BROOKVILLE — With plenty of ammunition returning, another promising season awaits the Brookville Raiders wrestling team.
Four state qualifiers, three of them medalists, are back on the roster, so it’s a matter of how successful of a season the Raiders can reel off. They’ve won four straight and five of the last six District 9 Class AA dual meet titles and six of the last seven D9 tournament team crowns.
Beyond D9, the Raiders have three top-four PIAA dual meet finishes in the past six years, including last year’s fourth-place finish and their state title in 2016. They were 27-3 last year after going 29-0 in 2016.
Since their last dual meet loss on the mat to a D9 team — Redbank Valley — in the 2013 postseason, the Raiders are 101-11. Six of those losses came in the PIAA playoffs and four, including a forfeit loss due to an ineligible wrestler against Brockway in 2015, were at the annual Johnson Motors Ultimate Duals.
Some of the foundation of this remarkable run is back again with seniors Caleb Hetrick (43-5), Xavier Molnar (38-10), Tyler Cook (41-7) and Dontae Constable (25-16). The first three medaled with Molnar finishing sixth at 195 pounds, and Hetrick and Cook placing seventh at 152 and 220 respectively. Constable made his first trip to Hershey at 132.
“Obviously, we lost a lot, a state champion (Gavin Park) and some key guys, five other real key guys, but we return a really nice group with a few guys who have their sights set on some big things this year,” said 13th-year head coach Dave Klepfer, who could get his milestone 200th win at the season-opening Greenville Duals Saturday with a record of 197-95. “Just like past years, I think they’ve done a good bit of work in the offseason to prepare themselves for their senior year, so I’m excited.”
Klepfer has 22 wrestlers on his roster, 10 of those making up the Raiders’ 14-man postseason roster. He’ll close with plenty of power in the heavyweights with the rest of the lineup mixed with strong experience and promising youth.
“It’s really the same. We have guys when they get in there they know they’re ready to wrestle and compete at a high level,” Klepfer said. “We’ll be really balanced. Everyone knows we’ll be strong from 152 up, but people forget about guys like Dontae and Parker (Fleming) and Jacob Cable, all very important guys in lineup and experienced from last year, so I’m pretty excited.”
With a healthy season, Hetrick (92), Cook (90) and Molnar (80) could add their names to the team’s fast-growing 100-win list and with a healthy and successful season, senior Kai Sorbin (72) could be a fourth century clubber this year. The Raiders had eight 100-win wrestlers prior to 2014 and those four could make it 11 over four seasons.
Hetrick, a Clarion University recruit, looks to become the team’s second four-time state qualifier, but more important its fourth three-time medalist. He was eighth as a sophomore and he’ll likely try to do it again at 152 with a state title clearly at the top of his wish list.
“There’s no sugar-coating it and there’s nothing wrong with him being open and honest about it,” Klepfer said. “He is goal-driven and really has one thing on his mind. That’s been the case the past two years. He’s come up short a little bit and he’s thinking about one thing. He’s doing the work it takes, has seen what it takes in the room and he’s been doing it since Hershey last year. He’s on a mission and I’m anxious to see how his season plays out for him.”
Molnar was actually wrestling up in weight last year at 195, so he’ll give it a shot at 182 this year. You could see Cook drop down to 195 as well, eventually opening up the upper-weight lineup at 220 for junior Tanner LaBenne. Sophomore heavyweight Colby Whitehill medaled in the offseason at the Fargo Nationals, so he’ll be another big gun in the Raiders’ lineup.
“X at 182, he’ll be a handful. He’s such a strong kid,” Klepfer said of Molnar. “With Tyler, that’ll be pretty much as body into 195 as you can get. He’s very athletic and all of our heavyweights are pretty athletic. That’s a coach’s dream when you have guys who can move like middleweights, attacking legs and scoring points. When they’re active, that’s pretty exciting.”
Constable had a breakthrough postseason, qualifying for states with a third-place finish at regionals at 132. He’ll probably be at 138 or 145 this year.
“He’s a senior and wants to prove last year wasn’t a fluke,” Klepfer said. “But more so, he had a goal last year to go down and medal … He knows he’s real close and he knows it’s his last year and wants to take the next step and leave with a medal on his neck.”
Sorbin qualified for regionals at 126 and he’ll move up to 132 and with a solid, healthy season, he’ll get to 100 wins. He was 26-13 last year.
“He’s a three-time regional qualifier and hasn’t reached his goal of state tourney, but made some noise,” Klepfer said. “He took it upon himself to do the extra work this year and I’m very hopeful it pays off for him. He’s coming up on 100 and a very valuable guy and very smart.”
Senior lightweight Brodie Joiner was 8-3 as a role player last year and he’ll likely slot into 120 as a full-time starter for the first time.
“He will be a huge part of our dual meet success,” Klepfer said. “He was a spot-starter and when he made lineup, he saw some tough kids. He kind of has nothing to lose. Nobody knows anything about him and he’s an exciting wrestler. He’s very active with a lot of scrambling and moving around with a lot of points. We’re hoping he can put together a solid senior season.”
As is often the case, the Raiders will start a rookie at 106 pounds with freshman Cayden Walter, who’s shown plenty of aggressiveness in preseason workouts. “He’s coming after you and that’s something a coach gets really excited,” Klepfer said.
Sophomore Parker Fleming was a pleasant surprise at 106 last year, going 16-17 in his varsity debut. He’ll be at 113 while another key role player in junior Cabe Park starts at 126. He was 21-6, but didn’t make last year’s postseason lineup.
“He’s at weight he’s comfortable at and won’t have a lot of moving around,” Klepfer said of Park, who’s spent the preseason so far recovering from an ankle injury from football season. “He was 106 to 120 last year should be very strong and healthy and I look for a big year from him. He hasn’t been that full-time guy, but this year he’ll be the guy.”
The Raiders’ middle has a combination of power with Hetrick at 152 with Constable or sophomores Wyatt Kulik and Cody Hetrick at 138 and 145.
Juniors Jacob Cable (7-22) and Bryce Walter (7-7) were postseason entries at 138 and 145 and they’ll be in the mix at 145 and 152, especially early on when Caleb Hetrick likely starts at 160. Freshman Wyatt Griffin and junior newcomer Nathan Burkett are also in the mix in the middle.
Sophomore Cole LaBenne could make the lineup at 160 depending on the combination of things in the middle that Klepfer is looking to work as chess pieces and valuable options in dual meets.
At 170, it’s junior Braden MacBeth (7-11) who made the postseason lineup at 160 last year or junior Brian Himes.
Above that, it’s a strong finish in the upper weights that could include Tanner LaBenne, who was 13-10, but didn’t make the postseason lineup. Depending on where Molnar and Cook land, LaBenne (13-10) could see time at 220.
“Tanner has good mat sense, a good feel for position and gives himself a chance to win. He’s deceivingly quick and a smart wrestler,” Klepfer said.
Freshmen Nathan Taylor and Elliott Park give the Raiders depth at 195 and 220.
Whitehill surged as the season went on in his first year at Brookville, grabbing the starting spot at heavyweight at getting to regionals before finishing 13-6.
“It took him the better part of half a year to crack lineup and once he did, he had some nice wins,” Klepfer said. “He knows what he wants, the name up on the wall and does all the right things in the offseason. It’s a really important year for him and need to get him to Hershey.”
Hershey comes quick enough if the Raiders take care of business, according to Klepfer.
“Win your district, take care of things in your own backyard and when you get to Hershey, it’s down to the top 15-16 teams and really it’s who’s healthy and can put together three good days of wrestling with minimal mistakes and minimal bonus points given up,” Klepfer said. “If we can take care of business in our own back yard and have success within our district, I feel like we’ll have a successful season and everything else is gravy.”
The fact that the Raiders have dominated in D9 lately gives Klepfer’s wrestlers perhaps a stronger look at what a successful season is this year.
“You ask the kids and they’re going after a gold medal,” Klepfer said. “That’s the seniors’ goal. They’ve been down there three years as a team and saw what it takes to win that tourney and feel with this group of kids they feel they have a shot or they’re at least in that conversation.
“I’ll know more after 10-20 dual meets, as the season progresses, when I see how much the freshmen and sophomores are making leaps … For us to go down to gather more hardware, or even to win our district, we have to have the first- and second-year starters step up in a big way and realize that they’re ready for this type of schedule and team. A lot of them don’t right now and might be scared a little. They have to get in there and realize they belong … They just have to know they’re good enough to be there.”
Klepfer’s varsity staff includes Mick Stormer, Brad Cieleski, Eli Morres and Garrett Hurd.
Seniors: Caleb Hetrick, Dontae Constable, Brodie Joiner, Xavier Molnar, Tyler Cook, Kai Sorbin.
Juniors: Cabe Park, Tanner LaBenne, Nathan Burkett, Brian Himes, Braden MacBeth, Jacob Cable, Bryce Walter.
Sophomores: Colby Whitehill, Wyatt Kulik, Cody Hetrick, Parker Fleming, Cole LaBenne.
Freshmen: Elliot Park, Cayden Walter, Nathan Taylor, Wyatt Griffin.
9-at Greenville Duals
22-at Falconer, N.Y., 6 p.m. (varsity-only)
29-30-at Powerade Invitational, Canon-McMillan H.S.
18-at Fort LeBoeuf, 6 p.m.
20-Johnson Motors Ultimate Duals
3-at District 9 Duals, DuBois, TBA
6-Cambridge Springs, 6 p.m.
8-10-PIAA Dual Championships, Hershey
23-24-at District 9 Tournament, Clearfield
2-3-Regional Tournament, Sharon
8-10-PIAA Championships, Hershey
— Matches begin following junior high in most cases. Home matches begin no earlier than 7 p.m. on junior high starts which are normally 6 p.m.