The 2012-13 season was a year of growing up for the Bruins.
Their coach hopes this is the year of showing up.
“It’s time,” said Allen Tucker, who is in his 11th season at Northwest and lost just two seniors to graduation. “Last year I babied them because they were ninth- and 10th-graders. This year ain’t going to be that way. They already hate practice because I’m treating them like a veteran team.”
But the numbers haven’t overly suffered as a result of Tucker’s challenge, with some 40 wrestlers expected on the roster once football players are in the room.
“I’ve got kids that have experience,” Tucker said. “It’s just a matter of us getting in wrestling shape.”
Senior Alex Reynolds (145) is the only returning state medalist for Northwest — he took fifth at 145 in Class 4A last season — but Tucker has high expectations for others as well. That group includes sophomore Henson Gibbs (120/126) and juniors Blake Hayes (113/120), Dylan Ayers (152), Austin Taylor (160) and Jordan Pittman (170). Hayes is the only returning state qualifier for the Bruins besides Reynolds.
Tucker is also eager that Isaiah Mack (285) will be back on the mat for his senior season. Mack is a standout defensive end on the football field for Northwest who was selected The Daily Citizen’s All-Area Football Player of the Year in 2011.
With a full room and depth at some weights, Tucker sees options in his lineup — a major asset for postseason duals.
“I think we’re going to be competitive,” he said. “We’ve got good numbers.”
Northwest’s season opens Thursday with a double dual at Tennessee’s Cleveland High School, where the competition will also include Tennessee’s Signal Mountain.
Fraire isn’t the only loss the Raiders experienced in the offseason via graduation, with coach Michael Herndon needing to replace a half-dozen starters as he begins his third season in charge of the program.
However, Herndon also saw some growth in the offseason, thanks to a summer training schedule that included tournaments most weekends in June.
“There’s a lot less pressure to perform, so guys can kind of open up and try some new things and some new strategy,” Herndon said of summer competition. “And wrestling matches is the best way to get better.”
The Raiders’ lone seniors are Austin Allen (182/195), Dylan Burch (145/152) and Ismael Sandoval (132/138) — Allen was a win away from a state medal last season while Burch and Sandoval will be three-year starters — but Herndon has experience returning via sophomore Chris Rosas (106) and juniors Omar Ruiz (113) and Tanner Acosta (160). Rosas was a win short of qualifying for state last season, while Ruiz placed fifth at 106 pounds in Class 3A two years ago.
But there’s no doubt Southeast keeping up the progress that showed so well last year will depend on lots of others stepping up.
“Some of our younger guys were out there this summer and that was good,” Herndon said. “We have a lot of freshmen coming in and I think a couple of them may be able to help us out this year.”
Southeast’s season opens today with a trip to the Dacula Duals, where they’ll field both varsity and junior varsity lineups. It’s the Raiders’ first step in building experience quickly.
“This year we’re looking to stay competitive,” Herndon said, “and trying to improve from the beginning of the year until the end.”