MARQUETTE - Virtually every area high school wrestling team will be looking for some young, inexperienced athletes to step up if they want to have success as a team this year.
But some will have more veteran returnees than others, which could make all the difference in early-season meets.
Marquette, Ishpeming and Manistique probably have the largest number of accomplished wrestlers returning, with Negaunee, Westwood and Gwinn adding several themselves.
Marquette’s Rainger Rossway tries to pin Merrill’s Grant Collins (blue) during the semifinals of the 2011 Marquette Challenge in the 285 weight class last December. (Journal file photo by Adelle Whitefoot)
Meanwhile, teams like Munising and Newberry hope to add experience this season and are looking to younger classes not even in high school yet to round out their teams in the years to come. Marquette is the area's lone Division 2 team, Negaunee the only one in Division 3, with the other half-dozen competing in Division 4.
Here is a preview of area teams:
The Redmen look to be strong, compiling a 17-2 record last season and returning three wrestlers who made it to regionals.
"As a team, we never seem to start out strong, but we try to peak later in the year, anyway," MSHS co-coach Tony Gentz said. "But with this group, we could be ready right out the gate.
"I'd like to see if we could challenge for several medals at the Marquette Challenge (on Dec. 15)."
Seniors Rainger Rossway (285-pound division), Joe Iwanicki (215) and Curt Calovecchi (171) were regional qualifiers last year and will be looked on to lead a fairly deep team, but one that's missing wrestlers at the two lightest divisions, 103 and 112.
Gentz also expects big things out of two other regulars from last season, senior Austin Johnson (152) and junior Hunter Moore (125).
Nailing down regular spots are three more juniors, Jackson Mahler (160), Brian Helmer (140) and Kenny Hubbard (135), with several freshmen and sophomores vying for spots at 130 and 145, leaving only 119 and 189 pounds up in the air.
"Our ultimate goal is to win a team district title, and after that, a U.P. championship and (Great Northern) conference championship," Gentz said.
New coach Brad Saatio likes what he sees, both out of several veterans and a couple of freshman, though he also doesn't have wrestlers at the three lightest classes.
Junior Tyler LaJoie (152) is called one of the best athletes in school.
"He's in good shape and is on pace to raise some eyebrows," Saatio said.
Meanwhile, junior Brody Rosten (130/135) returns after an appearance at regionals last season.
"He's put on some muscle and he's one of our leaders, one of the smartest kids in school," Saatio said.
The coach is also excited about four freshmen - Tyler's brother Owen LaJoie (160), Austin Schmeltz (130), Joey Grasso (145) and Austin Hill (285).
"But our junior class is probably our best class," Saatio said, citing wrestlers like Mike Luoma (125) and Dan Brown (215).
He also mentioned freshman Jake Ferguson (135/140) and senior Tanner Hilde (171) as contributors.
Youth equates with experience for veteran Hematites coach Tim Hares, who cites three sophomores and a junior as among his team's best.
They are junior Jordan Tousignant (152) and sophomore Johnathan Willey (140), both regional qualifiers last season, along with sophomores Nate Meyer (145) and Dylan Guichin (135).
"We're a young, inexperienced team, so we'll take things slow," Hares said. "But we've got some good quality wrestlers."
Ready to sew up starting spots to begin the season are freshman Matt Maki (112); sophomores Alec VanHorn (285), Emily Meyer (103), Jared Quinnell (119) and Steve Luokkala (125); and seniors Mark Sorrell (189) and Kirk Guckenberg (215).
The Patriots have 18 wrestlers, led by senior David Lancour (285), who made it to the regionals last season.
"He's got a lot of agility and strength," coach Dan Carlson said.
The rest of the roster doesn't have a lot of experience, but that doesn't mean the talent isn't there, Carlson said.
That includes seniors Cameron Lawry (215) and Cole Schultz (171/189), who have wrestling experience, but didn't wrestle as juniors.
There's also sophomore Vince Carlson and juniors Cooper Guidebeck, Derek Wing and Trevor Swanson who are expected to contribute significantly.
Another of the area's new coaches, Dustin Luoma, has two quality wrestlers returning in senior C.J. Redfearn (285) and sophomore Alex Anderson (103/112).
"C.J. moves pretty fast for a heavyweight, and Alex was 24-10 as a freshman," Luoma said.
In between, he also has quality in senior Brittany Dunklee (112/119), freshman Ryan Damron (140), senior Alex Redlon (145) and junior John Sicotte (160/171).
In January, he'll also get junior Austen DeBacker (160/171), who is a transfer to Gwinn.
The Mustangs are young, but have definite talent this season, according to coach Bob Miles, who returns after a year off.
There are sophomores Bobby Miles (145/152), who won 30 matches as a freshman last season, and Matthew Johnson (152/145), "who's phenomenal for a second-year wrestler" according to his coach.
The team's lone senior, Daniel MacArthur, and lone junior, Henry Cobb, are in their second years of wrestling, while three or four freshmen have a chance to shine with extensive junior high experience.
The Emeralds have a 50-50 split of experience and newcomers, led by the Gonzalez brothers - senior Mat (145/152) and sophomore Cole (135/140, both who made the Division 3 state finals last season.
And with their third brother, junior Zavier Gonzalez (160), they all work off each other, according to coach Gary Bowman.
Regional qualifiers returning from last season are senior Zack Lindemuth (152/160) and sophomore Amber Smith (112).
Other returning regulars from 2011-12 include junior Jake Milavec (125) and senior Cheyenne Shaver (189).
"I think the deciding factor for what success we have this year is how well our newcomers do," Bowman said.
Coach Dean Parker is pleased with the growth of his program, which includes 10 wrestlers this season.
The Indians are led by senior Trent Doughty (145), who was a regional qualifier a year ago.
"He's just a tough kid," Parker said. "He's been around wrestling most of his life."
The coach also expects big things out of junior Steven Livermore (215) and sophomore Katie Parker (125).
Also expected to contribute are seniors Jarret Brow (160), Kristina Ventimiglia (135) and Victor Collins (152); sophomore Curtis Nantell (152); and freshmen Hunter Collins (215/285), Christopher Blackmon (215) and Steve Schmalzried (130).
Steve Brownlee can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 246.