ST. MARYS — Graduation and the injury bug hit the St. Marys wrestling program hard going into last season, but with a strong healthy core back this year, optimism runs high for the Dutchmen and veteran coach Dominic Surra.
St. Marys lost eight seniors to graduation, but only a handful of those were regular starters in what otherwise a young starting lineup in the 2017-18 campaign. Chief among those losses was Zac Becker (32-7) — the team’s lone state qualifier who put it all together in his final season as he won a District 4/9 Class 3A title and placed second at regionals.
Becker’s trip to states marked the second straight year the Dutchmen were represented in Hershey after a six-year hiatus. The duo of Tyler Dilley and Alec Bittler ended that drought as sophomores in the spring of 2017 — becoming the first state qualifiers during Surra’s tenure.
Neither made it back to Hershey a year ago. Dilley, who recently signed to wrestle at Lock Haven, missed his entire junior season due to an injury, while Bittler (26-6) went 1-2 at regionals after placing second at districts.
Now seniors, the duo look to lead a Dutchmen squad comprised of mostly sophomores and juniors as they battle to make a return trip to Hershey in their final high school seasons. The only other senior on the roster is Austin Pritt.
“It’s definitely good to have Tyler and Alec back together,” said Surra. “They work well together, and when they’re both there, the room works a lot better.
“Getting Tyler back is a big plus on the leadership end and work ethic end. He went out this offseason and had a really good offseason. He probably got 30-plus matches and really trained hard, and that’s kind of how he go into the scholarship with Lock Haven.
“As for Alec, I know he wants to come back strong after how he finished last year.”
Beyond that duo, Surra welcomes back five other regional qualifiers in juniors Tylor Herzing (26-12), Johnny Wittman (16-14) and Gregory Tettis (9-19) and sophomores Marco Paropacic (4-5) and Ed Messineo (7-17).
Paropacic, who wrestled just a handful of bouts prior to districts, went 3-3 in the postseason and came the closest to joining Becker at states — falling two wins shy. Herzing went 2-2 at regionals last year.
“After Tyler and Alec, as a team we bring back some guys who are now going from sophomores to juniors,” said Surra. “That’s a pretty decent size group there that I think are due for a little bit of a breakout.
“Our sophomores and juniors be the determining factor on how we do as a team. For a few years there, we had a lot of seniors and upperclassmen who were strong and we could rely on. And, it’s always a process as those guys graduate, other guys have step in and fill those positions and take on roles of responsibility.”
St. Marys’ lineup will likely open with a freshman newcomer — Lane Dellaquilla — at 106, while Messineo will follow at either 113 or 120. Paropacic, who was at 106 last year, will move up to 120 or 126 this season.
Herzing and Dilley will be at 126 and 132, respectively, with Tettis and junior Connor Gausman both at 138. Crisp looks to slot in at 145 or 152, with Bittler, Wittman, Pritt, junior Tyler Quackenbush and sophomore Raivis Bobby all in the fold between 152 and 160.
Sophomore Jeremy Garthwaite (13-19) starts the upperweights at 170, with fellow sophomore Sean Lathrop (7-18) wrestling at either 182 or 195. The duo of freshman Colton Swanson and sophomore Ethan Schreiber opened the year at 285.
“I’m very comfortable with the people who are returning for the most part. I think our core is pretty solid,” said Surra. “Herzing had a really good offseason, and I look for him to step up and have really good season. Paropacic came on late and finished last year strong. Wittman went to districts as the No. 1 seed, and I think inexperience just caught up with him. But, I think he can come out and have a good season this year. Time will tell though.
“Jeremy Garthwaite put on some good size and muscle this offseason, and Nick Crisp wasn’t a starter last year but was 8-2 as a fill-in. He’s a talented, tough kid too. We have some kids who really haven’t had the spotlight yet, but they are due for that. It’s a process though. We’re working on it and putting it together.”
As for team goals, those never change for Surra.
“We want to win team districts,” he said. “I think that if we can get people were they need to be weight-wise, I believe we can be competitive in the district. But, that’s to be determined yet.
“That’s part of that growing up, making sure you’re at the weight class you need to be at — not just for yourself but when the team needs you to be. If you’re not at weight class the team needs you, that means someone else could be out there benefitting the team also.
“We’re still going to have some holes, but I think we can manage those holes if we get everyone where they need to be.”
St. Marys hosts its annual season-opening tournament on Saturday.
Seniors: Alec Bittler, Tyler Dilley, Austin Pritt. Juniors: Connor Gausman, Tylor Herzing, Tyler Quackenbush, Gregory Tettis, John Wittman. Sophomores: Raivis Bobby, Nick Crisp, Jeremy Garthwaite, Sean Lathrop, Ed Messineo, Marco Paropacic, Ethan Schreiber. Freshmen: Lane Dellaquilla, Colton Swanson.