Not much has changed from a year ago in City League wrestling circles as Waite and Whitmer are again the co-favorites.
Whitmer is the defending champion. Waite won the title the previous three years. Each team got six first-place votes in a preseason poll of CL coaches. In the overall vote, Waite had a slight 55-53 edge in points, with Clay tabbed for third, St. John s Jesuit fourth and Start fifth.
According to 17th-year Waite coach Carmen Amenta, it is anything but a two-team chase.
Whitmer is No. 1 until they re knocked off, but it s going to be a pretty close race, Amenta said. Everybody is pretty much in the same boat. The top five teams are pretty even.
We all have about five pretty solid kids. It s going to be the younger kids in the lineups who will make the difference. This could be the closest race in a long time.
Waite is led by a group of six returning district tournament qualifiers.
Heading that group are juniors Scott Fuller (29-14 record last season), Justin Gooden (34-8) and Vinny Lopez (22-7), who won CL titles at 112, 125 and 130 pounds, respectively, last year. Lopez, now at 135, and Gooden (145) also reached the state tournament.
Fuller (119), senior Josh Carmona (125), junior Alex Herrick (140) and sophomore Justin Guerra (112) are Waite s other district qualifiers. Carmona and Guerra were CL runners-up last year.
Whitmer has seven returnees who advanced beyond the sectional last season. Topping that list are two returning CL champions senior 189-pounder Tim Samson (21-6), who placed sixth at state as a sophomore 275-pounder and won a City title at 171 last year, and junior Evan Roth (36-9, now at 152), who was a CL champ and a state qualifier at 140 a year ago.
Other district qualifiers were seniors Todd Bowman (24-4, now at 119), Aaron Gramza (26-12, now at 125), Donny Zapadka (21-20, now at 145), Phil Escamilla (25-15, now at 160) and Ryan Ernst (31-12, still at heavyweight), and junior Hada Eltatawy (26-18, now at 171). Ernst was a CL runner-up.
It s really going to depend on who s going to be able to put the right guys in the right weight classes, keep them healthy, keep them [academically] eligible and finish well, Panthers coach Tom Bridges said. We finished well last season and that made a big difference.
Everybody s got a good core, so it s what they re going to do after that with the rest of their lineup. Am I confident? Yes. But I was more confident last year with how I was going to back up my top guys. The young guys in the lineup will have to produce.
Clay will be without two CL runners-up from last season. State qualifier Justin Flores (112) has transferred to Eastwood, and junior Nick Tammerine (160) has opted to concentrate on football and track.
This is my second year and I think the wrestlers know what to expect, said Clay coach Jeff Bucher. This is a disciplined, hard-working program with high expectations. As soon as they buy into that, we re going to have great success.
The Eagles are led by senior Kyle Sutter (125), who won the City title and placed eighth at state last season at 103. Senior Max Morrissey (160) was second in the CL, and classmate Brian Conn (140) was third. Sophomore Justin Wharton (152) was also a CL runner-up.
Mike Savona, who was St. John s head coach from 1983-94, returns to his old post after several years as a Titans assistant.
The team is led by returning district qualifiers Nick Harpel (38-14), a senior 171-pounder, and Marcus Espinoza (32-15), a junior 119-pounder. Seniors Brian Mohr (31-10, now at 160), Brad Duncan (29-15, now at 152) and Chris Szalkowski (285) add a boost for St. John s.
We re strong in the upper weights but unproven in the lower and middle weights, Savona said. It s going to depend upon the development of our sophomores and juniors in that area. If they have a fast learning curve, we could be right in the thick of things.
Start senior Roshawn Jones (145) is up five weight classes from his 43-5 finish at 119 last season, when he placed sixth at state. The two-time CL champion can compete no lower than 145 based on newly adopted state weight-loss restrictions.
Another change is that the new heavyweight maximum has risen from 275 to 285 pounds.
Other top Spartans are senior Tim Julious (140), a CL runner-up at 125 a year ago, junior twins Bryce Leedy (35-9, now at 112) and Kyle Leedy (39-12, 119), and junior Mike Augustyniak (285).
It may come down to the luck of the draw, Start coach Mark Contos said. You could shake up those top five or six teams and have it come out in any order. We have 10 varsity letter winners back and we re going to be competitive.
The key for us is we ll have to be very sharp on our technique because our weight classes are not conducive to overpowering people. We ll have to be consistent.
St. Francis is counting on good depth and balance, according to 26th-year coach Carl Janke, who returns 14 letter winners.
Leading that group are seniors Nick Brown (20-9, now at 130) and John Krontz (285), and juniors Matt Ramirez (152) and Maks Babuder (160). Krontz, Ramirez and Babuder were district qualifiers.
Bowsher, which will be able to fill all 14 weight classes, is counting on three seniors to lead the way Adel Mostafa (130), Russell Castillo (285) and Joey Myers (171).
Central Catholic has fallen on more challenging times after winning a City League title as recently as 2002 and three straight (1997-99) not long ago.
In his 20th year as coach, Mitch Naufel starts the season unable to fill six weight classes. Leading the Irish will be junior Mike Nino (160) and sophomore Dave Pickerel (215). Nino was third in the CL last season, Pickerel a runner-up at 171.
Scott lost the CL s two biggest champions with the graduation of Demecus Beach (215) and Roger McBride (275), so coach Jakub Mujaahid will have to rebuild around four returnees.
Senior Tony Seldon (18-12, now at 152) is the most experienced returnee, and will get support from classmate Gerald Lipsey (160) as well as junior Charod Jackson (189) and Jeremy Atkins (145).
Libbey and ninth-year coach Chad Wojciechowski will likely be able to fill just eight weight classes.
Leading the Cowboys will be juniors Trey Lampkin (189) and James Reynolds (285), and sophmore William Rowlett (112).
Rogers has just 10 wrestlers in the program, but second-year coach Greg Brutsche hopes to fill at least nine weight classes.
Topping the Rams lineup will be seniors Shawn Simon (125), Chris Douglass (285) and Jesse Smith (145), and junior Mahmoud Ali (171).
Woodward coach Dan Smith, in his 17th season with the Polar Bears, took a hit before the winter season even began, losing 14 potential wrestlers to academic ineligibilty.
Eight of the 16 Bears are freshmen, so building will again be the first item of business. The lone wrestler with experience is junior 285-pounder Darnell Williams (20-8), who placed third in the CL last season.