Rich Wagner knows how important polls are in determining who will win the Suburban Lakes League wrestling title.
So Genoa's veteran coach doesn't put much stock in his team's pre-season ranking atop the league poll. “I worry more about injuries and things like that,” Wagner said. “I also know Elmwood, Eastwood, and Woodmore all were ranked high.”
Wagner is right: all three of those league rivals were close to his Comets in the pre-season poll as Genoa garnered 54 points – only three in front of Elmwood – and Eastwood tied for second. Woodmore was only three points behind the Royals and Eagles.
Genoa has grabbed people's attention early this season. The Comets opened the season by winning the Jim Derr Memorial at Northwood on Dec. 7, then followed that victory with a team title at the Southview Invitational the following week.
The Comets are led by eight seniors as well as several talented underclassmen. Among the top wrestlers are Ryan Keaton at 160 pounds, Eric Mason at 215, and Mike Widmer at 275. All three won individual titles in their weight class at both of the team's first two tournament. Mason was a state qualifier two seasons ago, while Widmer qualified for the state meet last spring.
But those three are only a part of Genoa's talented lineup. Fellow senior Josh Resendez, who won the SLL title at 119 last season, has moved up to 125 this season and won at Southview, while senior A.J. Hall at 130 and Dan Escobar at 140 won individual crowns at Northwood.
If that isn't enough, junior Bob Bergman and sophomore Juan Lopez, a state qualifier a year ago, bolster the Comets' lineup further.
“With our eight seniors, it's their last year so I'm certain they'll want to do as well as they can,” Wagner said. “My expectation is just that each wrestler will do his job. If they do that, everything will take care of itself.”
Elmwood, defending league champion, has only two returning seniors with extensive experience in Jesse Thomas at 125 and Dusty Sterling at 119. All four of the Royals' individual champs last season were lost to graduation.
But Thomas and Sterling, both district qualifiers last season, lead a talented group of underclassmen. Juniors Aaron Overton at 189 and 112-pounder Tony Knisely also were district qualifiers along with returning sophomore Trevor Lee at 103 pounds.
As a result, coach David Lee likes what he sees in the practice room.
We are very young,” he said of his 29-man squad. “But if the team works together as a unit, we have as good a chance as any to attain that goal.”
Eastwood's program has earned respect. The Eagles were tied for second in the pre-season poll even though they may start as many as 10 freshmen.
That's right, a whopping 10 freshmen may start in the 14-man lineup.
“With this many freshmen, we will just wrestle to the test of our ability and let the chips fall where they may,” said coach Ralph Cubberly.
The big freshman class does have some good role models to follow.
Junior Drew Lashaway at 130 pounds is a two-time SLL champion and state qualifier, while sophomore Kent Smith at 152 already has earned one league crown and state tournament berth.
Other top wrestlers for the Eagles are junior heavyweight Jeremy Swartz and sophomore Mike Rameriz, a district qualifier at 171 last season.
Lakota's new coach Chad Long is excited about his team, and with good reason.
The Raiders are led by a trio of undefeated wrestlers in Brandon Racheter at 152, Brad Bloemer at 171, and Jacob Powers at 215.
“I can see my kids taking the steps we need them to take to become a great team,” Long said.
“I am satisfied with the way our team is heading, but we still have a long way to go.”
Lake finished last in the league meet last season, but a good nucleus returns.
Veteran coach Tom Jackson said seniors Josh Snyder at 215 and Chris Thompson at 275 both are returning district qualifiers, while sophomore Stevie Lazur also advanced to the district meet at 119 as a freshman.
“We have good senior leadership, and our sophomore class is strong,” Jackson said.
“But we have some experienced wrestlers who are unproven - many of them are coming off below-.500 records from last year.”
Gibsonburg returns only two lettermen from last season, and among the losses are league champ Chad Perkins at 135.
Tenth-year head coach Glenn Owens expects his two returnees – junior Troy Wilburn and sophomore Bill Davies – to provide leadership for a young team.
But all this is merely speculation, Genoa coach Wagner warns.
He suggested a better gauge would be the Suburban Lakes Leagues Duals, which his school will host this weekend.
“Not everyone will have their full lineup there, but everybody uses that [tournament] as a gauge,” Wagner said.