ST. MARYS — St. Marys saw its two-year reign as District 9 Class AAA team champs come to end — by the slimmest of margins — at the hands of rival Clearfield last season, and the Flying Dutchmen have their sights set on returning to the top of the mountain while also pushing some wrestlers through to states at the individual level.
St. Marys dominated the Bison in the regular season, 49-15, but the Dutch were missing a couple wrestlers come district dual time and suffered a heartbreaking loss in the championship, 29-28 — a match decided on Criteria H (greater number of first points scored).
The Dutch rebounded from that loss to have a strong showing at the District 4/9 Class AAA Tournament, advancing nine wrestlers to regionals while finishing second to Clearfield once again in the team battle.
While St. Marys lost three of those qualifiers — Kyle Pecht, D.J. Salinas and Ray Kline — to graduation, the Dutchmen welcome back six wrestlers who competed at regionals in Altoona.
Three of those returnees — seniors Christian Steffan (31-7) and Cameron Resch (23-14) and sophomore Tyler Dilley (28-3) — captured district titles a year go. Senior Mitchell Cashmer (20-12) was a district runner-up, while senior Garret Cook (20-17) and junior Brandon Cherry (13-17) both placed third to reach regionals.
St. Marys coach Dominic Surra and his staff are going to rely heavily on that group to lead a squad that will have a strong mix of veterans and youth. Surra has five seniors and four juniors on the roster, but also has six freshmen.
“We still have a strong lineup and some hammers in there,” said Surra. “To have three district champions return, and three more who placed in Top 3 at District 4/9 Tournament, is a pretty big thing to have. We’ll be looking for those guys to spearhead our lineup and have some of our supporting cast get better.
“We should have a lot of good leadership this year. But, like I said in the past, you really don’t know totally what you have until you step out and get some matches under your belt. We want them to lead to by example, and vocally as well.
“We have six freshmen and have 4-5 seniors. The sophomore and junior classes have some quality kids there, but not as many as far as (overall) numbers, so we’re looking for the upperclassmen to teach those freshmen and get them up to speed.
“When come up as freshman on varsity, it’s a crash course. Trial by fire, that’s how you learn. We have some good freshmen, but it’s going to be a learning experience. They’re going to win some, and they’re going to lose some. But, hopefully when the timing is right, if we can train the proper way we can end up having them wrestle well when we need them too.
“Hayden Tettis is back after a good year, and we also have a guy like Zac Becker who was 20-8 last year and didn’t wrestle at districts because he got hurt week of districts. He’s a guy we’re going to expect a lot out of this year. We also bring in a big, first-year heavyweight in Joe Kucenski, who is very good football player. He’s a very good athlete and has good instincts. He’s learning every day and putting a good attitude towards it, so we’re really happy with that.”
A pair of freshmen will open the Dutchmen lineup, with Tylor Herzing at 106 and Gregory Tettis at 113. Dilley has moved from 106 up to 120 to start the season, with Hayden Tettis (17-12) following at 126.
Freshman Marcus Reed is slated to compete at 132, with sophomore Alec Bittler (18-5) at 138. Resch is up a weight to 145 this year, while Cook and Becker are at 152 and 160, respectively.
St. Marys has no true 170-pounder on the roster and will have to bump around to fill that weight class. Rounding out the Dutch lineup from there will be Cherry (182), Cashmer (195), Steffan (220) and Kucenski (285).
“Our goals are always the same, and we want to keep the bar high,” said Surra. “We want to go back and win a district team title and an individual team title and go to states and win some matches and put ourselves in a position to place down there. Every year that’s tough. There are good teams in our district who will put out a quality lineup. Clearfield and DuBois will be tough again.
“We’ve actually tried to beef up our schedule. We added the Central Dauphin Duals, have Warren and Mifflin County coming in here for dual meets and we go to West Branch. Those are all pretty good matchups. We’re trying to really prepare ourselves for the end of the season — whether it be the team portion or the individual portion.
“If there is any place we really want to improve on, it’s getting someone through to Hershey. The team portion will take of itself if we can have everyone training and everyone healthy. Last year, I don’t think we had a letdown at (team) districts, being we had guys out. I thought we wrestled well, we just came up short.
“It’s a journey, and we have a long ways to go before then (postseason). A lot of things can happen. I don’t want to put the cart in front of the horse. We have to train and have good practices. I’m excited though with the guys we have back. We also have some new guys who are talented and shown some flashes of really good wrestling.
“The hardest thing is going from junior high to varsity is doing that consistently. The guys who can do that will have really good years.”
St. Marys hosts its annual kickoff tournament Saturday to open the season.
Seniors: Mitchell Cashmer, Garret Cook, Joe Kucenski, Cameron Resch, Christian Steffan. Juniors: Zac Becker, Brandon Cherry, Brendan Dornish, Hayden Tettis. Sophomores: Alec Bittler, Tyler Dilley, Austin Pritt. Freshmen: Gage Burford, Forest Cressley, Tylor Herzing, Marcus Reed, Gregory Tettis, Johnny Wittman.