Fri, Oct. 21, 2011 - [Wrestling]
2010-2011 dual record: 1-4
2010-2011 Central Qualifier finish: 8th
2010-2011 NAIA Nationals finish: 24th
Starters returning/lost: 7/3
Letterwinners returning/lost: 9/4
Eric Burgey, So., Easton, Pa.
(NAIA All-American, 33-4, eight falls)
Chris Diaz, Sr., Montrose, Colo.
(National qualifier, 8-13)
Brandon Smith, So., Malcom
(National qualifier, 13-11, two falls)
(Three-time national qualifier)
Cameron Bonds, Fr., Park Forest, Ill.
Carey Cloud, Fr., Havelock, N.C.
Giovante Ortiz, Fr., Jonesboro, Ga.
The Statesmen wrestling team will again rely on youth, but with a much deeper lineup, the program expects to be back at the top as it enters the 2011-2012 season.
From top to bottom, the William Penn roster is packed with freshmen and sophomores, but Head Coach Eric Reed believes his squad is ready for the challenge and will be a force come national tournament time in March.
Headlining the crew will be Eric Burgey (So., Easton, Pa., Easton HS) who placed fifth in the NAIA at 149 pounds last year.
"We were very young with mostly freshmen in the lineup last year," Reed said. "Our young guys only got better as the year went on and that will help us as we get started with another youthful squad this season."
"Our returners will be much stronger entering this winter, but we had a strong recruiting class that we expect should fill in some spots as well," Reed said. "Again, by the end of the year, our team will be considerably better because our kids will be learning as the season goes."
Newcomers look to lead the way at 125 pounds with Cameron Bonds (Fr., Park Forest, Ill., Rich East HS) the frontrunner at this point. Fellow freshmen Cristian Martinez (Streator, Ill., Streator Township HS) and Aaron Shaffer (Longmont, Colo., Longmont HS) will add depth.
"All three of these guys have looked really good in the preseason," Reed said. "Cameron has stuck out just a bit more and is projected to be our starter."
Returner Tyler Schneider (So., Belleville, Mich., Belleville HS) tops the list at 133 pounds after going 10-15 in his inaugural campaign, while former prep teammate Tommy Kozak (Jr., Belleville, Mich., Thiel College) and O'Darius Williamson (Jr., Spartanburg, S.C., Paul M. Dorman HS) will battle him for the starting nod.
Zach Gordon (So., New Sharon, North Mahaska HS) continues to improve and may see time, while Bryan Pittman (Fr., Flossmoor, Ill., Rich East HS) headlines a group of newcomers that have the potential to wrestle in varsity matches as well.
"Tyler is coming off a solid freshman campaign and should only be better this year," Reed said. "Tommy will be strong both if he gets down to 133 or stays up at 141, while O'Darius had some big wins last year. Zach took time off before wrestling last year and is still getting back to form, but is definitely improving every time out and Bryan has looked good in the room this fall."
The weight of one grappler and the health of another will determine the starting role at 141 pounds. As aforementioned, Kozak may drop some more pounds to 133, but if he does not, he will have a serious challenge from Giovante Ortiz (Fr., Jonesboro, Ga., Lovejoy HS) once he is cleared from injury (expected back in December).
Charlton Benjamin (Fr., Atlanta, Ga., Miller Grove HS), another product from the Peach State, figures to give Kozak and Ortiz a fight. Ortiz and Benjamin bring a friendly rivalry to Oskaloosa as Ortiz defeated him in last year's Georgia State Tournament.
"Tommy and Giovante look to be our best options at 141, but Charlton is going to give us his best as well," Reed said.
Johnny Gonzalez (Fr., El Paso, Texas, Franklin HS) brings a great work ethic that has served him well to gain the attention of the coaching staff.
"Johnny has improved a ton in just a few weeks in our program and if that continues, he will definitely be in the mix by the end of the year," Reed said.
With so many new faces, there is plenty of optimistic uncertainty surrounding the program, but Reed is certain of one thing--Eric Burgey will be a beast at 149 pounds.
After placing fifth at last year's NAIA Championships (33-4 overall record), Burgey is slated to fight for the crown in his sophomore campaign.
"Eric is ranked #1 as the season starts and should definitely be a factor for the title at 149 pounds," Reed said.
Carey Cloud (Fr., Havelock, N.C., Tucker HS) is one of the team's top recruits and gives the navy and gold a serious 1-2 punch with Burgey. A three-time state finalist, he brings plenty of success at the prep level.
"Carey is a quality individual and should certainly give us a second national qualifier at this weight," Reed said.
An injury-free Brandon Smith (So., Malcom, BGM HS) is looking forward to his sophomore year as one that could possibly end with him on the placing podium at nationals.
Smith was 13-11 as a freshman.
"Brandon missed a big chunk of time last year with injury, but fought back and looked good at nationals," Reed said. "He is ideal for 157 pounds and should have a really good year."
Robert Pohlman (So., Tinley Park, Ill., Yakima Valley CC) also has collegiate experience under his belt and provides quality depth for the Statesmen.
"Adding Robert in the mix at 157, that gives us two very strong wrestlers, something we did not have much of last year," Reed said.
Andrew Majewski (So., Belleville, Mich., Belleville HS) provides William Penn an athlete with experience at a fairly-slim 165-pound weight class.
"Andrew saw limited action last year, but has a great attitude and has worked his tail off to get better," Reed said. "Even though his record did not show it (2-15 in 2010-2011), he had some quality matches in practice with Brandon Smith and will be solid for us this year."
Anthony Martinez (Fr., Phoenix, Ariz., Desert Vista HS) adds depth in his inaugural collegiate season.
Joe Sumner (So., Delaware, Ohio, Rutherford B. Hayes HS) is a possible 165-pounder, but to begin the year he figures to be the team's starter at the next-highest class. He was 11-25 a year ago.
"Joe stepped in and had some success as a freshman," Reed said. "He should be more than capable of producing even better results this winter."
Brandon Blanchard (So., St. Louis, Mo., Eureka HS) returns to the mat as well.
Chris Diaz (Sr., Montrose, Colo., Olathe HS) fought through injuries and weight changes to be a major factor at 184 pounds in 2010-2011. He owned an 8-13 record as a junior.
"Chris is another one of those kids that has really improved in our program," Reed said. "Although his record was not where he wanted it, he had a great year while battling injuries. He finished strong by beating a couple of good kids at nationals and was by far one of our best athletes last season."
Kyle Soderblom (Fr., Newton, Lynnville-Sully HS) is expected to back up Diaz after a solid high school career in which he placed twice at the state meet.
"Kyle has looked really tough in practice and gives us a serious chance at having two national qualifiers," Reed said.
Karl Spain (Sr., Lafayette, La., Comeaux HS) headlines a short list at 197 pounds. Although he did not compete last season, he was strong in 2009-2010, going 17-18 and finishing one win shy of earning All-America status at nationals.
"Karl has not competed in a while, but has a really good attitude entering his final year," Reed said. "We have high, All-American expectations for him this year."
Kory Morrow (So., Oskaloosa, Wartburg) redshirted a year ago, but has the talent to also be one of the nation's elite.
"Kory battled some injuries last year, but if he can remain healthy, he is by far our best heavyweight," Reed said.
Nathan Merical (So., Grinnell, Grinnell HS) and Logan Metcalf (So., Batavia, Fairfield HS) will be strong alternatives to Morrow in 2011-2012.
William Penn opens its campaign with the NIACC Kaye Young Open on November 5. The Statesmen will host just two duals against Waldorf and Missouri Valley, but will also bring in teams for the William Penn Open on January 7. The remainder of the schedule is relatively the same as past years with the regular season concluding on February 18 at the NAIA Central Qualifier in Des Moines.
There is one major change to the schedule, though, with a trip out west as the team competes in the Desert Duals in Las Vegas.
"We expect to face some teams we normally would not see until nationals, so the Desert Duals should be a great experience for us," Reed said.
If the 2011 national tournament in Cedar Rapids was not close enough, NAIA Nationals has been moved to an even more geographically-appealing locale in Des Moines, just one hour northwest of Oskaloosa.
"With having nationals in Des Moines, we are really excited to send a big group of guys and be successful there," Reed said.
Perennial powers Grand View and Missouri Valley look to once again be at the top of the Central Qualifying Group, while the Statesmen expect to be a serious darkhorse for the title.
"We have the depth that was not there last year," Reed said. "We are still young, but with greater quality and quantity, we should be right there at the end of the season."