The Xavier High School wrestling team put everything together in 2011-12, claiming SCC, Class LL and State Open titles. The Falcons are now the two-time defending Class LL champions but know a three-peat will be anything but easy.
"I've got a good core of kids returning," said coach Mike Cunningham. "The kids stepping in are high-level guys, and they've been working hard. We will hit a couple bumps in the road but by the time tournaments start we should be wrestling pretty good."
Possibly the biggest hurdle Xavier of Middletown will have to clear is the loss of two All-Courant wrestlers in Tyler Cunningham (160) and Sean Marinan (220). The Falcons also will be waiting for reinforcements to arrive, as 10 wrestlers are still playing with the football team and won't hit full stride until the middle of next month, according to Cunningham.
However, Xavier does boast quite a bit of returning talent highlighted by All-Courant honorable mentions senior Elliot Antler (170) and junior Will Chowanec (113).
"I haven't lowered the expectations for us to get back there, but it takes a lot of work. … You never know if you can win until you get there. The past two years have put a target on our back," Cunningham said.
The path to collecting three more crowns will likely lead Xavier to Madison for a matchup with Daniel Hand, the reigning Class L champions and runner-up to the Falcons in the SCC Tournament and the State Open.
"The past two years they've beaten us in the dual meets but we've been luckily enough to get them in the SCC Tournament," said Cunningham. "They have lost a couple starters but they are solid all the way through. It has definitely become quite a rivalry."
New Rules in 2012-13
The wrestling rules committee of the National Federation of State High School Associations approved eight rule changes for the coming season, headlined by a stiffer penalty for stalling. Under the new rule, if a wrestler is called for his third stalling penalty, the opponent will be granted choice of position on the next restart along with a two-point penalty.
Hall High isn't worried about the change.
"In reality, it doesn't change the way I'm going to coach kids," said Hall coach Anthony Weber. "We have the philosophy where we expect the kids to wrestle hard every time. A coach telling a kid to purposely stall, I kind of feel is against the code of wrestling."
The other big change involves injury breaks. In the event a second injury timeout is taken during a 30-second tiebreaker, and the opponent already has the choice to start the second tiebreaker, the opponent will be awarded a second choice in the first restart.
"I'm not really sure how that one is going to play out," Weber said.
Other changes include an adjusted dual meet weigh-in procedure; wristbands, sweatbands or biceps bands are no longer allowed; a T-shirt with no sleeves can be worn under a wrestler's singlet per the official's approval; tournament brackets have been adjusted for added flexibility in running tournaments; and expanded language on near-fall and penalty sequence.
Hall is transitioning new wrestlers into its starting lineup. Expected starters junior Andrew Miller (132) and senior Thien Dang (180) have already been lost for the season, opening up holes for underclassmen.
"We've got some kids who can slide in there and I expect us to be at the same level of competition. I expect good things from those kids," said Weber.
Conard senior Lucas Muntz has his eyes on the Conard all-time win record. The senior enters the season with a 120-14 overall record, needing 17 more wins to beat the all-time mark set by Johnny Bello in 2011.
"Lucas and Johnny are two kids that defied expectations. Lucas has been just outstanding, he is such a coachable kid and a fantastic wrestler," said coach Chris Glowacki. "He has been wrestling since he was 4, and really nonstop since he was 10 or 11. He has gone to tournaments, national tournaments, and wrestled in all the tournaments you can wrestle in."
Muntz is the defending Class LL champion at 152, wrestling in the offseason for Northeast Elite and providing the roadmap to success for future Conard wrestlers.
"It is great to show the younger kids they can be great too, but you are not going to be great if you just wrestle three months a year," Glowacki said.