Liberty lost several seniors to graduation, and squads from Heritage, Antioch and Freedom look poised to make a run at the league title.
“The verdict’s still out,” said Lions head coach Greg Chappel. “We lost some really key people last year, so we’ve got to fill those holes. The kids are working hard and we’re going to see where things fall.”
Liberty will, however, return some talented athletes from last year. Sophomore Devon Lyle, a BVAL champion as a freshman, will compete in the 113-pound class. Chappel is eager to see how Lyle will handle the transition from 103 to 113. State qualifier Xavier Johnson, a senior, will be a fixture of the 138-pound class. Chappel also sees big things from 126-pound junior Austin Solari and 132-pound senior Jake Thompson.
Kevin Milner, a 152-pound senior, and Jake Gonzalez, a 145-pound junior, look to recover from injuries that cut short their previous seasons. Johnny Zanarini, a sophomore, will make the transition from the junior varsity team, wrestling for Liberty in the 120-pound class.
Freedom returns several talented grapplers, including three state qualifiers: senior Gabe Tulchinski, sophomore Ricky Coster and senior Roman Garcia.
Tulchinski will compete in the 171-pound class, Coster 113 and Garcia 132. Daniel Ruiz, a senior, placed fifth in the North Coast Section last season and will be a part of the 147-pound class.
But while Freedom’s core group remains solid, head coach John Parsons is still wondering who else will step up. “We’ve got a little mix of old and new and some high achievers and some ‘wanna-be’ers,’” Parsons said. “We’re just putting together a team.”
The Falcons must do without sophomore 103-pounder Clint Fredenburg, who broke both legs in a motorcycle accident. Parsons said Fredenburg was beginning to find his place in the varsity lineup, and that his absence will be felt by Freedom all year long.
Parsons has been encouraged by the eagerness of the newer wrestlers, such as 103-pound freshman Austin Brown, who had never wrestled before this season, 152-pound freshman Alex Bazan, 152-pound sophomore Kyle Coccimiglio and sophomore 147-pounder Tauva Austin.
The Panthers are led by first-year head coach Ben McCorriston, who graduated from Antioch in 2005. McCorriston makes up for lack of experience with intensity and work ethic. He wants the Panthers to scrape and claw for every inch this season.
“What I want is for these kids to fight, and fight as hard as they can,” McCorriston said. “We have to do twice as much work.”
Luckily, the new coach has some talented returning wrestlers to work with. Senior Kyle Clark, one of the top grapplers in the North Coast Section, will wrestle in either the 195 or 220-pound class. Football teammate Josh Oseguera, also a senior, is pegged for the 160 or 170-pound bracket. Seniors Andre Holey (113 or 120) and Dylan Guerrero (132 or 138) will also be mainstays for the Panthers. Anthony West, a 132-pound junior, should continue to improve.
Underclassmen such as Jeremy Galli (126-pound sophomore) and Iosefa Papaligi (145-pound freshman) should also make an impact for Antioch.
McCorriston plans to keep a video blog about the Panthers at www.youtube.com/user/antiochwrestling.
While Liberty gets most of the attention in the BVAL, its crosstown rival Heritage boasts a growing wrestling program.
Last year, head coach Mark Barnes saw roughly 30 athletes come out for the team – half of which had never touched the mat before. Now the roster goes about 40 strong.
The Patriots have some impressive talents. The coach’s son, senior Dalton Barnes, will compete in the 182-pound class. Fellow NCS qualifier Joey Vigil, a 113-pound junior, hopes for more success this season. Kevin Puppo, a 160-pound senior, and 152-pound junior Brad Swisher should make a strong impact as well.
“We’re building our program finally,” Barnes said. “We’re getting a lot of parental support. It’s really starting to jell and come alive there.”
Barnes is also excited about freshman Jesse Gregerson, who competes in the 126-pound class. Gregerson is undefeated so far this season and went 4-0 at the recent Falcon Challenge at Freedom. Lania Aguayo, a sophomore in the 120-pound class, gives the Patriots a skilled girl on the mat.
Another local program on the rise has been Pittsburg, led by Liberty alumnus Tony Darone.
About 75 wrestlers occupy the Pirates varsity, JV and freshman levels. Darone noted that roughly half of last year’s varsity squad is coming back this year, including defending league champion Kenny Nelson, a 180-pound senior.
Pittsburg’s wrestling roster also boasts several senior members of the schools’ league title-holding football team, such as heavyweight Javonte Brooks-Brown, D’hari Webster (in the 195- or 220-pound class), 180-pounder Kenny Nelson and Dominik Buckner, in the 152-pound class.
Senior Asante Buzenes could make an impact in the 160-pound class and senior Marco Russell, 170-pounds, looks to capitalize on a season in which he made it to the NCS tournament. Fortunato Zamora, a 138-pound senior, is another key member of the Pirates.
Talented underclassmen include 113-pound sophomore Jerral Vison, 145-pound freshman Davino Lucido and 126-pound sophomore James Christiansen.
“I’m very excited about this upcoming season,” Darone said. “The future looks bright if everything goes well.”
Pittsburg hosts the inaugural Pirate Invitational on Saturday.
Deer Valley, coached by Rich Madrigal, hopes to make some waves this year. The Wolverines were well represented at last year’s NCS tournament and will welcome back some of those athletes.
Senior Kenyetta Harris performed admirably for Deer Valley at the tournament as a 125-pound junior, winning the first three rounds. Junior Austin Morales looks to improve on a solid sophomore season. The Wolverines will also use powerful senior Elijah Iakopo in the 220-pound class.