BROOKVILLE — To be clear, the Brookville Raiders wrestling team’s massive run of success over the past several years will be tested this year.
But the Raiders will still be a formidable team to deal with at the district level for sure as head coach Dave Klepfer’s 20-man roster works into shape going into this Saturday’s Sheetz Kickoff Classic in Greenville.
It won’t be a lock at all for the Raiders in District 9. They’ve won five straight dual meet and Class 2A tournament titles, along with seven out of eight dual meet crowns and six of the last seven tournament crowns.
Along with that are 39 D9 champions over the past eight years and a 125-15 dual meet record over the past five seasons. Their last dual meet loss to a D9 foe? The 2013 postseason to Redbank Valley, and it’s been 55 straight on the mat since then.
Expect the Bulldogs, Brockway and Kane in some order to be making a serious push at the Raiders’ stranglehold on D9.
“We’re young and inexperienced at the varsity level but I feel like we’re coming, a work in progress and I’m excited about how well the team progresses,” said Raiders head coach Dave Klepfer. “It’s definitely a different look for us. The last several years we’ve come in knowing we had a pretty good grip on the district, but this year, we realize we’ll have to work and earn everything we get. And to this point, they’ve been doing that.”
Klepfer relishes his time in the wrestling room and he and the rest of his staff won’t have the luxury of that many big names returning, so it’ll be plenty of work in the trenches. Only nationally-ranked junior heavyweight Colby Whitehill, a Clarion University commit, returns from states where he medaled with an eighth-place finish last March.
But he does have nine wrestlers who made the postseason last year. It won’t be a classic rebuilding situation.
“I’m anxious to get going,” said Klepfer, 221-99 going into his 15th season. “It’s going to be fun watching the progression.
“For me, it’s more exciting. I’m more excited about this year than I’ve been the last couple or so because as a coach I love to see the progression from day one to the last day. We have a lot of faces we could see that with. Typical years, it’s two or three you watch. We’re basically going to watch the balance of our team and even the full-time starters back doing that. Some didn’t have the seasons they wanted last year and put in the work to prepare for this year and I’m anxious to see it pay off.”
In the latest flowrestling.org national rankings, Whitehill was No. 15 in the last published rankings on Oct. 31. He earned that after a runner-up finish at the Super 32 this fall and two silver medals at the Fargo Nationals in July and a perfect 14-0 mark in the national freestyle and Greco-Roman Duals in June.
He was 40-7 last year, finishing eighth and he’s 53-13 with two years to go.
“Less than five have had that type of offseason for us and those are some big-time accomplishments in the offseason. He has bigger goals,” said Klepfer.
“We talked at states and he was obviously disappointed when he beat kid two weeks earlier who finished fourth and he was eighth,” Klepfer said. “He was disappointed about not doing better. He asked what he neded to do to get better and I told him he needed to add 30 pounds in size and he did just that. He found 40 actually and he’s around 280.
“He’s large, very big and still very athletic. He’ll probably be around 265-270, but that was the weight we talked about. He was 240 or so at states and was getting bullied by some of the bigger and older guys. He’s the type of kid who asks what he needs to do and he wants to be Brookville’s first two-time state champion and he’s doing the right things to get there. We’re excited for sure and he’s one of our leaders.”
Whitehill is the only returning district champion with seniors Cabe Park and Braden MacBeth, junior Cole LaBenne and sophomore Elliot Park returning regional qualifiers.
Cabe Park won’t likely start the season healthy as he’s recovering from football season He was 20-13 a year ago, finishing second at districts at 120 and getting to within one win of a state berth at regionals.
“When Cabe’s healthy and clicking, he can wrestle with anyone in the state,” said Klepfer, who indicated the Park will be at 132 when he’s back in the lineup. “I’ve seen it and he’s beaten state placewinners before and wrestled some close. He’s one of those kids whose been in and out of lineup with injuries and hasn’t had the best of luck. He had a great football season but once we get him healthy we feel pretty good about him. He knows the urgency as a senior and this is his chance.”
MacBeth was 25-15 at 170 and he’ll probably be at 182. LaBenne (5-15) and Elliot Park (13-12) had late-season surges after making the postseason lineup. LaBenne was at 160 while Park wrestled at 182. This year, there’s a bit of a log jam at the outset with LaBenne or Park at 170. Either one might have to battle MacBeth or senior Trenton Kramer for a spot at 182.
“It’s a nice problem to have,” Klepfer said of his numbers at 170 and 182.
Senior Jacob Cable was 13-17 at 152 and missed a trip to regionals by one win. He’ll be back at 152 with sophomore Hayden Kramer or junior Cody Hetrick moving up to challenge for that spot depending on who wins the job at 145.
“Jacob was so close and really deserved it,” Klepfer said. “He works hard and got hot at end of the year. It didn’t show in results, but he started to wrestle the style we’ve tried to preach to them. He’ll be one of those guys who surprises this year.”
Junior Wyatt Kulik, 10-22 at 132, will be at 138, a much better weight for him this year.
“A handful of people have been asking me about sleepers and he’s one of them,” Klepfer said. “He put in a good amount of time, didn’t miss the preseason and I’m pretty excited to see his season get under way. He’s still a work in progress, but he’s strong.”
Also back are a pair of underclassmen lightweights in junior Parker Fleming and sophomore Cayden Walter. Fleming was 17-17 at 113 while Walter finished 23-10 at 106, getting within one win of a trip to regionals.
“It’s Parker’s third year in the varsity program, has a good grasp of what we do in practice and seems to be drilling hard,” said Klepfer, who said Fleming will be at 126. “He did get stronger with some weight training. That was the main thing, I told him last year he had to get stronger. He wasn’t as strong as the kids he wrestled and did the right things for the most part in the offseason and I’m anxious to see how he does.”
Walter, back again at 113, was seeded second at districts before falling short by a win to get to Sharon.
“He did the right things, got a lot of freestyle mat time and a lot of that was because how he finished the season,” Klepfer said. “He went into districts seeded second and wasn’t top four. That one stung for him. He knew he was good enough to be at regionals. He put in a lot of work and hopefully he can build on last season, which was a good one for a freshman. I know he has high goals this year.”
From there, Klepfer has some new faces he’s looking to fill starting spots. Clarion-Limestone transfer Owen Reinsel, a freshman, is the team’s lone 106-pounder. After putting together a strong youth wrestling resume, he finished 1-2 this fall at the Super 32. He’ll be among the better lightweights in the bracket at districts.
“He’s a good kid, tough in all positions it appears and he worked hard,” Klepfer said. “He has high goals for himself and hopefully we can help him get there.”
Sophomore Zach Keihl and freshman Josh Popson will fill the spot at 120.
At 160, it’ll be either sophomore Wyatt Griffin or senior Bryce Walter. Walter wrestled one varsity bout last year while Griffin was 3-7 at 152 and 160. At the Powerade JV Tournament, Griffin finished fourth at 152.
Sophomore Nathan Taylor looks to be the starter at 195. He was 1-4 mostly at 182 last year and saw some junior varsity action as well.
Senior Tanner LaBenne missed last season with an injury, but he’ll start at 220.
“He’ll be one of those guys who might have been forgotten, but we haven’t,” Klepfer said. “He’s smart, really understands position and knows how to wrestle at heavyweight. He’s a very smart wrestler and technical. Those things alone will turn into some wins. We’re excited about him.”
And Klepfer is excited about coaching up a lineup without a lot of deep, successful credentials.
“I feel like we have two or three others who will be at the end, but at this point of the year with the roster, you feel good about Colby doing big things but everyone else is kind of unproven and that’s the exciting part and the part I’m looking forward to,” Klepfer said.
“Our goal every year is to win both district tournaments and it comes down to each individual and all 14 guys doing their job,” Klepfer added. “Sometimes it means saving points, sometimes it means getting majors or techs. That’s the goal every year. Everything after that is a bonus. This year will be exciting because there is some parity in the district. There are a lot of people who have a big bulls-eye on our back, a large target and that’s good. That’s good for the district and the sport. Any time you can bring excitement to wrestling, it’s good. It helps it grow.”
The Raiders aren’t home until Dec. 18 against Ridgway. That’s the only “home” date until Jan. 10 against Brockway, although the Raiders face Falconer, N.Y., at Clarion University prior to the Golden Eagles’ match with Pittsburgh on Dec. 21.
Seniors: Cabe Park, Tanner LaBenne, Bryce Walter, Braden MacBeth, Jacob Cable, Trenton Kramer.
Juniors: Colby Whitehill, Wyatt Kulik, Cody Hetrick, Parker Fleming, Cole LaBenne.
Sophomores: Elliot Park, Cayden Walter, Nathan Taylor, Wyatt Griffin, Zach Keihl, Hayden Kramer, Eli Miller.
Freshmen: Owen Reinsel, Josh Popson.
8-at Sheetz Classic, Greenville H.S.
14-15-King of the Mountain Tournament, at Central Mountain H.S.
21-Falconer, N.Y., at Clarion U., 6 p.m.
22-at Cambridge Springs, 6 p.m.
3-at Redbank Valley
15-at St. Marys
19-Host Johnson Motors Ultimate Duals
2-D9 Duals, DuBois H.S.
22-23-D9 Tournament, Clearfield
1-2-Regionals, Sharon H.S.
7-9-PIAA Championships, Hershey
Dual meets begin after junior high matches at 7 p.m. at earliest unless otherwise noted