YORK, PA – The youth movement is officially on.
With only two seniors on this year’s underclassmen-laden roster, the 2009-2010 York College wrestling squad will rely on many talented yet unproven student-athletes.
“We will definitely be a young team this season,” Spartan head coach Tom Kessler said. “But that should have no bearing on whether or not we will be successful. The guys we have this year are very talented and I see no reason why we should not be one of the top squads in the region.”
Highlighting Coach Kessler’s optimism is the return of junior All-American Brian Thomason. The 174-pounder finished eighth in the nation last season while besting the tournament’s #1 and #3 seeded wrestlers at the NCAA national tournament in Cedar Falls, Iowa. Thomason secured an impressive 30-7 record during the 2008-2009 campaign in garner’s York’s 23rd All-American honor.
“Thomason had an outstanding season last year,” Kessler raved. “He is consistent and focused on the mat. This could truly be a prime year for him.”
The Spartans begin the season with a lineup consisting of only one senior. The Green and White have six sophomores in starting roles, which bode well for the York squad not only for this season but also in years to come.
“We are quite young, so there may be some growing pains” Kessler commented. “But at the same time, we are very excited to see them improve every day. They have an opportunity to do some special things, beginning even with this season.”
At 125 pounds, the Spartans are led by red-shirt freshman Aaron Repman and junior Jerrid Hartman as the pair will most likely battle for the starter’s role all season. Repman enters the year as York’s top wrestler in the weight class winning the position during the Spartan wrestle-offs. Hartman put together a strong 21-8 record last year finishing fourth at the Metropolitan Conference Tournament.
Sophomore Matt McCollum and freshmen Will Forero and Jeff Snair will bolster York’s 125-pound class entering this season. Forero in particular, had a simply outstanding high school career, finishing his time at the prep level with a glimmering 112-30 record.
The Green and White sport a slew of wrestlers in the 133-pound division as seven student-athletes will give York significant depth. Beginning the year, freshman Alex Paladino highlights this group. The two-time high school Delaware state runner-up secured the starter’s spot and will open the year as York’s top 133-pounder. Senior Josh Trainor and junior Aaron Formanek will look to bring along the young Spartans in this class. Sophomores Eric Bulger and Shaun Wagner are joined by collegiate rookies Brandon Heffelfinger and Garrett Fellman as each will look to battle for mat time throughout the season.
Sophomore standout Taylor Ulm headlines the Spartans at 141 pounds. As a freshman, Ulm put together a 15-7 campaign while he finished fourth at the Metro Championships. With a solid year of collegiate experience firmly under his belt, Ulm is primed for a breakout season.
Fellow sophomore Ronnie Sinclair as well as freshmen Chris Gugliotti, Kevin Cassidy, Will Pumphrey and Mike Golt provide York’s 141-pound class with quality depth.
“We really like what we have this year in our lighter weights,” Kessler said. “We have quality wrestlers up and down the depth chart from 125 through 141. As is the trend with this year’s team, we are young but loaded with potential.”
Beginning at 149 pounds, York’s middleweights could provide numerous highlights this season. Sophomore Ryan Catton returns to the mat hungry for success after missing all of last season due to injury. Fully healed, Catton will look to make up for lost time as he garners the starter’s role right out of the gate. Two years ago, Catton went 22-10 as York’s top 141-pounder while finishing second at the Metro Championships. Bumping up a weight class, Catton will look to not only duplicate but also improve on that success.
Dylan Giandalia, a sophomore, and freshmen Evan Ennis, Kerry Boughton, and Will Carr join Catton, as the five wrestlers at 149 pounds will look to push each other during the 2009-2010 campaign. Ennis carries much promise heading into the year after finishing his high school career with a 121-59 record and finishing third in Maryland’s state tournament.
Junior captain Eric Rush opens the season as the starter at 157 pounds. Following a sophomore year that saw him finish with a 10-9 record, including a championship at the annual Monarch Tournament, Rush is primed to become a regional standout.
Jason Ecklof returns to the Spartan squad for his sophomore campaign after gaining quality experience last season at 157. Ecklof, as well as freshmen Alan Dyer and Ryan Milbourn will challenge the incumbent Rush for matches at 157 pounds.
One of York’s thinnest, yet quite possibly most talented, weight classes is 165 pounds. Sophomore Matt Heisey garners the starting role to open the season while freshman Zach Downing is set to consistently push for mat time in just his rookie campaign. Heisey came on strong at the end of his freshman season, finishing the year with a 15-8 record and an impressive third-place finish at the Metro Conference Tournament. Downing, a Maryland state qualifier at Winters Mill High School, could provide the Green and White with some early returns this season.
“The wrestlers we have at our middle weight levels are talented,” Kessler said. “Not only that, but they are also hard-workers who want to improve, who want to get better. As a coach you cannot ask for much more.”
In the Spartans’ heavier divisions, the Green and White may not sport as many numbers, yet will still be able to put quality wrestlers on the mat.
Aside from Thomason at 174 pounds, the Spartans will look to sophomores Paul Richards and Andrew Senft to provide talented depth. Richards bumps up one weight class this season after finishing 5-4 at 165 one year ago. A wrestler with significant potential, battling against Thomason nearly every day will help Richards to consistently improve and realize that potential. Senft makes a big drop from 285 to 174 and looks to improve after a year on the mats last season.
A pair of sophomores in Alex Martocello and J.C. Laughlin lead the 184-pound division as each could have breakout seasons. Martocello headlines the class at the beginning of the season as he increases his weight this season from 174 last year. As a rookie, Martocello saw action in 16 matches going a solid 10-6. Laughlin actually drops a weight class as he moves into the 184 category. At 197 last year, Laughlin showed incredible promise after finishing second at the Monarch Tournament and fourth at York’s Spartan Invitational. He then closed out his freshman campaign by taking fourth at the Metro Championships, finishing the season at 14-12. Junior John Page provides good depth at 184 as he will continually push his sophomore teammates.
The Spartans sport a trio of wrestlers at 197 pounds, as each could start at any given point this year. Leading off the 2009-2010 campaign is sophomore George Saliba who garnered significant experience as a freshman last season. York’s main starter at 197 for much of last year, Saliba went 14-6 including a Monarch Tournament title. The strong and now experienced Saliba has a great opportunity to make some noise at the Metro Conference Championships in late February.
Joining Saliba is Kossi Fiavi, another of York’s talented sophomores, as well as freshman John Starcevich. Another exceptionally strong student-athlete, Fiavi thinned out a bit this season to dropping from the 285-pound division. After posting a 4-7 mark at heavyweight in 2008-2009, Fiavi will strive to make his mark at 197 this year. Starcevich was an outstanding prep wrestler winning over 110 matches and ranking among the top-12 in his class in New Jersey.
Thomas Fitzpatrick, one York’s two seniors, sits atop York’s 285-pound weight class heading into the year. He spent a majority of his time at 197 as a junior but bumps up this season to bolster the heavyweight division. Fitzpatrick’s work over the off-season has resulted in early dividends as he garners the starting spot out of the gate this year.
Shane Cooley looks to be close on Fitzpatrick’s heels, after a strong sophomore campaign. Cooley managed a quality 19-13 record as the Spartans’ top 285-pounder and garnered top-five finishes at both the Monarch Tournament and Spartan Invitational.
Freshman Matt Pagano adds quality depth to this weight class. Pagano joins the Spartan ranks from Hopewell Valley Central High School. The New Jersey product will look to push his teammates for mat time this season.
“We, as a coaching staff, like where we are in the heavier weights,” Kessler said. “The wrestlers there are great competitors who know what it takes to be successful at the collegiate level.”
Overall, the Green and White hold significant depth not only in numbers but more importantly in quality.
“Having as much depth as we do this season, for the most part, will help each wrestler stay sharp throughout the grueling season,” Kessler said. “Sometimes if guys get too comfortable they will get a bit lazy and lose some of their edge. However, if you have someone working hard to take your spot, then you are more likely to be prepared and work hard every day.”
The Spartans hold high expectations for 2009-2010 with this year’s combination of talent and youthful vigor.
“We could have numerous weight classes compete for the Metro titles as well as move on to the national tournament,” Kessler said of what he expects from the York squad this season. “I think we could be right up there at the end.”
But at the same time, the Spartans also know that hard work needs to be done in the practice room before any medals or trophies are handed out.
“We have potential, I truly believe that,” Kessler said. “However, potential doesn’t mean anything on match day. That is when the work they put in shows one way or the other. As long as we go hard everyday and stay focused, we could have a special season.”
The Spartans have already opened the year, having battled Division I programs Drexel and Maryland – the 10th ranked team in the nation – as well as sending several wrestlers to the annual Monarch Tournament.
York begins their home slate this Wednesday, November 11, as the Green and White host McDaniel. Start time from York’s Grumbacher Sport & Fitness Center is slated for 7:00 p.m.
2009-10 York College
Eric Rush photo courtesy of Scott Guise