Mat team relying on sophomores, freshmen
Northwestern's wrestling program is going through a youth movement.
With several wrestlers graduating from last year's line up, which was only slightly more than half-filled in most matches, the Tigers will replenish their roster with several freshmen this year.
"We'll have a lot of freshmen starting in the line up," said head coach Jim Moll. "They'll get thrown into the fire right away and we'll see how they adapt."
Northwestern usually six bouts per match last season. This year more weight classes will be filled and that should lead to a few more wins this season.
"I think we can win a lot more than last year," said senior Mike Ortiz.
The Tigers went 1-7 in the Colonial League last year, beating only Notre Dame (Green Pond). There's been a decline in team wins over the past four years, but the team still produces at least one or two solid postseason performers each year.
Last year, the Tigers had two district champs, three regional qualifiers and one state place winner. But three of the team's four district place winners from last year have graduated in Levi Veppert, David Tirpak and Ethan Keichel.
Veppert won districts and regionals before taking seventh at states. Tirpak was a district runner up who placed fifth at regionals. Keichel earned sixth at districts.
Ortiz, a district champ at 152 pounds last year, injured his knee in his first bout at regionals. He recovered, but reinjured it in summer.
He won 25 bouts in each of the last two seasons, including taking third place at districts and sixth at regionals as a sophomore.
Ortiz, who had surgery to repair last winter's knee injury, opted not to have another surgery until the season is over. He'll wrestle this season with a torn ACL, lateral meniscus and medial meniscus.
It will be difficult, but having surgery any sooner wasn't something he seriously considered.
"That would have ended my season," Ortiz said. "Not an option.
"The pain is always going to be there. The thought of going 13 or 14 years and having only one more chance at your goal outweighs the pain."
Ortiz will likely wrestle at 160 or 170 this year with a knee brace and the obvious pain. It is something he will have to adjust to.
"My intensity is not going to let up at all," he said. "I just have to change how I wrestle, which I've been working on since the doctor cleared me a month and a half ago. I have to wrestle with my back a lot. I have to use my upper body a lot more."
Despite the injury, head coach Jim Moll knows Ortiz can still reach his goals.
"His goal is still top of the podium at Hershey," said Moll. "I think it's possible for him, even with the brace on. He's going to have to learn to do some things a little differently. He's such a naturally talented wrestler. I think he will adapt pretty easily."
One other senior returns to Northwestern's starting line up in Mitchell Evans. He went 15-12 last year, just his fourth year participating in the sport.
"Mitchell started wrestling in eighth grade," said Moll. "The improvement from then to now is really remarkable. It seems something clicks for him every summer and he gets a little better. I feel like I could give him our most improved award every season."
Three sophomores return after taking their lumps on last year's varsity team.
Anthony Fillis, who will wrestle at 145 or 152, worked with former state champ and Northwestern graduate Scott Clymer over the summer and is ready for a big year.
"Fillis worked the hardest of anybody in the offseason," said Moll. "We had a lot of guys that worked real hard and were here a lot. Fillis was here more than I was. He worked with Scott Clymer. He drilled constantly with him. I really see improvement in Fillis' wrestling because of that."
Also returning from last year's line up are sophomores Cole Moyer (138) and Alex Russo (170).
Sophomore Zach Hunsberger (145/152) and freshmen Jarrett White (106/113) and Quintin Bernahrd (106/113) will be able to help the team this year.
Other varsity wrestlers who could help fill spots in the line up include freshmen Jason Hottinger (120), David VanBlargan (106), Tony DiCataldo (106), Andrew Sorensen (138), Joe Colucci (132) and Jacob Murray (195).
Last year the Tigers forfeited the three lightest weights and the three heaviest in most matches. This year the lightweights should be full and the only empty spots will be at the heavier weights.
"We'll have a couple holes," said Moll. "We'll have more weight classes filled than last year. We should just be missing one or two up top."
With just two seniors and no juniors, the Tigers will send a very inexperienced line up onto the mat. But it's a line up that could win some matches.
"The lightweights are kids I've been going to tournaments with four 14 years since I a kid," said Ortiz. "We could definitely win more matches with those kids on our team."