Depth. Development. Camaraderie.
Sure, each of the above principles is relevant to every high school wrestling season. Yet story lines involving those three tenets are already unfolding for each of the five Lebanon County teams that took part in the Lancaster-Lebanon League media day on Sunday at Enck’s Catering in Manheim.
While both team and individual titles will be up for grabs, so to speak, one can be sure that each programs’ success this season will have more to do with team chemistry than prospective wins and losses.
For Section Two schools Cedar Crest and Lebanon, replacing a handful of go-to starters from a year ago will be key for each program.
In Section Three, Annville-Cleona and Elco are looking to improve on last year’s level of success while finding ways to compete with a Northern Lebanon program that has not only developed into a bit of a juggernaut in recent years, but also shows no signs of a letdown in years to come.
The following offers a team-by-team view of what to expect for the 2016-17 season on the Lebanon County mats.
The graduation of Barry Breidegan and Jarell Howard-Griffin will leave some holes to fill in coach Barry Spohn’s lineup this season, but a group of five wrestlers with varsity experience, including district qualifier Ross Fisher (21-11) at heavyweight, should help pick up the slack.
“We’ve always had a few guys that were going to win pretty regularly and this year is going to be the biggest test of that,” Spohn said, expressing a goal to have 20 grapplers on the team. “We have a large group of young kids that are interested and the kids that were on junior high last year were a pretty cohesive group.”
A change for the Falcons this season is a switch to Section Two from the ongoing trials of Section One.
“I think we were able to set up a schedule for the kids to have a successful season,” Spohn said. “Especially non-league, we’re wrestling a lot of similar teams to ourselves, so that could make for a very good season.”
Just up the road, the Cedars of Lebanon look to be on the right track, as well.
“We have a few kids that have wrestled up through the ranks, junior high and things like that, so those guys are more likely to make it to the postseason,” coach Vaughn Black said. “The focus is to keep them all together, and build them up to continue the strength of the program.”
Among those experienced wrestlers are sophomore Dallin Ocasio and junior lightweight Jose Barrios, part of a core that, come January, will get to host a tournament for the first time in team history — with Cedar Crest among the five invitees.
“I think it will be nice to have one at home instead of having to travel a distance to go to one,” Ocasio said.
“It’ll be a good step for the program,” Barrios added.
The Little Dutchmen were hit hard by graduation, but head coach Jerome Simon still sees his lineup working top to bottom.
“We should be able to fill our full 14,” Simon said. “We’ll have some younger guys that we’ll depend on, but the future looks pretty good. We have a good group of eighth-graders, and we have some tough ninth-graders, so hopefully the next couple of years we build it back up to being very competitive every year in Section Three.”
As a team, Annville earned a trip to districts a year ago and will be led by a pair of individual qualifiers in junior Zach Renninger (25-14) and sophomore Hayden Funck (17-17).
Both players list a return trip to districts among their team and individual goals for the upcoming season, which will begin with the Chartiers-Houston tournament on Dec. 9.
Simon likes that his wrestlers will face top-flight competition right out of the chute, and likes what he sees from Section Three as well.
“The next four teams between our team, Elco, Donegal, Pequea Valley, I think you could have those teams beating each other,” said the coach. “It’ll be pretty competitive for that.”
The Raiders lost a lot of depth at the top of the lineup due to graduation, but can list the lighter weights as a strength. Seniors Alex Puglio (120) and Shawn Price (135) will have an important role in maintaining leadership on a team that boasts 36 wrestlers.
“We’ve been wrestling our whole lives, so we know everybody on the team and they know us,” Puglio said. “An ongoing goal we have each year is to have 20 wins or more and I think we can achieve that this year and make it to team districts.”
Price also mentioned leadership both on and off the mat as key to the program’s success.
Expect Billy Rhodes to step in for last year’s L-L heavyweight champion, Ryan Rolon, now graduated. Elco also graduated Tony Rodriguez and Jeremy Habowski at 220 and 195, respectively.
Coach Chad Miller’s lineup will be tested early when the Raiders head to the Delco Duals, which they won a year ago with a 5-0 mark. A similar performance will help Miller close to within 10 wins of 300 for his career.
Speaking of tournaments, the Vikings are heading to quite a few this season – and usually the hardest that coach Rusty Wallace Jr. can find.
“Our goal in December is to try to go to some tournaments that are as tough as, if not tougher than, our regional tournament,” Wallace said.
It's all in the name of a potential trip to states, for the third year in a row, with ever-loftier expectations.
“We have yet to have the state tournament we wanted to have,” Wallace said. “We felt all year last year we were one of the top teams in the state and when we didn’t get the results that we wanted, it made this group a pretty easy group to motivate.”
The Vikings’ senior core includes Hunter Wallace (220), Luke Funck (195), Zach Kelly (138) and Trevor Leonard (132), to go along with an army of juniors and sophomores and an eager crop of freshmen.
“We’ve all been pretty close since we were four or five,” Hunter Wallace said of his team’s makeup. “It’s just one of those rare team bonding things.”
The four seniors agreed that a return trip to states is a priority, with added emphasis on claiming a spot on the podium. But don’t look at this season as a make or break for the program.
“I don’t really think we have a peak,” Funck said. “We just keep moving on with what we’ve got and keep doing what we know how to do.”