Wrestling may be as good as it's ever been from top to bottom in the Suburban Lakes League.
Of course, Elmwood -- a two-time defending SLL champion -- is recognized as the league's frontrunner in what is expected to end up as a highly contested league dual meet season, which represents the final one in SLL history.
Most of the SLL schools will be joining the new Northern Buckeye Conference next season.
Eastwood and Genoa figure as the two likely favorites to challenge the Royals. Both teams have plenty of experience on their sides to possibly make it a three-way race.
"If Eastwood and Genoa have a good day and we don't, they'll be right on our heels and beat us," said Elmwood coach Dave Lee, who is in his 24th season.
Eagles second-year coach Joe Wyant expects another hard-fought battle to determine which team will reign as the champion. The Eagles had won the SLL championship five straight times (2004-08) under former coach Ralph Cubberly.
Elmwood had a five-year title streak from 1998-2002.
"I think the league championship is a three-team race between Elmwood and Genoa and us," Wyant said. "Gibsonburg and Lake are much improved this year."
The Royals were predicted in the coaches poll to narrowly win the crown, receiving 40 points, followed by Eastwood (38) and Genoa (35).
Here is a look at the teams in predicted order of finish:
Elmwood has 21 wrestlers, including three state qualifiers from last season.
"I'm not really sure if we have a better team this year because the seniors last year were amazing," Lee said. "We do have high expectations, though.
"We should be tough. If not, then the coaches would have done something wrong."
Goebel, who claimed a 103-pound state title as a freshman and placed third (119) at state last season, is the top returner.
Lee believes Goebel, who was 57-2 last year, is wrestling as well as he ever has.
"He's got all the tools to win every match that he wrestles," said Lee.
Goebel is moving up in weight class for the third year in a row, but figures to create trouble for opponents at either 119 or 125.
Juniors Dexter Lee (112/119) and Mitchell Emmitt (135/140) also return after competing at state last season.
Lee placed seventh at 103.
"He's going to have quite the jump up in weight this year," Lee said, of his state-placer. "[Dexter] is definitely a good wrestler, but he may have a hard time [moving up in weight class].
"If he believes in himself he can do it."
Senior Josh Wise (160), a league-placer a year ago, is also considered one of the Royals' top returners on a team looking for a three-peat as league champions.
"I think it would be really sweet to win it because it's the last year for the SLL," said Dave Lee.
Eastwood has 10 returning letter winners to give coach Wyant plenty to work with.
Juniors Justin Burket (119) and Jacob Welch (152/160) return as defending league champions and as the Eagles' top talents. Nine returning district qualifiers are back.
However, the Eagles are without a senior.
"Even though we're young, everyone has experience," Wyant said. "We think we're OK. Our goal is to win the league championship."
Nick Mommers (140), Chase Beam (145), and Casey Horn (152) are also returning district qualifiers.
Genoa has exceptional depth that should make it a three-way race for the title.
In his second season as the coach, Joe Ziebold has 15 returners to work with, including eight district qualifiers and two district placers.
Senior Adam Klavinger (112) is a three-time league-placer and sophomore Seth Morrison (103), is a league-placer. Both are expected to have strong showings again this season.
Shawn Gantka (125), Drew Keenan (130), Sam Reinhart (135), Jake Fejes (145/152), Garrett Scott (171), and Jake Sheehee (189) were all district qualifiers last season for the Comets.
"We have a competitive league and we're working like crazy and it' going to be a dogfight," Ziebold said. "I think we can stack up with the best in the league."
The Comets' workouts have been bolstered recently by the addition of several members of the team who were on the football team which advanced to the regional final in the playoffs.
"It's going to take some hard work for us to keep improving," Ziebold said.
Woodmore has eight wrestlers including four returning letter winners.
Sophomore Colton Datkun (112) was a district qualifier and tops the group making up first-year coach Dave Laurendeau's team.
Juniors Dexter Emch (130) and Cody Lockhart (160) placed third in league as sophomores. Junior Gavin Beard (145/152) completes the experience back in the lineup.
"We don't have enough kids to win very many dual matches," Laurendeau said. "I expect the individuals to do well."
Lake enters 11 returners as the Flyers push to move up the ranks in the SLL. Tom Jackson, who is in his 12th season as coach, struggled to field a complete team for dual meets last season.
"It's looking like we'll be able to fill out all of our weight classes for the first time in a few years," Jackson said.
Carl Brown, a 215-pound senior, is a favorite to repeat as league champion. Junior Josh Large (152) was a district qualifier last season while senior Wes Socie (160) is expected to be successful. Socie recently claimed victory in his weight class at the Northwood Invitational.
Returning senior Ben Sample (145) and juniors Zach Sharpe (171) and Casey Conine (125/130) are expected to figure significantly in the Flyers' plans.
"The league is pretty solid again, especially the top three," Jackson said. "That's our goal, to crack into the top three. Eastwood, Elmwood, and Genoa are all pretty tough."
Gibsonburg is under first-year coach Justin Edgell.
The Golden Bears are led by three juniors -- Ryan Widmer (130/135), a sectional runner-up, Damen Escobedo (135/140), a league champion, and Jamie Mancha (215).
Otsego lacks depth and experience as coach Tom Maidlow begins his third season.
Senior Todd Box (135/140) was a district qualifier and leads the way. Also, seniors Brady Kane (130/135), Allen Tolles (160), and juniors Ryan Fackler (152) and Poke Harrison (215) are expected to make some strides this season.
Contact Donald Emmons at: email@example.com or 419-724-6302.
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