On one hand, this will be a season of change for high school wrestling. On the other, not much at all will change.
Gone is the IHSAA State Dual Meet Tournament (team state) as we'll go back to keeping team scores at sectionals, regionals, semistate and the state meet.
Each match won at these tournaments will count toward the school's total and bonus points will be added in. Saturdays in January will be much more dramatic and the midweek dual meets will be gone.
What hasn't changed is the area's top wrestler: North Side's Anthony Linnear. Last year's PrepSports Wrestler of the Year was 36-6 at 170 and placed third at the 2012 IHSAA State Championships. Linnear is back, better than ever, after a summer of wrestling and football. In fact, he was recently named the PrepSports Football Player of the Year for 2012.
What else hasn't changed is the continued emergence of Carroll as a wrestling powerhouse. While a senior-laden Bellmont squad was last year's representative at the IHSAA Elite Eight, a young Carroll team was a close second. And with 12 of 14 varsity wrestlers returning, look for the Chargers to take over a rebuilding Bellmont program's spot as the area's top team.
The area returns five medal winners from last year's state championships: Garrett's Hayden Lee (106), Snider's Erique Early (120), Homestead's Frank Martin (152), Linnear (170) and Bellmont's Brad Busse (182). There were several others who qualified for the state meet, including Bishop Luers' Sam Lovejoy (113), Dekalb's Zach Krumlauf (120) and Leo's Nolan Wilson (220), who lost to the eventual state runner-up.
“I think the area will be really balanced this season,” said second-year Carroll coach Scott Raypole. “Bellmont has done such a great job through the years of raising the standard, especially in our conference. I think we've all gotten better.”
While Raypole won't call his Chargers the favorites, he says his team along with East Noble and Bellmont should battle it out. He also looks for a strong, experienced New Haven team to challenge as well.
Raypole looks to semistate qualifiers Riley Lefever (160), Steven Cardenas (126) and Spencer Malcolm (145) to lead the Chargers along with lightweight Ben Cauffman (eventually at 106).
“Ben weighed 107 the other day but wrestled at 120 because we needed him to,” Raypole said. “He'll be back down to 106 and will be really strong for us.”
Raypole said he has 14-15 wrestlers going “year-round” for his squad which will make a difference come postseason.
“When you have this many kids in the program going at it, the entire team gets better,” Raypole said. “We don't know how it will all shake out at regionals and semistate, but we'll have kids in the meet and doing well.”
Doing well in the postseason is certainly the objective for Linnear, according to North Side coach Russ Hartman. But it's not the focus right now.
“As a senior, I'm sure Anthony wants to be better than he was as a junior,” Hartman said of Linnear's third-place finish. “But it's about progressing through the season. We are more concerned about this weekend right now; we'll worry about January when it gets here.”
Hartman said Linnear's skill and abilities have improved since last season despite the time off for football.
“Anthony has improved a lot as a football player and as a wrestler,” Hartman said. “We've already seen the results on the football field. We'll see the results on the mat this winter.”