DOBSON — North Surry has long been a wrestling power in the Foothills area, but Surry Central feels it has a team worthy of taking the Western Piedmont title.
Not only do the Golden Eagles return two state placers, but 12 of 14 starters are returning from a squad that came within seven points of tying the Greyhounds for first place last season.
In the regular-season finale, West Stokes beat Central by six points, knocking the Eagles down to third place in the standings.
Coach Stephen Priddy would never use injuries as an excuse, but by the time the Eagles faced the Wildcats, three starters were out for the season.
Then-junior Chase Boone hurt his knee during football season and wasn’t able to wrestle. Fellow junior Tyler Whitaker hurt his back early in the season, tried to return, but had to shut down as the issue lingered. And freshman Matthew White was progressing very nicely when he dislocated his knee in early January.
Now seniors, Boone and Whitaker are joined by two classmates with their eyes firmly on state titles.
Kaleb Dunn and David Pena will likely be ranked in the top five in their weight classes this season after reaching the podium in February.
Kaleb was undefeated all season, earning co-wrestler of the conference and a regional championship, noted Priddy. Then at the state tournament, Dunn lost to fall into the consolations, then lost again to finish fifth in the state at 195.
Heavyweight Pena lost, but came back to win his way through the consolation bracket for third place.
As the two wrestler who finished above him have graduated, Pena has been ranked first in the preseason lists on RetroRankings.com.
Dunn is listed in fourth place as three higher finishers return at that class. However, Dunn bulked up to play offensive line for the football team, and Priddy expects Dunn will wrestle at 220 once the conference champion football team is done for the year.
Dunn, Pena and Boone are still with the football team, which went 10-1 in the regular season and has a home playoff game tonight.
Boone is up in the 180s, so he likely will wrestle 182 this year as 170 is a stretch for cutting weight, according to Priddy.
Whitaker has filled out and will wrestle either 145 or 152 this year.
“Tyler is doing a great job being a leader while the others are out,” said Priddy, who also is an assistant coach for the football team.
There are 14 wrestlers with the team now, with more expected after football, but Tyler is the only senior with the group every day.
For the junior class, the returning starters are Angel Alvarez, Ed Cano, Forrest Antwine, Alex Rodriguez and Michael Branch.
Three sophomores return to the starting lineup in Casey Hutchins, Matthew White and Isaac Wilhite.
Dunn and Pena were conference champions, but Antwine, Branch and Hutchins were honorable mention, and then the three are coming back from injury, said Priddy. That could lead to a bushel basket of honors by season’s end.
In fact, Dunn and Pena could accomplish a rare double feat; they could potentially be all-conference in two sports while leading their teams to conference titles, too.
As a freshman, Hutchins came just one win from qualifying for the state tournament. He lost in the regional consolation semifinals at 106 pounds, said Priddy. The coach is expecting a really good season from the sophomore.
All these athletes got plenty of experience last year, he said. Angel had a tough go, wrestling up one and sometimes two weight classes, but going against bigger opponents could have been good practice.
The team has about 10 freshmen out this year, but with so many starters back, the team doesn’t need to throw the rookies into the fire right away. And, they’ll get plenty of on-the-job training from the starters in practice.
Since the team is missing too many parts for football, Priddy said dual-team matches have been postponed, possibly into December. However, he and assistant coach Wes Evans will take six wrestlers down to Elkin’s individual tournament on Saturday for their first matches of the year.
The postponement of matches also led to the canceling of the well-attended Jimmy Martin Classic a week from Saturday.
Reach Jeff at 415-4692.