The winter sports season starts Friday, so make sure you check the special section in this week’s edition previewing all of the area teams from Brookville, Redbank Valley, Clarion-Limestone, Union and Clarion.

So what’s in store for this season?

— The Brookville Raiders wrestlers are still strong and considered once again the heavy favorites to win both District 9 team titles while several individuals will likely make some noise in the postseason. How good beyond D9? Well, this weekend in Greenville could be a quick glance at how the Raiders might be at least at the outset. It’s a tough season-opening dual schedule.

Raiders head coach Dave Klepfer is three wins shy of 200 for his coaching career. If the Raiders get at least three win in their five matches, they will have earned it for their coach.

Elsewhere in wrestling, look for a very young lineup in Redbank Valley as head coach Mike Kundick has 10 freshmen on his 20-man roster. It’ll be a look to the future and an important year of development.

Clarion, included in our preview section, has a handful of postseason contenders as well.

— In boys’ basketball, only Brookville, Clarion and Clarion-Limestone were playoff teams a year ago. The Raiders, with new coach Dalton Park, will definitely contend in Class 3A. They came close last year in losing to Karns City in the district final and the Gremlins were hit hard by graduation. Kane lost its best player to graduation and the Raiders, if their depth develops, could be the favorite.

Clarion and Clarion-Limestone are both in Class 2A where defending champion Coudersport and Ridgway are the preseason favorites. The Lions and Bobcats could be in the mix as well, but both have to re-establish themselves after graduation losses.

Union has an opportunity to grab a state playoff berth in Class 1A, but will need to improve on its eight-win season from last year while the rebuilding continues at Redbank Valley, which is coming off a three-win season.

— In girls’ basketball, no area team from the above-mentioned group of five schools made the playoffs last year. Brookville could likely make that jump into the playoffs despite a roster with no seniors on it. Redbank Valley has a new coach in Chris Edmonds while Union has Allyson Kepple taking over the reins.

— Brookville’s swimming and diving team has a handful of postseason hopefuls, led by Thad Johnson and Donavan Hoffman.

WHO WOULD’VE THOUGHT? Redbank Valley scrimmaged Homer-Center in one of its two preseason matchups. After it was over, Bulldogs head coach Ed Wasilowski was glad he had another scrimmage left before starting the games that counted.

But Wasilowski knew he had just faced a veteran Wildcats team from Indiana that was good. How good? Well, the Wildcats are playing WPIAL champion Jeannette for the state title Thursday afternoon.

“I thought back then about that and I was hoping they were good because they had a good scrimmage with us,” Wasilowski said. “Coach (Greg) Page and I stay in contact during the season and I texted him congratulations after they won to reach the finals.”

The two teams have been scrimmage foes for at least 10 years, but it appears that won’t be the case next year with the changes of the District 9 football.

The Wildcats aren’t fancy, just a powerful and strong team based on a running game that now has two 1,000-yard rushers.

Page’s Wildcats got big notice when they knocked off three-time defending state champion Bishop Guilfoyle in the District 6 finals a few weeks ago.

The Class 1A final is the first of six with Thursday’s second game featuring a rematch between defending champion Cathedral Prep of Erie and District 10 and District 12’s Imhotep Charter.

Two other defending champions are back with Archbishop Wood of D12 looking to defend its title Friday night in the Class 5A game against WPIAL champion Gateway. St. Joseph’s Prep of D12 defends its Class 6A title Saturday against WPIAL champion Pine-Richland.

In Class 2A Friday afternoon, Wilmington of District 10 faces D4’s Southern Columbia. The Greyhounds are coached by Curwensville native Terry Verrelli, who’s been there for 40 years.

TRIBUTE TO WINK — A former teammate of mine and starting point guard of the 1987-88 undefeated regular season Brookville Raiders point guard Dave Winkworth, 47, passed away last week after a long bout with cancer.

“Wink” was a tremendous athlete and great teammate for sure and my thoughts and prayers go out to his family, including wife Laurie and children Jake, Chloe and Ben. He was a teacher and basketball coach in the North Allegheny School District.

Wink led the Raiders in assists that year, playing a key role on one of the Raiders’ best teams ever. He helped set up three future 1,000-point scorers — the first three in school history — in John Oberlin, Kevin Grubb and Chris Hoffman.

We lost him way, way too early.

Rich Rhoades is the sports editor of the Jeffersonian Democrat and the Leader-Vindicator in New Bethlehem. E-mail: rrhoades@thecourierexpress.com.

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