DeKALB - Every year a wrestler exceeds preseason expectations and rises from the ranks of the unknown.
The DeKalb wrestling team is loaded with candidates for breakout star of the winter. But it’s freshman Parker Stratton with the most potential and confidence to emerge.
With a pedigree that includes a 77-4 record in Illinois Elementary School Association competition, a runner-up finish at the IESA state tournament as a 7th grader and a state title as an 8th grader, Stratton could be a household name by conference and state playoff time.
“My goal is to qualify and place at state,” Stratton said. “As an eighth grader I got a lot of experience in high-pressure situations. When a lot of people are watching you’ve just got to focus in so you can do well and live up to their expectations.”
Because Stratton has tough mat room competition and a maturity beyond his age, DeKalb coach Mike Pater has high expectations for the 106-pound freshman.
“He’s got a great work ethic and is always asking what he can do to get better in the mat room,” Pater said. “He always knows where he is in a match and is a step ahead of his opponent. Having great workout partners around him will help, too. Competition in the mat room is key. If your toughest matches should be against teammates, you’ll be able to work a match well.”
Other than senior Doug Johnson, a four-year starter vying for a fourth trip to the state meet and hoping to capture an elusive state title doesn’t feature much experience, DeKalb graduated 13 seniors and the bulk of their lineup will feature freshman and sophomores.
But Pater won’t view 2012-13 as rebuilding year. After a summer campaign he labeled as the best in his six years as coach, Pater expects the Barbs to compete immediately in the Northern Illinois Big 12 East.
Even a move up to Class 3A for the IHSA state playoffs hasn’t swayed the confidence Pater has in a talented group of young wrestlers.
“It’s a young group but they have a great fundamental base that we’ve developed for the varsity level,” Pater said. “We’re ready to win right now. We pushed everyone hard this summer. We have a goal of winning conference. We don’t know where we’ll go for regionals but would like to win a title there as well.”
If the Barbs can achieve those goals, they’ll have plenty of unknown wrestlers become household names this winter.
2012 BOYS WRESTLING TEAM PREVIEW CAPSULES
2011-12 record: 14-10, 3-2 Northern Illinois Big 12 East
Coach: Mike Pater, sixth season
Key returnees: Doug Johnson, sr.; Brad Green, so.; Jackson Montgomery, so.; Dylan Farrell, so.
Outlook: An infusion of youth hasn’t lowered expectations for the Barbs. If a technically sound group of young wrestlers can be quickly acclimated to wrestling in a tough Northern Illinois Big 12, which will feature teams loaded with returning and potential state qualifiers, DeKalb can enter the conference title picture. Senior Doug Johnson (132) beat three state champions on his way to a second-place finish at freestyle state this summer and has the confidence he can become a state champion even as the Barbs move up to a deeper Class 3A for the playoffs.
Pater’s take: “This is the best offseason I’ve even been a part of as DeKalb coach. We put in a lot of tough matches and pushed hard this offseason.”
2011-12 record: 16-14, 2-3 Big Northern East
Coach: Earl Jursich, second season
Key returnees: Brent Dehmlow, jr.; Joe Murray, so.; Christian Ordlock, so.; Danny Peters, jr.
Outlook: An inexperienced Cogs’ team
racked up a winning record last year, which was a pleasant surprise for Jursich. With six experienced returnees - led by sectional qualifier Dehmlow - the Cogs have the potential to return a wrestler to the Class 1A state meet. There’s no prep redshirt season, but once a talented group of freshmen get more mat time, the Cogs could be a deep squad. Freshman Austin Ruchti (185) will wrestle in a weight class normally reserved for upperclassmen, but has the toughness to compete.
Jursich’s take: “We’ve got a big freshman team and developing that talent will be our biggest challenge. We’d love to post another winning season and get two or three guys to state.”
2011-12 record: 18-5, 4-1 NI Big 12 East
Coach: Alex Nelson, third season
Key returnees: Austin Culton, sr.; Jake Davis, sr.; Kyle Akins, jr.
Outlook: A dark-horse state contender on the Spartans’ roster is tough to find. In 2012 Sycamore made its third consecutive appearance at the IHSA Class 2A team duals state meet. At individual state Austin Culton (152) finished first, Kyle Akins (113) fourth and Jake Davis (195) fourth. If there’s an individual that could become a constant on the pound-for-pound list this winter, it’s senior Marty Malone (220). Sycamore has a veteran lineup that will contend for back-to-back Northern Illinois Big 12 conference tournament titles and could place at least five wrestlers at state if it stays healthy.
Nelson’s take: “We’ve got guys in the lineup now with a lot of varsity experience. They’ve been a part of three straight team state appearances. We’ve got the talent and the core back to compete for the chance to return to team state.”
2011-12 record: 11-16, 1-4 NI Big 12 East
Coach: Monty Jahns, fifth season
Key returnees: Dan Goress, sr.; Stephen Gust, sr.; Esai Ponce, sr.
Outlook: Dual meets were a challenge for the Knights last year because of weight class forfeits. With seven starters back in the lineup – led by Stephen Gust (113), who was sixth at Class 2A state last year, and returning state qualifiers Esai Ponce (132) and Dan Goress (145) – Kaneland will be a potent tournament team. If a few middle- and upper-weights can be filled in with underclassmen, the Knights be a dual-meet threat. At 6-foot, Connor Williams (120) has the experience and reach that is unusual for his weight class to make a late-season run.
Jahn’s take: “We’ve been really great the first few weeks. I’ve seen a lot of increased focus and competitiveness in the mat room. We’ve had intense practices. This team has a great work ethic.”
– James Nokes, email@example.com