Smith will lead inexperienced matmen
BOB FORD/TIMES NEWS Jim Thorpe wrestling team members include, front row, from left, Brian Ohl, Dillon Smith, Joe Hodnick, and Kevin Jaskot. Back row, Justin Mazzella, James Boyle, Dale Wakefield, James Denny, and Adam Rex.
The Jim Thorpe wrestling team will have very little margin for error in dual meets this season.
With just 11 varsity wrestlers, and several of them around the same weight, the Olympians will be forfeiting anywhere between three and five bouts every match.
Throw in the fact that Jim Thorpe returns just six varsity wrestlers from a year ago and that just one of them - Dillon Smith - had a winning record and its easy to see why veteran coach Guy Franko will have his work cut out for him.
But Franko isn't ready to start conceding matches. Instead, he is approaching the 2009-10 season with expectations that he feels are both ambitious and realistic.
"We're very inexperienced," said Franko. "We'll have a couple of freshmen in our lineup and a few other kids who haven't wrestled in a couple of years.
"But I like the way everyone is working. We've really been stressing fundamentals and on improving every time we step on the mat."
Franko knows that the unavoidable forfeits will make things a little more difficult, but he believes they can be overcome.
"A number of the teams we play will be forfeiting some weight classes as well," he explained. "But we are still going to need some strong efforts from our kids. If we're only sending 10 wrestlers out there we're going to need to win a minimum of six or seven of them.
"For us to do that, we are going to need James Denny, Joe Hodnick, Adam Rex, Justin Mazzella and Ryan Boileau to step up for us. They all wrestled last year and I'm counting on their experience and improvement to help us out."
Denny (7-22 a year ago) will wrestler at either 125 or 130 pounds; Hodnick (6-12) will also be at 125 or 130; Rex (12-20) will wrestle at 130 or 135; Mazzella (2-23) will be at 152 and Boileau (4-6) will be at 145.
In addition to that group, Franko will be looking to several varsity newcomers to help out. They include, freshmen Brian Ohl (103) and Tom Ludlow (112); juniors Kevin Jaskot (140 or 145) and Tyler Mangold (285); and senior Dale Wakefield (160).
While the majority of the Olympian lineup is dotted with unproven or inexperienced wrestlers, that isn't the case with middleweight Dillon Smith.
Smith is Jim Thorpe's proven star. A year ago, he had a 39-8 record, finished second in the Schuylkill League, third in District 11, fourth at regionals and qualified for states.
Smith will be wrestling at either 145 or 152 this season and Franko has high hopes for him.
"Dillon is one of the best wrestlers in the area," said Franko. "We've talked a lot about what I expect from him and about what he expects from himself.
"I'm not going to talk about all the goals we have, but I will say I expect him to be wrestling the second Saturday in March at the arena [in Hershey]."