CLARION — It’s not how you start the season, just how you finish it. Clearly, that’s the motto for the Clarion Bobcats wrestling team.
With some banged-up football players healing up from a deep run into the postseason, second-year head coach Brian Luton won’t have a full lineup when the season begins at Brookville next Tuesday.
However, a healed-up roster could have the Bobcats filling almost all of the weights by the postseason and they could be one of the “best of the rest” teams outside of Brookville in District 9’s Class 2A field.
“We have a lot of side-affects from the long (football) playoff run,” Luton said. “Fortunately, they had a good season and a nice run, but the guys are mentally tired and physically banged up. It makes it difficult to be where you want to be at the beginning, but we have time to be ready and that’s when it matters the most.”
That means the Bobcats won’t have at least senior Colton Rapp and Clarion-Limestone’s Ben Smith, a sophomore who qualified for regionals with a fourth-place finish at 195 as a freshman.
Senior Tom Wurster (22-9) was the Bobcats’ other regional qualifier after finishing second at 220 at districts. He was 1-2 at regionals, one win shy of a state berth.
He’ll be back again at that weight and should contend again for a deep postseason run.
“He’s a very physical kid, talented athletically for his size and that’s not typical for a 220-pounder,” Luton said. “You’re always excited about what he can do. If he takes a big step in confidence, the sky’s the limit.”
Once Rapp gets healthy from a shoulder injury he sustained during football season, he’ll be a regional and state contender somewhere in the middleweights. He was 23-5 last year after two regional-qualifying seasons as a freshman and sophomore, but missed the postseason with an injury and a late start this year will likely cost him a shot at 100 wins. He’s at 73-32 for his career.
“His shoulder is nagging him and we might have him back by Christmas,” Luton said. “He’s one of the leaders and captains and to not have that presences, you definitely miss a guy like him. Injuries have cost him 100 wins, but at the same time, if you end your career with a trip to states and maybe a medal there, the win total doesn’t mean as much.”
Smith was 18-10 with his fourth-place finish at districts and will likely miss December. He’ll be back at 195. Also looking to get back in the lineup later this month is senior Ryley McMaster (17-12), who injured his knee at the end of the regular season last year and it cost him a football season as well. When ready, he’ll be back at 160 or 170.
Junior Logan Dehner (21-10) made noise as a 106-pounder and will eventually land at 113, so it’s unlikely that the Bobcats will have the first spot in the lineup filled this year.
“I’m optimistic this will be a breakout season for him,” Luton said. “He put in a bunch of time in the summer and fall. He won’t have trouble maintaining 113, so he has to go out and own his own success.”
At the outset, the Bobcats probably jump to 132 before filling another spot with North Clarion sophomore Colton Zacherl. A couple of freshmen, Wyatt Stimmell and Keystone transfer Cutter Boggess, will start at 138 and 145 while senior captain Frank Weber goes at 152 after last year’s 18-10 season was cut short prior to the postseason.
“Frank’s one of the leaders in the room,” Luton said.
The older Keystone transfer Boggess, junior Camden, was 12-18 with the Panthers at 170 pounds and he’ll likely slot into that weight again.
“He’s a nice athlete and we’re still getting to know his skill set, but it’s still early,” Luton said. “I’m excited to see how he develop this year. I think he’ll have more success because of age and experience.”
Senior Seth Nellis (15-14) will go at 182 eventually, but likely heavier at the outset and senior Colt Stimmell (8-9) will be at 195, coming off an injury-filled junior year. Junior Nick Porciello, a transfer from Maryland also gives the Bobcats depth at 170 and 182.
In the heavyweights, first-year junior Josh Gearhart is at 220 with juniors Bowman Hartley and Matt Coleman at heavyweight.
Luton, who will be assisted by Matt Watterson, knows what he starts with next week won’t be nearly what he will have later in the season. It’s a matter of how quick that happens and how healthy the season goes. And that’s no assumption he can take considering he lost four starters right before last year’s district tournament.
“The perspective is you always want to win and be as competitive as you can, but we have to do what’s best for the guys on the mat,” Luton said. “If we put them out too early and get hurt that’s on us. If that’s moving slower at the beginning, then that’s what we do.
“Our end-of-season goal, one of them, is to be one of the best teams in the district. The potential is in the room, but we have to get it out of them and they have to work hard. We could have a nice season with some bright spots.”
Seniors: Frank Weber, Ryley McMaster, Colton Rapp, Seth Nellis, Colt Stimmell, Tom Wurster.
Juniors: Logan Dehner, Camden Boggess, Nick Porciello, Josh Gearhart, Bowman Hartley, Matt Coleman.
Sophomores: Colton Zacherl, Ben Smith.
Freshmen: Wyatt Stimmell, Cutter Boggess.
15-16-at Sheetz Holiday Classic, Mt. Aloysius College
30-at Redbank Valley Christmas Tournament
12-13-at Falconer, N.Y., Tournament
26-27-at Grove City Tournament
23-24-D9 Tournament, at Clearfield
2-3-Regional Tournament, Sharon
8-10-PIAA Championships, Hershey
— Varsity matches follow junior high matches, which begin at 6 p.m., approximately at 7 p.m. or later.