When the defending state champion returns most of its starting lineup, the conclusion is clear.
“It’s going to be tough pickings to take the state title away from Lakeside,” said Deer Park coach Steve Meuer. “They looked pretty tough in our tournament.”
The Eagles, last year’s A/B champion, outscored defending AA champion East Valley and Greater Spokane League co-champions Gonzaga Prep and University on their way to the Deer Park Invitational championship on Saturday.
Does that foreshadow a state championship repeat?
“That’s the plan,” said Lakeside coach Scott Jones. “I think we’ve got the team to do it.”
The Great Northern League teams now are classified 2A and the change in alignment could make Lakeside’s quest tougher.
Getting wrestlers to the Mat Classic could be easier, however, if the current plan of three GNL wrestlers per weight qualifying directly to state becomes a reality.
Lakeside will be challenged within the GNL by last year’s cochampion Medical Lake and newcomer Colville. League matches begin in January.
Eagles look tough
Lakeside returns six placers from among eight state veterans from last year’s team. There’s also a former state competitor in the lineup.
“This is probably the toughest returning team I’ve had,” said Jones, Washington’s wrestling coach of the year.
Most are adjusting to weight increases and are competing against teammates in a classification. Veteran 215-pounder Jason Cummings and 275-pound Guy Phillips are out with injury.
Jason Belyea, the Eagle 115-pounder, was upset in his bid to return to state last year.
“He’s got a fire in the belly now,” said Jones. “To have made it and not return hurt quite a bit.”
Also back are fourth-place state finisher Tim Weisser, seventh placer Anthony Layton and junior state veteran Trevor Blackwell, all lumped between 129 and 135 pounds.
Fourth placer Jason Christen and fifth placer Aaron Laughery are both now at 148.
Third-place finisher Matt Westenfelder now wrestles at 168 and seventh-place Sean Wheeler is at 178.
Another state vet, junior Adam Christen, is up to 141 pounds.
Freshmen Kris Matthews and Austin Laughery and sophomore Robert Paintner are vying at 101. Freshman Justin Belyea is at 108. Sophomore Shawn Close and junior Todd Kenny are at 122.
Sophomores Brandon Hopkins and Adrian Laughery, and Matt Collier are other 148- to 168-pound candidates. Junior Kevin Downey and sophomore Chris Perkins will vie at 190.
Last year’s backup Matt Wilson is at 215 pounds and sophomore newcomer Chad Charbonneau will wrestle at 275.
Deer Park improved
Second-year coach Steve Meuer figures this year’s Stags will be more competitive.
“Last year we were 15th in our meet and this year we were eighth,” he said. “Last year we had four wrestlers who could win consistently. This year everybody on the team can win a lot.”
The Stags return eight regulars from last year, including state veterans Nolan Jones at 158 and Jarred Berger at 168. The team remains young.
Veterans include Ryan Pilgrim at 108, Jeremy Race at 122, Ryan Dearing at 129, Michael Balfour at 135, junior Jon Waunch at 141 and sophomore Seth McLean at 275.
Freshmen Travis Berger at 101 and Jesse Jones at 108, and sophomore Darren Martin at 115 are likely starters.
Gary Todd or junior Tony Nazzal will wrestle at 148. Junior Jake Stillman is at 178 and freshman Devan Faulkner will wrestle at 190.
Riverside in tough new league
The drop from Frontier League to Great Northern League won’t be easy for Riverside.
“If anything at all, changing leagues has made it more difficult,” said second-year coach Scott Friedman. “With the new classification, the GNL is one of the toughest in state.”
Into the fray comes junior state veteran Joben Nuesse, 122-pound champion at the Deer Park Invitational.
Also back are Tu Le, third at 129 pounds, junior Brandon Morris at 135, junior Craig Alexander at 158, the much-traveled Paul Purcell at 168, Jared Bailey at 178 and Jesse Lee at 190.
Likely freshmen starters are Donald Knight at 101 and T.J. Mulrony at 115.
Junior Lauren Alderson is at 122. Freshman Stewart Bullen wrestles in the 122-129 area. Sophomore Casey Bullen or junior Seth Stewart are at 141.
Ben Bowers is at 148 and Spencer Murphy is a 190-pound candidate. Transfer Greg Petropolus, a junior, and Cliff Hostutler, a freshman, are at 215.
“We’re not going to back down,” said Friedman of the season. “We’ll strap the boots up and give ‘em a good scrap.”