Wrestling outlook: Wide-open race in Northwestern
Posted: December 8, 2012
WINCHESTER — In each of the last two years, the Millbrook wrestling team has been touted as a force, and it went out and proved it by winning the last two Northwestern District Tournament titles by a combined 93.5 points and earning two top-six finishes at the Group AA tournament.
But the area wrestling scene has changed with the departure of Pioneer wrestlers like Jake Crawford (three state titles, now at the University of North Carolina) and Joe Jessen (two, Old Dominion University), and that could mean a shakeup at the top.
“I think this year more than any, you could put the names of five teams in a hat, pull one out, and that team could be your winner,” James Wood coach Greg Walker said.
It’s entirely possible that the district champion could come outside of Frederick County for a change. Each of the three Frederick head coaches — Walker, Sherando’s Pepper Martin, and Millbrook’s Jeff Holmes, who takes over for Jake Forestiere after spending the four previous seasons as a Pioneer assistant — each said Skyline has a legitimate chance to unseat the traditional powers.
The Hawks are led by Justin Williams, a state qualifier at 220 pounds last year who won that weight class at the Skyline Elite tournament last week. Skyline took seventh as a team at that tournament, one place and four points ahead of Millbrook.
“James Wood, Millbrook and Sherando all lost some good seniors to graduation,” Martin said. “Skyline might have the most experience returning, so on paper they look tough to beat. And I think Handley’s getting better.”
Northwestern District teams are typically some of the best in the state. Millbrook has seven consecutive top-10 finishes in Salem, while during that time frame James Wood has been in the top 10 twice and Sherando once, and it will be interesting to see how these teams manage with so many new faces.
Handley, James Wood and Sherando in particular each figure to give mat time to a number of freshmen, and the Pioneers will no longer have the services of five wrestlers who qualified for the state meet last year. But these teams tend to find a way to manage.
“Some would look at this as a rebuilding year, but I think we can surprise some people,” Holmes said. “These guys have goals, they have a lot of potential, and they want to compete.”
There is some experience back for these teams though. Millbrook brings back two state placers in sophomore Dylan Wisman (47-8, second at 138 pounds) and junior P.K. Jessen (39-15, sixth at 152). The rivalry between James Wood senior Taylor Swartz (34-10, third at 113) and Sherando junior Jacob Guthridge (39-6, fourth at 113) could find itself renewed at 120, and Handley junior Jordan Dowrey (40-8 at 285) is among the others who will take aim at a state crown.
As hard as these teams were hit, Clarke County might have taken the biggest hit because of graduation. The Eagles lost three state qualifiers, including state finalist Joe Nappi, and four other wrestlers that won at least 16 more matches than they lost.
But led by junior state placers Ben Wallace (seventh at 160, 51-9), and junior Guido Marasco (eighth at 113, 30-22), Clarke County coach Jon VanSice thinks the Eagles can still be strong, though the typically tough Bull Run District will be tough to navigate because of state powers Manassas Park, which took second in Group A last year, and Strasburg, a team that VanSice thinks could win this year’s state title.
Coach: Jeff Holmes, 1st season.
Last year: Placed 4th in Group AA; 2nd in Region II; Northwestern District regular season and tournament champions.
Key losses: Jake Crawford, Joe Jessen, Luke Anderson, DeAndre Johnson, Warren Ramirez, Carl Plumb.
Key returnees: Dylan Wisman, So., 160; P.K. Jessen, Jr., 145-52; Nick Kilmer, Jr., 152; Mike Keeler, Sr., 170; Lee Artrip, Jr., 220/285; Ryan Meushaw, So. 106.
Top newcomer: Trae Sine, Fr., 113.
Outlook: Holmes — a 2002 graduate of SUNY-Oswego in New York, where he was an NCAA Division III qualifier — becomes the Pioneers fourth head coach in five years following the departure of Forestiere, who moved to Fredericksburg.
An assistant for each of the previous three head coaches, he plans on sticking with what works.
“Being a varsity head coach has always been a goal and a dream,” said Holmes, who previously served as an assistant at SUNY-Oswego and a head coach at James Wood Middle before coming to Millbrook. “Were just going to work hard and practice hard, and I want all of these guys to lead by example.”
Holmes has a couple guys in the room in Wisman — the only freshman in Group AA or A above 113 pounds to make a state final last year — and Jessen, the younger brother of Joe, who have big goals, and Holmes wants them to be self-motivated.
“I’m sure those guys are thinking [about the state finals], but I don’t want to speculate on what they can do,” Holmes said. “We’re just trying to get everyone on the team prepared so the team is in a position to excel.”
Coach: Pepper Martin, 20th season.
Last year: Placed 5th in Region II; 2nd in the Northwestern District tournament.
Key losses: Aaron Laboy, Gabe Mead, B.J. Askew, Jose Maravilla.
Key returnees: Jacob Guthridge, Jr., 120; Dan Mullaney, Sr., 160; Kyle Vangel, Jr., 138; Tyler Hamilton, Jr., 195; Colton Simmons, So., 132.
Top newcomers (to starting lineup): Mike Duffy, Fr., 106; Curtis Guthridge, Fr., 113; Austin Alexander, Jr., 120; Mike Stevens, Fr., 126; Jordan Dalton, Jr., 132; Marcus Painter, Jr. 145; Noah Fox, Fr., 152; Justin Angel, Sr., 170; Thomas Frye. Jr., 182; Christian Aldrich, Sr., 220; Ben Avery, Fr., 285; Lance Sloane, Sr., 285.
Outlook: Sherando is definitely a little short on experience. The starting lineup figures to have two seniors, six freshman, and only Jacob Guthridge as a wrestler with state tournament experience.
“We definitely have potential,” Martin said. “We might struggle dual-wise, but if we have five really good wrestlers we can be competitive and be a creditable tournament team.”
Martin said Jacob Guthridge has not only continued to make himself a better wrestler, but he’s taken it upon himself to lift his teammates as well. Guthridge is coming off a season that saw him go 1-3 against James Wood’s Swartz, with the win coming in the Region II final.
“He’s a driven young man,” Martin said. “He prepared in the offseason, he’s worked hard in practice, and he has the ultimate goal in mind, to be a state champion. Right now he’s not just leading by example, but he’s starting to become a vocal presence. Even the seniors look up to him.”
Martin thinks one of the seniors, Mullaney, could be in store for a big year after suffering some difficult postseason defeats in the past. Others who have caught Martin’s eye are Vangel — who went 20-18 last year but 5-0 at the Orange County duals — and Avery, who shows a lot of promise after going 4-1 at the same competition,
“We had a number of wrestlers who were just over .500 last year, so how they do is going to go a long way in determining how we do,” Martin said.
Coach: Greg Walker, 9th season.
Last year: Placed 13th in Group AA; 9th in Region II; 4th in the Northwestern District tournament.
Key losses: Mark Bean, Jaime Walton, Chris Ewing.
Key returnees: Taylor Swartz, Sr., 120; Jimmy Woznak, So. 106; Brandon Walton, Sr., 152; Levi Roy, Sr., 182; Erik Bearer, Sr., 285.
Top newcomers: None mentioned.
Outlook: James Wood is also relying on a lot of freshmen, and is looking at starting five of them. But no matter who’s in the lineup, Walker figures his team will be a threat.
Despite having to forfeit five weight classes at the season-opening Tuscarora Duals because of injuries, weight issues and SATs, James Wood went 2-3 and did not lose a match by more than 12 points — and the 12-point defeat came against Group AAA J.E.B. Stuart.
“We did well,” Walker said. “I think we’ll be a better tournament team than a dual team this year.”
Walker said he’s looking forward to putting his team through the 32-WRAL tournament (sponsored by the local CBS station in Raleigh, N.C. — Sherando will also attend) to give his team a different type of tournament experience.
Come postseason tournament time, Walker said he expects big things from Swartz, Woznak and Bearer. Walker said 120 looks like a loaded class around the state this year, so Swartz — who Walker praised for beating Guthridge in the the third-place match at states last year — will have to work hard to win it all.
“Jimmy [Woznak] might have the best shot to win [a state title], because 106 usually is mostly freshmen,” said Walker of the sophomore, who went 1-2 at the state tournament a year ago. “Last year was Erik Bearer’s first year wrestling, and he was banged up. I think he can be district champion.”
Coach: David Scott, 3rd season.
Last year: Placed 5th in the Northwestern District tournament.
Key loss: Randy Repass.
Key returnees: Jordan Dowrey, Jr., 285; Sean Bridgeforth, Sr., 132; Coby Pitcock, Sr., 170; Anthony Andriola, Sr., 138; Skylar Wotring, Sr., 195; Sam Thomson, Sr., 120.
Top newcomers: Lio Quezada, Fr., 113; Andrew Germelman, Fr., 106; Andre Andriola, Fr., 126; Dolan Delaney, Fr., 145.
Outlook: The general feeling is that Handley seems to be coming along as a program, and Scott definitely sees the Judges being stronger this year.
“We only lost two guys through graduation, and we’re up to 35 kids,” Scott said. “The guys worked hard in the summer, and we’ve got a group of seniors that will help us, and a group of five to six freshmen that I think can be really competitive.”
Scott also likes the fact that for the first time since he’s been coaching at Handley, the Judges have a state placewinner to turn to in Dowrey.
“Getting to states and getting experience is always important,” Scott said. “There’s only one person who finished ahead of him who’s back (Cave Spring’s Logan Turner). He wants to get back there and compete.”
Scott said thinks Bridgeforth can have a big season following a 37-16 year.
Coach: Jon VanSice, 12th season.
Last year: Tied for 13th in Group A; 4th in Region B; 3rd in Bull Run District.
Key losses: Joe Nappi, Johnny Longerbeam, Jesse Longerbeam, Peter Levi, Levi Hagerdon, William Wallace, Matt Thompson.
Key returnees: Guido Marasco, Jr., 126; Ben Wallace, Jr. 170; Ryan Hupp, Jr., 285; Sean Erisman, So., 113; Brandon Hutchinson, Sr., 132; Logan Withers, So., 182; Brady Childs, So., 113.
Top newcomers: Ian Dors, Fr., 120.
Outlook: VanSice is dealing with low numbers (16) and a lack of seniors, but he feels the Eagles have the talent in the numbers that they do have to be a competitive team once they get some more matches under their belt.
“We lost a lot, but we’ve got good wrestlers,” VanSice said. “And we’ve got experience, just not older experience. But I think we’ll be there at the end of the year and be a good tournament team.”
A big problem for the Eagles right now is injuries. Erisman figures to be out a least a month after suffering a hand injury at the Tuscarora Duals, and Hutchinson and Withers are also battling through injuries.
Hupp is back with the team after a one-year absence, and VanSice thinks he has a chance to make an immediate impact after being blocked by William Wallace in the past.
“He’s more athletic, and he moves better than he used to,” VanSice said. “He’s improved a lot.”
— Contact Robert Niedzwiecki at firstname.lastname@example.orgFollow on Twitter @WinStarSports1