HYDE — The Clearfield wresting team returns 10 letterwinners from a team that won 15 dual meets and was crowned the District 4-9 Class AAA champs last season and have a large group of seniors on the squad.
But many of those returnees have seen limited varsity action, which leaves head coach Jeff Aveni unsure of what to expect this year.
“We have a lot of guys that have been in the system for a long time in this room,” Aveni said. “Guys like Steven Sawyer and Jacob Carter and Thayne Morgan ... they haven’t been in the lineup a lot, but they’ve been in the room.
“My concern is how tough we are. Technically I think we’re very sound. I think we have a lot of kids that can wrestle. It’s a matter of how high are our goals and what are we going to do when we get in the heat of the battle.”
Carter, Morgan and Sawyer will all be in the starting lineup when the Bison open the season this weekend at the Top Hat Tournament along with at least three underclassmen making their first varsity appearances.
“Some of these guys could be ready right off the bat and come out and make an immediate impact,” Aveni said. “They’ve been in here battling every day and some of them haven’t been getting beat out by much.”
Morgan and Sawyer are joined by Hunter Bumbarger, Zane Morgan and Jarrett McCracken as senior letterwinners. Juniors Luke McGonigal, Matt Ryan and Hunter Wright and sophomores Jude Pallo and Cole Smay comprise the rest of the returning letterwinners that will be the core of the squad, but won’t necessarily make the starting lineup in what could be a fluid situation throughout the season.
“There is probably going to be a letterwinner or two that doesn’t make the lineup,” Aveni said. “One of our better younger kids didn’t make the lineup for Top Hat. But things will change. They’re going to battle and push each other, which is not a bad thing.”
Carter leads a group of five seniors (including Christian Leigey, Levi Luzier, Dan Royer and Cameron Rothrock), who didn’t letter but could have a big impact on the season along with the experienced upperclassmen in the room.
“This team is going to count on its seniors, but those seniors really haven’t been in the lineup a whole lot,” Aveni said. “So it is a younger team in that aspect. I think some of our leaders are underclassmen. It’s going to be real interesting. I’m excited to see where this team goes.”
Two of the underclassmen that look to be leaders are McGonigal and Ryan, who are poised to have big seasons, according to Aveni.
Ryan was 23-18 and a runner-up in the District 4-9 Tournament as a sophomore, while McGonigal posted a record of 38-5 and had a district title and Northwest Regional third-place finish to his credit.
“Luke and Matt had the best offseasons on the team,” Aveni said. “You will see it immediately with Matt and the size that he’s put on. He’s stronger and he’s better. He has separated himself from everyone around him in the room.
“Luke has a bunch of guys all around him that have been around and they’re not afraid to wrestle with him. They want to come at him. So he’s getting a little bit of push there. But Luke and Matt had the best offseasons and I think have the highest expectations going in.”
Clearfield will have some newcomers at the beginning of the lineup with freshman Peyton Smay at 106 and either Kyler Rosinsky or Jonathan Thomas starting out at 113.
Cole Smay is slated to go at 120 after picking up seven wins bouncing between 106 and 113 last year.
“Cole filled in for us last year and sacrificed a lot to help the team out,” Aveni said. “This year he’s going to be a guy we need to win some matches.”
Ryan will begin the year at 126, but Aveni expects him to drop to 120 at some point, pushing Cole Smay to 113. Those are just two of several weight classes that Aveni sees getting stronger when kids are allowed an extra two pounds in January.
“At this point I don’t know what to expect.” Aveni said. “I don’t think this is our best lineup that we’re going into December with. We need the two-pound growth allowance, and we need to make some adjustments, and I think come January we’re going to have a fairly solid lineup.”
Pallo (19 wins last year) and junior Quinten Edwards will go to Top Hat at 132 and 138, but represent two more classes that Aveni thinks could get better as wrestlers are able to drop weight.
“I’m a little concerned with Jude early,” Aveni said. “I’m not sure he’s a 32-pounder. He’s solid. He’s lean. He’s not allowed to lose much weight, but at 32 he could find some guys that are really big and strong, which is the same thing we’re running into at 38 with Quinten. He’s more of a 32-pounder than a 38-pounder, but he’s in the lineup at 38.”
Carter was a surprise winner of the 145-pound weight class and represents what hard work and desire can do for you.
“He’s one of those guys that’s been around the program forever and he took a spot from Caleb Freeland and some other guys there that was kind of a surprise,” Aveni said. “But he was the guy that wanted it the most, and he earned it. I’m excited to see what he does.”
Wright won 11 bouts last year at 160 and 170, but is settling in at 152 this season and the drop in class could mean big things,
“We’re going to see Hunter Wright down a weight,” Aveni said. “He got out-horsed a couple times last year, and he is a strong kid. I think 52 is a great place for him. He came on strong last year and I’m excited to see him start this season and get rolling with what he can do.”
Thayne and Zane Morgan will fill the spots at 160 and 170 and Aveni thinks the brothers could have a major impact on the team’s success. Zane won 17 bouts — 14 by fall — last year.
“Thayne only got one varsity match last year, but he’s been around,” Aveni said. “This is his fourth year in the room, and he looks good. He and Zane both look sharp. They’ve had a great preseason. They’ve grown up. They’re stronger.
“These were two little, skinny kids four years ago and now they’re big, strong kids wrestling 60 and 70 for us. i expect some big things out of those two.”
McGonigal is up a class to 182, while Sawyer will likely weigh in at 182 as well to give Aveni some flexibilty in the lineup.
That depth and flexibility is present throughout the lineup and is one of the team’s strengths.
“We’re going to have some depth at 106 and 113, which I am really happy about.” Aveni said. “We’re going to have some depth up through the middle weights with Christian Leigey, Cameron Rothrock, Parker Hoyt, McCracken and Rudy Cordon.
“There is depth all through the lineup and there are kids that can wrestle. So we have some juggling ability and we have some coverage if somebody gets hurt.”
Bumbarger returns at 220 after a 13-13 junior year and is a prime candidate for a breakout season.
“The sky is the limit for Hunter,” Aveni said. “He’s a big, strong kid and is capable of some big things if he wants to.”
Heavyweight is a bit of a question mark with Luzier, junior Jack Shepler and sophomores Avery Gisewhite and Trae Kitko all available. Aveni thinks either Gisewhite or Luzier will begin the season as the starter but can see Kitko possibly taking the spot down the road.
“Trae’s the guy who can help us the most if he is able to get himself in shape and can stay healthy,” Aveni said.
As for goals and expectations, Aveni doesn’t have anything particular in mind beyond being in the best possible place when the postseason rolls around.
“We need to get better every day and prepare ourselves to be the best team we can be at the end of the year,” he said.
The Bison begin the season Friday at the Williamsport Top Hat Tournament.
Seniors: Hunter Bumbarger, Jacob Carter, Christian Leigey, Levi Luzier, Jarrett McCracken, Thayne Morgan, Zane Morgan, Dan Royer, Cameron Rothrock, Steven Sawyer. Juniors: Quinten Edwards, Parker Hoyt, Luke McGonigal, Matt Ryan, Jack Shepler, Hunter Wright. Sophomores: Rudy Cordon, Caleb Freeland, Avery Gisewhite, Trae Kitko, Jude Pallo, Kyler Rosinsky, Cole Smay, Jonathan Thomas. Freshman: Peyton Smay.