CURWENSVILLE – Nine lettermen would be a welcome sight for any high school wrestling coach, but Duane Wriglesworth isn’t ready to project any goals for his seventh Curwensville squad until he sees how much the majority of them have improved.
Senior middleweight Jake Keller, a two-time District 9 Class AA champion, and sophomore lightweight Tyler Mays are the lone returnees who posted winning records last season, when the youthful and short-handed Golden Tide finished with a 7-12 dual meet record and placed ninth in the district tourney.
“Most of our team coming back is a real big plus, and a lot of kids have set individual goals, but I just told them that, for right now, we’re just taking one competition at a time,” Wriglesworth said.
“They’re working hard in the room, and we’ve had some really good practices. I’m really pleased with the effort the kids are putting out.
“This is like a typical year back when I wrestled, with pretty much everybody from 145 up all football players. That builds a team atmosphere, and the guys are really coming together. You’ve got to put forth that extra effort to want to win as a team.”
Setting the tone for the Golden Tide is Keller, a three-year letterwinner hoping to punctuate his outstanding career with a trip to the state championships after having his last two seasons end in the Northwest Region consolation rounds.
Keller roared through the 2010-11 regular season with a 28-1 record at 130 and 135 pounds and rated Outstanding Wrestler Award consideration for the District 9 tourney with three falls and a major decision before suffering two losses at the regionals for a 34-3 finish and a 78-12 career record.
“He’s our team captain, and he’s picked up where he left off last year,” Wriglesworth said. “He never quits wrestling. He hit tournaments all summer long, and it shows. We’re expecting a great year from him.”
Mays wound up 15-13 at 112, including two wins at districts.
Senior Alex Holt, a 125-pounder who wrestled most of his matches at 130 or 135, managed to carve out a 13-13 record for his second letter, while sophomore Trey McKenzie just missed the .500 mark in his rookie season with a 12-13 finish at 125.
Junior Nate Wriglesworth also is a two-year letterman. He was 9-16 at 140 last season.
The other returnees are seniors Jason Baker (1-15 at 152 and 160) and Chad Desmett (8-17 at 171, 189 and 215) and junior Austin Pollick (5-20 at 145 and 152). Desmett won three of five bouts at districts after finally making the drop to 171.
Curwensville had to forfeit at several weights every time out last season because of low numbers and injuries, but Wriglesworth will be able to pencil in a full lineup as soon as Brandon Sass (1-2 at 125 and 130) gets down to 126.
He feels the Golden Tide, which had a turnout of 21 wrestlers compared to a little over a dozen last year, will benefit from the changes in weight classes adopted by the National Federation of State High School Associations Wrestling Rules Committee and approved by the PIAA which deleted one middle weight and added one heavy weight.
“There would be other years when it wouldn’t, but this year it’s perfect for us,” he explained. “The reason is because we have room to place a lot of our upper weight kids. We have several football players out this year, and they usually dominate in upper weights. The extra weight allows more of them to be part of the lineup.”
The Golden Tide will open the season Saturday at the Mountaineer Tournament hosted by Philipsburg-Osceola with freshmen Sam Bressler and Travis Lansberry at 106 and 113, respectively, Mays at 120, McKenzie at 132, Keller at 138, Holt at 145, sophomore Dakota Royer at 152, Wriglesworth at 160, Pollick at 170, Desmett at 182, and junior Jake Kavelak at 195, junior Spencer Smeal at 220 and junior Brad Stubbs at 285.
Action will get under way at 9 a.m. with Altoona, Hollidaysburg, Corry, Somerset, Central Dauphin East and New Oxford other teams.
In recent Decembers, Curwensville traveled to Millersville for the Penn Manor Tournament, but the decision to stay closer to home resulted in a good fit, in Wriglesworth’s estimation.
“It definitely looks to me to be a very competitive tournament, and our kids will find out right away where we stand,” he said. “I told them it would be nice to place in the top half of this tournament.”
Wriglesworth projects lineup changes when some wrestlers move down as the weight loss plan permits.
Among those who vying for spots will be junior Devin Kerin and injured sophomore Zach Tibbens (shoulder) in the middleweights and Baker, injured senior Alex Holland (hand) and sophomore Ricky Magnuson in the heavyweights. Holland lettered as a sophomore.
Shoulder surgey has sidelined junior letterman Hunter McCracken (13-16 at 145 and 152) for the season.
The Golden Tide faces a rugged schedule of nine dual meets, with P-O replacing Keystone, as well as the Coudersport Duals, the Clearfield Duals and the Fred Bell Tournament in Grove City. Nine of the events are packed into January.
“It a rough road the whole way through,” said Wriglesworth, whose first six teams were a combined 43-48 in regular season dual meets and 44-52 counting the District 9 Class AA Team Duals.
Wriglesworth’s assistant coaches are Mike Bookhamer, who moves up from junior high head coach, and Steve Keller.
The roster, with (*) denoting letterwinners:
Seniors – Jason Baker (*), 170; Chad Desmett (*), 170; Alex Holland (*), 170; Alex Holt, (*), 132; Jake Keller (*), 132.
Juniors – Jake Kavelak, 170; Devin Kerin, 132; Austin Pollick (*), 152; Brandon Sass, 126; Spencer Smeal, 195; Brad Stubbs, 285; Nate Wriglesworth (*), 145.
Sophomores – Ricky Magnuson, 195; Tyler Mays (*), 120; Trey McKenzie (*), 132; Dakota Royer, 145; Zach Tibbens, 145; Austin Turner, 120; Pat Shearer, 126.
Freshmen – Sam Bressler, 106; Travis Lansberry, 113.
The schedule, with varsity matches to get under way at approximately 7:30 p.m. unless noted, or immediately following the junior high meets that will start at 6 o’clock:
10 – at Philipsburg-Osceola Mountaineer Tournament with (9 a.m.)
15 – at Brockway
22 – WEST BRANCH
5 – PUNXSUTAWNEY
7 – at Coudersport Duals (8:30 a.m.)
12 – REDBANK VALLEY
17 – at Moshannon Valley
19 – RIDGWAY
21 – at Clearfield Duals
26 – at Brookville
27-28 – at Fred Bell Tournament, Grove City
31 – CLEARFIELD
2 – at Philipsburg-Osceola (7 p.m.)
9 – at Clarion (7 p.m.)
24-25 – District 9 Class AA Tournament at Clarion University
2-4 – Northwest Region Class AA Tournament at Sharon Area High School
8-10 – PIAA Class AA Tournament at Hershey Giant Center