NEW BETHLEHEM — If Redbank Valley Bulldogs veteran wrestling coach Mike Kundick was looking forward to last year, go talk to him now.
A still-young roster with one more year of experience that’s also bolstered by another talented freshman class, Kundick enters his 19th season as head coach (162-93 dual meet record) with plenty of optimism.
On his 24-man roster are 16 sophomores and freshman. After battling through a 9-7 dual season, six sophomores were in the Bulldogs’ postseason lineup as freshmen last year and it’s likely two or three freshmen make the lineup out of the gate this year.
Then throw in returning state qualifier in senior Mason Songer, senior regional qualifiers Brayden Altobelli and Hunter Martz, and a healthy junior Ethan Wiant to start the season and the Bulldogs have a strong mix of youth and experience all over the lineup.
“Last year, we were really young,” Kundick said last week. “We had two seniors and knew we’d take our lumps. We did, but we learned a lot and the freshmen got valuable experience. Now, they’re a year older and their experience went up through the summer. They’re ready to compete.
“It’s still going to boil down to the freshmen and sophomores, the core of our team. We’re overloaded in frosh and sophomores.”
Songer was one of five Bulldogs to get to regionals and Sharon and the only one to punch a ticket to Hershey after finishing fourth for the second straight weekend at 113 pounds. He finished 28-13 after going 1-2 at states and Kundick sees Songer primed for another deep state run.
“He’s an exciting wrestler to watch because he does a lot of strength moves and he can catch you at any moment and it’s just fun to watch him wrestle,” Kundick said. “He can stay with anybody and beat anybody. That’s just how he wrestles.
“He’s motivated to get back to states. Once you get there, you want to go back and he’s doing the things in the room he has to do to make that happen.”
The four other regional qualifiers included senior Hunter Martz who finished second at districts for the second straight year. He was 25-17 mostly at 126 and Kundick said he’ll probably start at 138.
“He’s hungry and he’s another one who could’ve made it to states,” Kundick said. “He wrestled fantastic at regionals but wasn’t good enough. You just have to get it done.”
Another senior, Brayden Altobelli, was fourth at districts at 120. After going 2-2 at regionals, he wound up 25-11 and will start at 138.
“He was so close to going to states,” Kundick said. “He was winning both matches (at regionals), but made bad mistakes and it cost him. You could say he should’ve gone, but he has to get it done plain and simple. You can’t make mistakes.”
Two sophomores are back with regional experience in Trenten Rupp and Aiden Gardner. Rupp finished third and districts at 106 and finished 21-13 while Gardner battled his way to a 24-13 mark in the upper weights, finishing fourth at 220. They’ll likely slot in at those weights again with Gardner perhaps dropping to 195 at some point.
“He’s grown and matured and Trenten is going to surprise some people this year. He’s gotten taller and kept his weight about where it needs to be,” Kundick said. “Aiden is looking good, had a fantastic offseason and placed well in some tournaments.”
Wiant, 34 wins as a freshman, started last year with a knee injury and got to within one win of a regional berth at 132, finishing the year 7-3.
“We didn’t think he’d wrestle last year but came back wrestled fantastic up a couple weights, but his freshman year speaks for itself,” Kundick said. “He worked so hard this year and he’s really hungry and knows what he needs to do.”
Five other Bulldogs were in the postseason lineup. Senior Caleb Snyder (6-19) was at 145. He’ll likely work for a spot at 152 pounds with sophomore Noah Anderson (4-14), who wrestled at 160.
Sophomore Coltin Bartley was 5-19 mostly at 152 last year, but he’ll bump up to 170 along with junior Chase Bish.
“It’s a better weight for Coltin and Chase has been a surprise in the room after wrestling some in junior high,” Kundick said.
Sophomores Hudson Martz (11-16) and Kobe Bonanno (8-13) will be at 182 and probably 220 respectively after going to the postseason at 170 and 182 last year. Bonanno suffered a knee injury at the end of baseball season last spring and had offseason surgery, forcing him to miss football, but he’s back and working hard in the room Kundick said.
“Hudson has the ability to wrestle well and he’s a deceiving type of wrestler and has some moves he can do on anybody,” Kundick said.
Either Bonanno or Gardner could see time at heavyweight with no other wrestler in that class. Freshman Ray Shreckengost and sophomore Dustin Yarger gives the Bulldogs more depth in the upperweights at 182 and 195.
Senior Travis Crawford is back and healthy after missing last year. He was 18-17 as a sophomore at 145 and will step in to fill the 160-pound slot.
“He’s a sleeper,” Kundick said. “He’s been hurt and hasn’t gotten a chance to show what he can do.”
At 106, freshman Ridge Cook makes his varsity debut while another freshman, Brenden Shreckengost, will be a capable backup or contender to make the lineup at 113.
Freshman Kristopher Shaffer and junior Justin Ferringer will be at 145. Shaffer and sophomore Dalton Bish were junior high state qualifiers in the Pa. Junior Wrestling postseason last spring.
“Shaffer is a formidable freshman,” Kundick said. “He’s come into the room against these seniors and juniors and he’s solid.”
It’ll all about staying healthy and getting experience for the Bulldogs, who open once again this weekend at the Hickory Tournament. They’ll get a look at plenty of District 9 and 10 teams before hosting Warren next Tuesday in their dual meet opener.
“We have to stay healthy,” Kundick agreed. “We’re loaded in our December and early January schedule and if we can stay health, we’ll deal with Brookville, Kane and Brockway, those are probably the teams vying for the top spots.”
Seniors: Mason Songer, Brayden Altobelli, Hunter Martz, Justin Ferringer, Caleb Snyder, Travis Crawford.
Juniors: Ethan Wiant, Chase Bish.
Sophomores: Trenten Rupp, Josh Smith, Dalton Bish, Gage Snyder, Noah Anderson, Coltin Bartley, Hudson Martz, Dustin Yarger, Aiden Gardner, Kobe Bonanno.
Freshmen: Ridge Cook, Brenden Shreckengost, Kristopher Shaffer, Ray Shreckengost, Kolby Barrett, Kade Minnick.
7-8-at Hickory Tournament; 11-Warren, 5 p.m.; 13-Curwensville; 29-Host Christmas Tournament
3-Brookville; 5-at Coudersport Tournament; 8-at Punxsutawney; 15-Brockway; 17-Ridgway; 22-at St. Marys; 25-26-at Fred Bell Tournament, Grove City
1-at Sharon; 7-at Cranberry; 12-Clarion; 22-23-D9 Tournament, Clearfield
1-2-Regionals, Sharon H.S.; 7-9-PIAA Championships, Hershey
Matches follow junior high which begins at 6 p.m. unless otherwise noted.