NEW BETHLEHEM — Translating the old proverb “youth must be served” into sports terminology, the Redbank Valley Bulldogs wrestling team will be served by plenty of youth this season.
The Bulldogs, 11-7 in dual meets last year, have 20 wrestlers on their roster, 10 of them freshman and at the outset of the season, they’ll have eight in the starting lineup for the Hickory Tournament this Friday and Saturday.
“I like the challenge. We have 10 kids in here that have no varsity experience and some don’t have a lot of wrestling experience,” said Bulldogs head coach Mike Kundick, who enters his 18th season with his youngest roster. “They have to learn, so we’re spending a lot more time on things that should come more natural to a junior high wrestler. Once it clicks, they’ll be fine.”
With just three seniors on the roster and one in the starting lineup to start the season, the Bulldogs will lean on their group of juniors led by their two regional qualifiers in Hunter Martz and Mason Songer.
Martz (21-14) was a district runner-up at 120 to earn a trip to Sharon. He’ll probably land at 126 in the postseason, but he’ll be at 132 to start the season.
“He did a great job too,” Kundick said. “In the (district) final he wrestled a state champion (Brookville’s Gavin Park) and took him down before getting beat, but those are all plusses in a sophomore’s career and he had a pretty good regional tournament in a tough weight class.”
Songer (21-10) finished fourth at 113 to earn his trip to Sharon and went 1-2 at regionals, one win shy of a state berth.
“Mason had a good year, one match from states, and wrestled well,” Kundick said. “He’s going to be back down to 113 again and he’ll probably start at 120 until it becomes 115 (after weight allowance). He’s going to have a good year.”
Junior Brayden Altobelli (17-12) will give the Bulldogs a trio of experienced solid lightweights to lean on and he and Songer will man the spots at 120 and 126 at the outset. Last year, Altobelli was undersized at 126 in the postseason and went 1-2 at districts.
“He had a great summer and worked hard,” Kundick said. “He lifted, wrestled and it’ll pay off for him.”
Not only are the Bulldogs young, but they’re banged-up before the season even begins. Senior Logan Minich, junior Travis Crawford and sophomore Ethan Wiant won’t be ready to go to for Hickory and probably for most of December if not longer.
Minich (19-10) and Crawford (18-17) are recovering from injuries sustained in football season. Minich will eventually land at 182 or 195 while Crawford, who was at 145 in the postseason last year, will be near that weight again, eventually.
And sophomore Ethan Wiant (34-7), the Bulldogs’ first 30-win freshman, will also start the season injured. His long-term status is not known.
“The main thing is to stay healthy and right now we’re not healthy,” Kundick said. “I lost four starters at the end of the year and right we’re down three starters. It’s December, but they have to get in shape and get back. We’ll have to deal with it.”
Other experienced wrestlers back include senior Bryan Layton (1-7) at 170. Junior Caleb Snyder (1-10) had a strong offseason according to Kundick and he’ll be at 145.
From there, it’s a parade of freshmen filling the rest of the lineup. Trenton Rupp gets the nod at 106, coming off two state-qualifying seasons in PA Junior Wrestling junior high division. Josh Smith will go at 113 while Tristan Hoffman starts at 138.
Six of the last eight weight classes will be manned by freshmen to start the year — Noah Anderson at 152, Coltin Bartley at 160, Hudson Martz at 182, Kobe Bonanno at 195, Aiden Gardner at 220 and Owen Shaffer at heavyweight.
Bonanno and Gardner were PAJW state qualifiers as eighth-graders while another promising lightweight Isaac Park went to states as a seventh-grader.
“I’ve never had so many freshmen and they all have potential,” Kundick said.
But there will be an obvious learning curve.
“We’re looking to the future, to build a team this year and really compete in the future,” Kundick said. “It’s a big jump from junior high and they’re going to learn. They’ll take their licks. We’re trying to make them understand this is a team for the future and if they can stay together and minimize injuries, this team is going to compete in the years to come.”
Kundick’s coaching staff includes Ruben Carrillo, Brandon Bailey and Deven Laird.
Seniors: Bryan Layton, Logan Minich, Eric Read.
Juniors: Brayden Altobelli, Travis Crawford, Brandon Goodman, Hunter Martz, Caleb Snyder, Mason Songer.
Sophomores: Ethan Wiant.
Freshmen: Noah Anderson, Coltin Bartley, Trenton Rupp, Kobe Bonanno, Hudson Martz, Owen Shaffer, Isaac Park, Aiden Gardner, Josh Smith, Tristen Huffman.
8-9-at Hickory Tournament
16-at Armstrong Tournament
30-Host Christmas Tournament
26-27-at Grove City Tournament
— Dual matches begin following junior high matches approximately at 7 p.m.