It’s the middle of the holiday season.
But a large portion of high school athletes won’t be binge eating like many others.
Yes, it’s beginning to look a lot like wrestling season.
Grapplers all over the state kicked off the season this weekend as months of waiting after last season’s state tournament has finally ended.
Fourteen Wyoming Valley Conference teams and nearly 200 wrestlers from the conference are filled with optimism this season coming off a banner year when 15 wrestlers from the conference advanced to the PIAA Championships, the most the conference has sent this century, and perhaps the most ever.
Combined with the confident wrestlers, just about every coach in the conference is chomping at the bit to show off the squads they’re going to put on the mat this season. And they should be ready for good reason because the majority of the teams will sport a full lineup at one point this season. That’s something that hasn’t been done in years, going by preseason probable lineups, only three teams don’t have at least 13 of the 14 weight classes filled. In past years, it has been more like three teams being able to put out numbers like that.
“When you have big duals that mean something, your fan base grows and the interest grows,” said Meyers coach Ron Swingle, who has a roster size of close to 30. “There’s a lot of coaches in the area putting in a lot of work. That’s a testament to them.
“I think it’s exciting. It’s fun going in to a match knowing that there’s going to be 14 drag out matches. And hopefully that’s going down through everyone. The coaches that are doing all the work are junior high coaches, and when senior high teams are good it’s a testament to what your assistant coaches are doing down there so hats off to them.”
Around Division I
All over the WVC duals and matches were close last season. That couldn’t have been more evident by just looking at the three-way shared Division I championship between Coughlin, Tunkhannock and Hazleton Area.
All three of those clubs are looking strong again this season with several wrestlers returning from a year ago. How hard is it to handicap a winner this season? Just look at last year’s results. Coughlin won the WVC Tournament and was the highest finisher of the three in the District 2 Class 3A Tournament.
Hazleton Area was the last of the trio standing at the D2 duals event reaching the third-place match, and advanced three wrestlers to the PIAA Championships, the most a WVC team has advanced in seven years.
Tunkhannock has an argument of being the strongest returning 13 starters from last season and adding standout freshman Tommy Traver, who is getting preseason recognition from publications all over the state.
“I think the parity will be back this year like it was last year,” Coughlin coach Dave Parsnik said. “I think it will be any number of teams that can compete for the championship.”
Dallas and Pittston Area are entering as sleepers with a lot of depth and if matchups go right in a dual and an upset is pulled off, the entire division can become a mess.
Wyoming Valley West, which had a down year last season with low numbers despite advancing two to the state tournament, and producing a state runner-up in Cody Cordes, has a roster of 19 and shouldn’t be overlooked.
Crestwood and Berwick rounded out the bottom of the division in 2015, but the Comets now have a newfound optimism thanks to a thriving junior high program. The Bulldogs are in a rebuild, but also have optimism with young talent.
Around Division II
Parity started to show last year with Meyers edging Lake-Lehman, Wyoming Area and Hanover Area in duals to claim the division title then swept the Class 2A districts.
Sure the Mohawks have a large number in the room once again, but the pressure from the Black Knights, Hawkeyes and Warriors — who all have full lineups — will be closer than ever. If not for injuries last season, any of those four teams could have come out as division champ. All of those teams lost some talent from a year ago, so they’re all in the same position.
“Every year you lose some wrestlers that you wish you didn’t lose, but then you get your returners and they’re the guys you rely on to help you get over the hump and help you win a close dual,” Hanover Area coach Anthony Mercadante said. “They are the grinders, the kids with a lot of heart. But every team has grinders and they’re going to make six minutes for their opponents hell.
“Those other teams have good lineups and every year it comes down to matchups, the coin flips where you hope your kid wins the match.”
GAR and Nanticoke round out the division looking to hang in there with the top four teams.
Returning State Qualifiers
Jimmy Hoffman, Jr., Hazleton Area: Few wrestlers have as much credentials as Hoffman, who is a two-time D2 champ and two-time state qualifier with 76 career wins to begin the season. He begins the season as the seventh-ranked wrestler in the state at 138 pounds by PA Power Wrestling.
Chris Lasecki, Jr., Hazleton Area: Entering the season with 55 career wins, he claimed his first D2 title last year and placed fourth at regionals. At 126 pounds, he starts the season ranked No. 16 in the state by PA Power Wrestling.
Colin Pasone, Jr., Meyers: He enters with a solid career record, losing just four times in two previous seasons in 60 matches. He starts the season ranked eighth in the state at 113 pounds by PA Power Wrestling.
R.J. Driscoll, Jr., Lake-Lehman: He took fourth at regionals to reach states for the first time last season. Totaling 46 wins in his first two seasons, Driscoll is a two-time District 2 Class 2A runner-up. He’s ranked ninth in the state at 126 by PA Power Wrestling.
Watch out for…
There’s always freshmen who turn some heads during the season, and some even get rolling in the postseason and reach the PIAA Championships.
There are plenty of ninth-graders this season who have credentials to do just that. Leading the way is Tunkhannock’s Tommy Traver, who was fifth at the Pennsylvania Junior Wrestling Tournament in March and is listed as No. 22 top incoming freshman according to PA Power Wrestling.
Dallas’ Steven Newell placed sixth at the PJWs and will be starting for the Mountaineers, while Wyoming Valley West’s David Krokowski is coming off an eighth-place showing.
The rankings are in
PA Power Wrestling released its preseason rankings earlier in the week with five WVC wrestlers, other than last year’s returning state qualifiers being ranked.
Hanover Area heavyweight John Sheridan is ranked 10th in the 285 Class 2A rankings. Sheridan is the second-highest ranked grappler by the publication of these wrestlers with Tunkhannock’s Dalton Ray coming in at ninth in the 3A 170-pound list.
Ray is joined by teammates Dakota Quick (No. 20 at 132) and Mike Manley (No. 19 at 160), while Dallas’ Xavier Barber comes in at No. 17 at 160 in 3A.
Dallas’ James Geiger and Jerry Ogurkis are also in the first ranking of the season, but both are not expected to wrestle this season.
The big news in the PIAA for the last two months has centered on sports expanding its classifications. Wrestling on the other hand, will not change at all and will remain just two classifications for at least the next two years.
When the number changes do occur next season, the biggest difference for District 2 wrestling is that Berwick will drop down to Class 2A from 3A. Including the current campaign, the Bulldogs have spent the last eight in 3A. Prior to those seasons, the team was dominant in Class 2A claiming District 2 Duals and team titles in 2007 and 2008.
A change for the current season involves the District 2 Duals Championships. Instead of being held at the Kingston Armory on one day this season, the event will now be held over two days at different locations with the first rounds scheduled for Wednesday, Feb. 3 and the finals set for Saturday, Feb. 6.
Two coaches who had great runs stepped down after last season.
At Wyoming Valley West, Drew Feldman left the post and was replaced by former assistant Ryan Vassello.
Under Rick Simon, GAR went from laughing stock to respectability producing a pair of state qualifiers last season, and the school’s all-time wins leader. Simon was replaced by former assistant Jay Lavelle.
Dec. 18-19: Flo-Excalibur by Friends of Wyoming Seminary Tournament at Wilkes University; Dec. 28-29: Tunkhannock Kiwanis Tournament; Jan. 8-9: Wyoming Valley Conference Tournament at Lake-Lehman; Feb. 3: First round District 2 Duals Championships at TBA; Feb. 6: District 2 Duals Championships finals at TBA; Feb. 11-13: PIAA Duals Championships at Giant Center, Hershey; Feb. 26-27: District 2 Individual Championships at Kingston Armory; March 4-5: Northeast Regional Tournament, Class 2A at Williamsport H.S., Class 3A at Liberty H.S., Bethlehem; March 10-12: PIAA Championships at Giant Center, Hershey
Reach Dave Rosengrant at 570-991-6398 or on Twitter @tldrosengrant