’t say they exceeded expectations, but they were a group of overachievers,” North coach Greg Slick said. “And this group of kids this year has the idea that they can make a run at it again.”
It won’t be easy.
The Hubs lost five all-county wrestlers from last season to graduation — first-teamers Kenneth Burrs, Dylan Dopson, Connor McHose and Duncan Yeisley and second-teamer Ryan Hartsock. Those five went a combined 143-35 last season, while Burrs and Dopson were both state placewinners.
“You don’t replace guys like that,” Slick said. “You just find other guys to wrestle those weight classes.”
North’s cupboard hardly is bare.
“We have a logjam at some weight classes,” Slick said. “We have 11 guys at 195 and 220. It’s going to make practice very interesting, for sure.”
Eight of their regular starters from last season are back, including all-county first-teamers Gene Balcita and Brendon Colbert, who are both juniors, and second-teamers Amont Hawkins, Diantra Landry, Antonio Rosario and Mike Tobery, who are all seniors.
Colbert, once again, is the star. The junior, who is expected to start the season at 138 pounds, is a two-time state runner-up with a 72-4 overall record through two seasons.
“I’ve never seen anybody who works as hard as Brendon Colbert does,” Slick said. “And I’m not just talking about the practice room. He got on a lifting schedule over the summer and worked out five days a week. He went to camps and clinics all summer and all fall. He is just one of the most motivated young people I’ve ever been around.”
Colbert makes everyone around him better, the coach added.
“That’s why Balcita has gotten so good,” Slick said. “He has to be sharp in the practice room or Brendon just eats him up.”
While the Hubs have lofty goals for 2013, they still have to get through the rest of 2012.
“The state tournament is way at the top of the stairs,” Slick said. “And we have a lot of stairs to climb before we get there.”
The Wildcats have eight starters back from last season’s team that finished a close second to North at the county tournament and went 14-8 in dual meets.
Junior Bryan Davis was a 2A-1A state placewinner and an all-county first-teamer last season at 120, while sophomores Barry Loeser, Sinjin Shoop and Austin Keadle were all all-county second-teamers as freshmen.
“Two years from now, watch out,” coach Mike Rechtorovic said. “When these kids who are sophomores are juniors and seniors, we’re going to be pretty tough. This year, we should still be pretty good.”
Newcomer Nick Miller, a senior who previously wrestled at Hedgesville, should make an immediate impact at 106-113. While he was out of action most of last season, Miller went 56-3 and was the West Virginia Class AAA state runner-up at 103 as a sophomore.
“It definitely doesn’t hurt. He’s a nice kid to have in the room,” Rechtorovic said.
Among the freshmen is Kobe Baker, the brother of former Williamsport standouts Kemper and Killian Baker, who were both four-time county champs.
“No pressure, right?” said Rechtorovic with a laugh.
Unfortunately for the Wildcats, Zach Shoemaker, who went unbeaten and was the state champ at 160 last season, has graduated.
“He went 40-0. I don’t know if I’ll ever have one of them again,” Rechtorovic said. “He’s definitely going to be hard to replace. But the guys are working hard.”
In the 22-year history of the county tournament, the Warriors have never finished higher than third.
While they finished in last place last season, their goal is first place this season.
“I thought that was doable last year, but just different things happened and we ended up not being competitive at all,” coach Mike McGill said. “If this team stays together and barring any injuries, I think we can win it. We have depth this year and we have horses.”
The top returnees include senior Davon Clark and sophomore Dalton Hawkins, who were both on the all-county second team last season, while senior Charles Anoman and junior Jake Stauffer also both had winning records.
Hawkins went 27-11 and advanced to the 2A-1A West semifinals at 120 as a freshman, while Clark went 27-13 and was the county runner-up at 152.
McGill said that Hawkins and Anoman, a three-time region qualifier, will be at 126 and 132 this season, while Clark will remain at 152.
McGill said he’s confident his team will at least improve on last season’s 9-13 record in duals.
“We should be better this year,” he said. “We should have a full team. We might be forfeiting at 106, but we finally have some depth in the upper weights, and that’s the thing that hurt us last year.”
The Leopards have six starters back from last season’s fourth-place county team, including senior Travis Leopold and sophomore Dylan Bryce, who were both all-county second-team selections.
Leopold (195) and Saul Herrera (285) are the only two seniors on the roster.
“We’ve been able to struggle to .500 the last couple of years, and we’re going to be young again,” coach Joe Dietrich said. “Our numbers are down, but we have some quality kids who are going to fill in the holes. But we’re going to have some forfeits.”
Leopold went 29-7 last season at 182, while Bryce was 15-7 at 106. The only other returnee who had a winning record is Dalton Condo, who was 19-12 at 170.
“(Leopold) had a really good year last year and is looking to go to states this year,” Dietrich said. “Hopefully he can pull it off.”
Smithsburg hasn’t had a state qualifier since the 2009-10 season.
“Isn’t that something,” Dietrich said. “We had one or more every year since 1978 and then the last two years we haven’t.”
Obviously, the Leopards have a lot of room for improvement.
“We’re hoping to at least get to .500, but I’m an optimist. I want to be better than .500,” Dietrich said. “But we’re going to be down 12 (points) on a regular basis so it’s going to be tough. There are only two or three weight classes where we have more than one kid.”
The Rebels had a breakout year last season under first-year head coach Thomas Ashby.
South went 9-11 in dual meets after combining for only two wins the previous two seasons, and they took third at the county tournament for their best finish in nine years.
“It was a great year last year,” Ashby said. “I couldn’t have been happier.”
It’s going to be difficult, however, for the Rebels to build on that success, at least immediately.
“We only have three guys this year who’ve wrestled 10 varsity matches or more in their career,” Ashby said. “It’s going to be a tough year. We have a young team and a very tough schedule. But the guys are working hard. I think you’ll see a better second half of the season.”
The top returnee is senior Marquil Holt, who went 20-2 last season and was the county champ at 220.
The only other returning county champs are North’s Colbert and Balcita, who won at 120 and 126, and Williamsport’s Loeser, the winner at 106.
“I look for Marquil to have a great year,” Ashby said. “He’s been a great team leader and his work ethic is impeccable. He’s gotten stronger, and he’s gotten faster. Our goal for him is to go to states this year and hopefully place.”
South’s top newcomer is freshman Isaiah Brooks (106).
“He’s looking good,” Ashby said. “He has a great junior league résumé and has wrestled in some of the top junior league tournaments in the country. I look for him to be a region and hopefully state qualifier this year. I’m excited to see what he can do, but he hasn’t wrestled a high school match yet so it’s hard to say.”
The Saints have eight returning starters from last season’s team that went 7-5 in duals, won the Independent-Parochial School League title and finished second in the Mid-Atlantic Conference tournament.
Gone are Brady Burker, an all-county first-team heavyweight, and Michael Knable, who went 15-6 at 120.
“Obviously we lost two big kids from last year as far as results go, but we have a ton of kids coming back who’ve put a lot of time in the weight room and wrestling room,” coach Steve Lachut said. “We have a lot of kids who’ve bought into wrestling.”
Five of Saint James’ returnees had winning records last season — seniors John Stephens, Henry Smith and Leighton Younger and juniors Alec Wingerd and Justin Pank.
Pank, who was the MAC champ at 132 last season, is now at 145, while Younger, who went 18-9 at 182, is now at 195-220.
“We want to win the IPSL again, and we want to win the MAC. Those are stepping stones,” Lachut said. “Our ultimate goal is to get kids through to prep nationals (by placing in the top eight individually at the state independent school tourney).”
Wrestling: Hubs start taking steps to climb to state tournament
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