Early in 2015, the biggest question surrounding the South Western wrestling program was how could sophomore Seth Janney exceed his stellar sophomore year?
The 220-pound wrestler was the state runner-up in the PIAA Class AAA championships and then went on to win the National High School Coaches Association National Championships in Virginia Beach, going 5-0 in the process with four pins. Now, as the 2015-16 season looms, the question isn't how Janney can improve on his sophomore campaign, but how can the Mustangs, as a team, can replace Janney?
"Replacing somebody like Seth is very tough to do, obviously, because he took second in state, which only one person does," South Western head coach Nate Murren said. "Point-wise, yes, we could count on Seth, but at the same time, I can't take away what the rest of the team did. Seth was only one part of the team, so looking at Seth and trying to replace him, I'm looking at somebody who's willing to fill those kind of roles. I'm looking for somebody who is willing to step up in a leadership role. I'm looking for somebody who is willing to make an effort to score those points and make them up for the team."
Janney elected to leave South Western and attend Malvern Prep over the summer, where he's playing football, wrestling and possibly lacrosse in the spring. With his position at 220 pounds open, the Mustangs entered this year with the difficult task of replacing 41 wins from a year ago and an all-but-certain victory every time he took the mat.
Still, South Western should have enough returning talent to attempt a respectable bid to defend its York-Adams Division I crown, with state competitors Derek Wilson (120 pounds) and Owen Wherley (126 pounds) returning. But, the Mustangs will have to run the gauntlet of a loaded Division I, which includes usual powerhouse Spring Grove.
Around Division I: The Rockets finished third in Division I last year with a 4-2 mark, going 13-4 overall. However, they placed three wrestlers in the individual PIAA Class AAA tournament in Dalton Rohrbaugh (106 pounds), Levi Witmer (132 pounds) and Marcus Kehr (160 pounds). Of those three, Rohrbaugh, who's only a sophomore, and Kehr, who's entering his senior year, are returning and bring with them a combined record of 65-13 from last year. Kehr suffered a nasty leg injury in his first-round state match and Rohrbaugh made a surprisingly early exit in his first state appearance, so both will be coming back with something more to prove individually, as well as lead Spring Grove back to the top of the division, where it's used to being.
"You can't count anyone out in Division I," Rockets' head coach Tony Miller said. "We have a full schedule, that's for sure. To get back to the top, the key always is that you keep getting better and stay healthy. In today's time, no injuries. If the injury bug gets you and then that can ruin your chances. Our kids are working real hard and, at this point, we're healthy and hoping to give it a good run."
Red Lion also looks to be strong again after boasting an 18-4 overall record last year and finishing second in the division at 5-1, only losing to South Western. The Lions enter with a ton of upperclass talent, but the majority of that is in junior wrestlers. Of the 10 juniors and seniors on the squad, seven are in 11th grade, meaning that this team's true contending year could be next season, but that doesn't mean that Red Lion won't be a tough out this year.
It'll be interesting to see what Dallastown has coming back this year, after going 9-9 overall last season and 3-3 in Division I. The Wildcats' top wrestler, Nick Shields, graduated in the spring after being the only team member to qualify for the state tournament.
With Janney gone, the division's best wrestler, and maybe the entire league's best wrestler, might belong to Central York. The Panthers went just 1-5 in division competition last year and 6-9 overall, but Dylan Chatterton will be back for his senior year after making it to the PIAA Class AAA state tournament last year, before losing to Hempfield's Sam Krivus, the nation's top 138-pound wrestler, in the quarterfinals.
Division II: The climb to the top of the division was a long, slow, painful process for Kennard-Dale.
Finally, however, the Rams got there last year, going a perfect 6-0 in division matches and 14-5 overall and making it to the quarterfinal round of the District 3-AAA tournament. Kennard-Dale's success came as a surprise to many, because in the previous four seasons the program only amassed 21 wins, despite having the best wrester in York-Adams League and, perhaps, Pennsylvania history, Chance Marsteller, on its team. But, in an individualized team sport, depth is often more crucial than one superb wrestler.
"The kids became a team and wanted it," K-D coach Mike Balestrini said. "They did a lot of stuff offseason and they believed in everything and worked hard. ... And we had the numbers. The numbers helped."
The Rams had the numbers and experience and parlayed that into a Division II championship. This year, however, they graduated a few wrestlers, but still bring back more than half of last year's starters, making them a definite threat to repeat. But, that doesn't mean you can discount some other top teams in the division, such as West York, Dover and Susquehannock.
The Bulldogs may have lost their top wrestler from last year, Garrett Stauffer, who made it to the PIAA Class AAA tournament in 2014-15, but they still went 11-8 overall and 5-1 in division competition, only losing to K-D. Meanwhile, the Dover Eagles and Susquehannock Warriors each finished with 3-3 marks in division competition last year, but Dover struggled outside of it, going 3-8 in non-league competition to finish 6-11. Susquehannock, on the other hand, went 13-7 overall, the second-best overall record in Division II, and could be up there with West York and the Rams contending for the division title.
But, until the season begins and teams see what they have in new wrestlers and how injuries will impact their rosters, it's hard to predict what's in store for the upcoming year.
"I have no idea what's going to happen," Balestrini said. "I really honestly don't know until you get in there and get going. You don't know. Injuries play a part. Grades play a big part. There's a lot of factors involved in it. It's going to be interesting, that's for sure."
Division III: Last year, Bermudian Springs was unstoppable, going 6-0 in division competition and 21-2 overall. The perennially strong Eagles finished third in the District 3-AA tournament, just missing out on a chance to make the team state competition.
Now, they'll look to continue off of last year's strong season. Bermudian is bringing back eight seniors, so the depth and experience is sure to be there. Over the last decade, the Eagles have won nine of 10 Y-A League division titles, finishing second in 2008-09 to Biglerville. This year, again, it looks to be Bermudian's division to lose.
Delone Catholic finished second in the division last year, only losing to the Eagles in division competition and also finishing 13-4 overall. However, the Squires don't have a lot of senior leadership on their side this year and might be a year away from truly competing to end Bermudian's hold on the division.
Biglerville battled to a a third-place finish a year ago, going 4-2 in Division III and 10-9 overall. However, the Canners might be the biggest threat to the Eagles this year, returning 10 seniors from a season ago. It wouldn't come as much of a shock if Biglerville went toe-to-toe with Bermudian this year. The Canners and Eagles have finished 1-2 in some order every year over the last 10 seasons, with the exception of last year. Unfortunately, in eight of those nine years, Biglerville played second fiddle to Bermudian, which looks to be the case again this year.
— Reach Patrick Strohecker at firstname.lastname@example.org