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There was a period of time, spanning more than three decades, when Dallastown wrestling was the best of the best around York County.

From 1972-73 through 2008-09, the Wildcats won 23 division titles. 

It's a statistic that no other program in the area came close to matching. 

For much of that time, Dave Gable was leading the Dallastown wrestling program, collecting 10 of the team's division titles and guiding the program to even bigger things at the district level. Near the end of his tenure, however, the wrestling landscape around York County began to shift, and the Wildcats found themselves struggling to contend with the emergence of Spring Grove.

Once Gable stepped aside following the 2008-09 season, the Rockets firmly established themselves as the cream of the crop in the York-Adams League and haven't relinquished that crown since. 

With Gable back as head coach, however, Dallastown may be poised to rekindle the days of dominance it enjoyed before and during Gable's first tenure.

"I think, right now, we're judging ourselves on our most recent past, meaning, even day-to-day, more than judging ourselves against what we're going to be competing against, because that's a relative unknown at this point," Gable said during winter sports media day. "We're looking for how can we be a better version of what we were the day before? ... If we keep doing that, we'll at least be competitive against the majority of the teams we'll be competing against."

It's a simple answer, riddled in coach-speak, but also a way for Gable to temper expectations, at least early in the process.

Gable's legacy with the Wildcats far exceeds just his accomplishments at the league level. A pair of District 3 Class 3-A titles in 1998 and 2000 are also part of his resume, joined by three runner-up results in 2001, 2004 and 2006.

Since Gable's departure, Dallastown hasn't gone further than a district quarterfinal appearance in 2011-12. Over the last couple years, however, the program has been trending upward. Last season's squad was going toe-to-toe with Spring Grove for the Division I title before losing to the Rockets in their dual meet and settling for a tie for second in Division I.

Replacing upper weights: Significant losses to graduation from that team, mainly at the upper weights, leaves some question marks at the top of this year's lineup.

Drake Pew would've had a chance to qualify for states at 170 pounds had a knee injury suffered in the Spring Grove match not all but ended his high school career. Cameron Green was a reliable wrestler at 182 pounds and Bryce Shields was as versatile as they come, wrestling at either 195 or 220 pounds. His seventh-place result in the state tournament at 220 pounds earned him the only medal a York County wrestler earned in the state competition last season.

"I think we have known commodities in those areas, just younger people, maybe with not the same amount of experience," Gable said about filling in the upper weights. "But, we're certainly optimistic about what they can contribute to our team."

Jarrett Feeney will likely slot into Pew's spot at 170 pounds, while Raymond Christas will be the team's heavyweight. At the moment, it's still unclear who will hold down Shields' spot at 220 pounds, a weight class where the Wildcats scored bonus points regularly through his dominance.

Garrett Johnson might have the biggest test ahead of him, making the jump from 145 pounds as a junior to wrestling at 182 pounds this year as a senior.

"I haven't had a lot of experience wrestling heavier guys," Johnson said at media day. "But, I think it'll be a good challenge and I'm looking forward to it."

Strength at the bottom: If the upper weights were Dallastown's strengths in 2016-17, then the lighter weights will take on that role this season.

That's where Gable will likely find some of his most experienced and dominant wrestlers returning. Dalton Daugherty is back for his senior season and is making the jump from 126 pounds to 138, while Cael Turnbull will compete at 120 pounds as a junior.

Daugherty missed out on being a state qualifier last year by finishing sixth in districts, despite wrestling in arguably the toughest weight class in District 3 3-A.

"I would love to place at states this year," Daugherty said about his goals. "I think at the time, the top three at districts were No. 2, 3 and 5 in the state rankings, so the district bracket was a little tough."

Individually, each wrestler has its goals. As a team, however, those haven't quite been established, yet. 

You can bet, however, that they'll lie somewhere in line with what became the norm during Gable's first stint, which was dominating Division I and being competitive at the district level.

"The difference from this year to last year is, I think we're built together better chemistry-wise than last year," Turnbull said. "So, I'm just excited to see what we're capable of doing together."

— Reach Patrick Strohecker at pstrohecker@yorkdispatch.com

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