Northwestern is no longer the wrestling powerhouse that it was just four or five years ago.
The Tigers no longer have a line up featuring eight or 10 district place winners. They are no longer mentioned among the top teams in the state. And they probably won't contend for a district team title. But the team would like to return to that tournament after a one-year hiatus.
With 14 varsity wrestlers, Northwestern doesn't have the numbers to compete the way it did through the middle part of the last decade, when it won or shared three league titles (2004, '07 and '08) and won two district titles ('07 and '08).
Third-year head coach Jim Moll could have to juggle some weight classes to fill his line up.
"We're going to have to upset some people in matches to have a chance at winning," Moll said. "We're small in numbers, but it's a different group than we've had in the past. They like to sweat. They like to work hard. There's a really, really positive attitude in the [wrestling] room this year."
Northwestern graduated six starters from a team that went 6-5 in the Colonial League last season and came up a win short of qualifying for team districts.
The Tigers return one of two regional qualifiers from last year in junior Michael Ortiz, who is not only the team's best returning wrestler, but also one of the hardest workers.
Ortiz (130) went 25-9 last season, taking fourth place in District 11 and sixth at regionals, one win away from qualifying for states.
"We expect him to be out there [at states] this year and maybe even medal," said Moll.
District place-winner Levi Veppert (Sr., 170) hopes to improve on his fifth-place finish last year, which left him one spot away from a berth into regionals.
"Levi has really improved," said Moll. "His strength is just through the roof. He's starting to come into his own now."
Senior Ethan Keichel was set up for a successful postseason last year when an injury kept him out of districts. His junior season ended after a 17-6 regular season.
"We're looking for a strong performance from him this year as well," Moll said. "He's been itching all summer."
Also returning from last year's varsity team are seniors David Grace (119), Tad Vogels (145) and David Tirpak (215) and junior Mitchell Evans (145).
(The weight classes above reflect last year's divisions. This year's weight classes feature a slight change in nearly every class. The new weight classes are as follows - 106, 113, 120, 128, 132, 138, 145, 152, 160, 170, 184, 192, 220, 285)
Newcomers include senior Drew Wessner (285) and freshmen Alex Russo (152), Dan Hunsberger (138,145), Matt Dunaway (152), Anthony Fillis (132), Dylan Faust (138) and Cody Moyer (145).
Faust is the team's only varsity newcomer that has more than one year of wrestling experience.
While this year's team is a bit smaller than last year's, Moll is high on his team's make up.
"I see more optimistic attitudes this year," Moll said. "I think attitude makes a big difference in this sport. It's a grind every day. If you walk in the door with the right attitude it makes a different."