Last year the Pleasant Valley wrestling team was spear-headed by four seniors and two underclassmen that helped lead the program to an 18-2 record.
Although those four seniors have since graduated, the Bears will now have six seniors and one underclassman to lean on as they attempt to duplicate last year's success both as a team and individually.
"It will be really tough to replace the big four from last year," admitted head coach Mark Getz. "However, we do have several seniors that are returning that had 20-plus wins last year but were over shadowed by the big four.
"We have James Felipa, Mike Benner, Dom Ammirato, Joell Toledo and Hunter Deihl. Plus we have Kenny Yanovich and Sean Bianco who were state qualifiers. I think if we stay healthy we could have a well balanced team."
The leader of the group will be last year's TIMES NEWS Wrestler of the Year award winner in Bianco. Bianco went 41-4 (40-4 at 113) as a junior last season en route to winning both District 11 and NorthEast Regional gold. His showing at Hershey didn't go as planned and has him even more determined as he enters his senior season.
"Without a doubt he wants to repeat as a District and Regional Champion," said Getz. "He also expects himself to be contending for a state gold medal."
Yanovich was almost just as dominant. The then 106-pounder went 41-7 as a sophomore last year and placed third at both districts and regionals. Unfortunately for Yanovich, the two wrestlers ahead of him (Parkland's Ethan Lizak and Nazareth's Tyrone Kump) also return for their junior seasons. It is yet to be seen if they will compete in the same weight classes, but it is shaping up to look that way.
Both Bianco and Yanovich figure to bump up a weight class this year.
Pleasant Valley has five other seniors that posted 20 or more victories last year. Felipa led the group with a 31-14 record (29-14 at 120) and was a regional qualifier. Heavyweight Mike Benner was 27-15, while Deihl (23-19), Toledo (22-17) and Ammirato (21-17) also had good seasons.
Benner made it all the way to the fifth-and-sixth place match at regionals last year. Deihl jumped around, as he went 8-6 at 182 and 12-9 at 195. Toledo did most of his damage at 152 (17-13), but also wrestled some matches at 160 (5-3).
"Felipa has had a good off-season," Getz said. "I think he could open some eyes this year as a contender for a district and regional championship. Also, Toledo has had a good off-season and has been looking good in the pre-season. I expect some good things out of both of them this year."
Some newcomers to this year's team include Jason Jacobi (106), Garrett Gouger (132-138) and Josh Perry (138-145). Perry, also a running back on the football team, was hurt last year and was unable to compete.
Pleasant Valley will compete in five tournaments this year. Three of them will be team duals (Blue Mountain, Clearfield and Parkland), while the other two will be individual based (Saucon Valley and New Oxford).
The Bears have been known for always having great light and middle weights and not-so-great heavyweights. That will not be the case this year as the whole lineup seems poised to be solid. With that, Getz is expecting some big things from his team this season.
"We are looking to get three of four wrestlers to states this year," said Getz. "Sean and Kenny want to win and district and regional championship and contend for the state championship. James and Mike want to make a trip to Hershey after falling a few matches short last year. They would also like to earn a top eight finish at states as well.
"As for the team we would like to place in the top two at districts and make the state duals. Of course we would also like to win the MVC and each of the tournaments that we will compete in this winter."