According to the preseason rankings by scmat.com, wrestling is not a growth sport in SCISA.
In fact, with the move of St. Joseph’s (Greenville) to the High School League, the SCISA mat roster is down to just six schools that offer the sport. Four of those schools are in the Midlands – Cardinal Newman, Hammond, Heathwood Hall and Ben Lippen. Orangeburg Prep and Augusta Christian are the only of independent school programs.
Cardinal Newman and Hammond have dominated SCISA wrestling since its inception in 2004-05. Hammond claimed the first four SCISA titles, while Cardinal Newman has ruled in each of the past two seasons.
The trend should continue this season. Cardinal Newman is ranked No. 1 by scmat.com with Hammond at No. 2.
The Cardinals went 17-5 in dual matches last season, and Eric Goff, the only coach in program history, is 96-34 in seven seasons as the CN helm. The Cards humbled Hammond 53-14 in the SCISA title match last year.
With nine state qualifiers, including five state champions, returning this season, Cardinal Newman is the solid pick for a third straight team triumph.
The returning state championship include sophomore Nathan Hayes (who prevailed at 119 last season), junior Thomas Touma (125), sophomore Connor Egan (135), junior Nick Palevich (152), senior Kyle Maitland (160) and junior Billy Solomon (189).
The other state vets in tow are eight-grader Christian Kirol (3rd at 103), junior Cole McCarter (a two-time runner-up) and junior Jake Wilson (2nd at 171).
Sophomore Nathan Hayes, freshman Louis Williams and senior Pennington Nieri are the other returning lettermen.
“We have a good group of kids back from last year so I’m excited to see what we can put together on the mat,” said Goff.
Hammond boasts a strong core of individual standouts, but not necessarily the depth needed to overtake Cardinal Newman yet. Coach Randy Wolfe says the program will soon be reaping the benefits of a healthy youth program.
“We have quite a few young guys who have wrestled in our youth program, that are now in middle school, so it may be a couple of years before they play a big role in our line-up, but the future looks very promising,” said Wolfe who is in his second season at Hammond after guiding the programs at Ridge View and Blythewood for five seasons.
In other words, the immediate outlook is uncertain.
“We graduated five starters, and it definitely will be tough not having those guys,” said Wolfe.
“It’s sort of cliché to say, but we are in a rebuilding year. We have a core group of guys that we have high expectations for this season. If some of our newer guys step up, and some of our football commitments come out and stay out, we will be pretty competitive. I guess we’ll have a better idea when we step out on the mat for the first time.”
The list of returning veterans feature defending state champions senior Guy Castles, junior Gervais Baker, eighth-grader Gantt Castles, junior Joey DeAngelis and senior Joseph McDougal.
Castles hopes to become a four-time state champion this season. His first title came at 103 in 2007 as an eighth-grader, followed by a wins at 130 and 140 in the past two season after a second-place finish at 112 in 2008.
Baker and McDougal will be looking to win a third gold medal this season. Baker won at 112 last season after a feshman triumph at 103 in 2009. McDougal is coming off back-to-back wins at 215 after runner-up effort at 189 as a sophomore in 2008.
Gantt Castles (103) and DeAngelis (152) were first-time winners last season.
Sophomores Matthew Kay and Steven Mitchell are two other veterans to watch. Kay has one state gold and two silver medals on his resume already (winning a title at 103 as a seventh-grader in 2008). Mitchell was the runner-up at 119 a year ago.
Ben Lippen’s top returning wrestlers include eighth-grader David Giles (2nd at 103 in 2010), senior Sammie Joe White (3rd at 215) and senior Jimmy Carlen (3rd at heavyweight).
Fripp Prioleau is the top man at Heathwood Hall after claiming his second straight title last season. The junior Highlanders star prevailed at 130 last season after a win at 130 in 2009. He was the runner-up at 103 in 2008.
Junior Harrison Penndarves (state champ at 285) and sophomore Robert Summers (3rd at 119) are the other top veterans.