It was a vintage year; this season, the key word among most coaches is ''rebuilding." Many teams have fine underclass corps. But experience is the key to success on the mats.
So as teams look more to honing their future skills than to eyeing individual championships, here's a team-by-team preview of the forthcoming season.
Conestoga. The Pioneers were hurt as badly as any team by the swinging doors of graduation. DeHaven had a brilliant career with 103 wins after a 36- win senior campaign at 171 pounds. Granda was 32-4 last season.
Art McCall has retired as coach. Tom Riegel, a former PIAA state runner-up when he was at Catasauqua High School, replaces him and must fill the spots of 10 starters from a team that went 14-6 last season and placed third in the league.
Billy Brown was 18-9 as a freshman, and he'll be back as a sophomore in the 130-pound range. Matt Chang, a junior, also will be a help in the middleweights. Charles Devigne missed last season because of illness, but he will be a valuable senior in the middle of the Pioneer lineup.
"At least 10 of 13 varsity guys will be underclassmen," Riegel said. ''The future looks good, but this season will be a tough one."
Haverford High. The Fords are one of the few area teams with strength in the upper weights, with senior Chang Yi (189) and juniors Ray Baur (189) and Mike Sheridan (heavyweight).
Coach Jim Jones, in his 22d year, thinks this club has enough balance to battle for one of the top four places in the league. Dan Fein returns as an experienced sophomore at 103. Matt DeLosso, a junior, is solid at 119. The coach's son, Bill Jones, is a two-time section champ and will be a 125-pound senior. Mike Mercaldo was third at sectionals as a sophomore; he'll be at 140. And Jimmy Devine will fill in among the middleweights.
The Fords were 9-7-1 overall last season.
Lower Merion. This team could be one of the sleepers in the league, especially if sophomore Bill Furber (112) can bounce back after having asthma problems at the end of last season. He still qualified for districts and had 24 wins.
Chris Potter, a 140-pound junior, also won 24 matches and captured a title at last summer's Keystone Games. He is expected to break the school record of 59 career wins, probably by next month.
Other key Aces include senior Chris Esibill (125), a 20-match winner last season; senior-captain and three-year starter Mike Mark (145), and junior Joe Pollard (160).
While the Lower Merion varsity was 13-7 last season, the junior varsity
went 21-2. So coach Dave Burke, in his 12th season, should have incoming talent.
Marple Newtown. The Tigers are a couple of seasons away from league contention. Coach Stu Nathans, in his ninth season, has a super freshmen class, but the depth is limited among the upperclassmen.
Manny Mantakounis (135), Scott Heron (152) and Mike Dadd (heavyweight) will be the key senior wrestlers. A freshman, Jason Osner, could be an early bloomer at 112, but it will be hard to follow Miller, who was 32-5 as a lightweight last season.
Another 10-10 season would be a solid one for this young Marple team, which once again, has one of the most representative schedules in all of District 1.
Radnor. The team to beat? Maybe, because the Raiders have nine letterwinners back, have some depth and are coached by one of the area's most respected mentors in Skip Shoemaker, now in his 18th season.
DeLong, with 24 wins at 160 pounds, was an emotional leader of a team that set a school record for wins at 16-3. But Shoemaker still has leadership with senior tri-captains Roger Braunfeld (130), John Farley (145) and Marcos Rios (152). Braunfeld and Farley were both district qualifiers, as was junior Jeff Buck (135).
Other Raiders include sophomores Clarke Talone (112) and John McClain (119) and seniors Carlton Smith and Bob Walsh (heavyweight).
The Raiders have lost 140-pound senior Poul Jensen with a broken leg but may have the depth to overcome that setback.
"We have some real depth in the middleweights although we have nobody at 171 so we'll have to jockey the lineup around," Shoemaker said. "We need real consistent performances this year. I really think (defending champion) Springfield is the favorite in the league, though. They've done so well, they have to be the top dog. Lower Merion, Ridley and Haverford are also very good."
So should be the Raiders.
Episcopal Academy. Hoffman set the school record for career wins with 111, and along with his 1987 National Prep title, he was a three-time Pennsylvania State Independent Schools Wrestling Tournament (PSISWT) champion. So he's a big loss.
But Crawford Hill returns to coaching from a year's sabbatical and sees this season's club climbing back after a 2-3 league (10-8 overall) season. The Churchmen have already beaten St. Joseph's Prep, one of the outstanding teams of the Catholic League.
Freshman Adrian Miles had 20 wins as an eighth grader. He'll be at 119 this season. Edwin O'Connor had 20 wins also last season as a junior; he'll be back at 189. Senior Mark Weisheit, who will weigh in at 160 or 171 this season, also had a good season with 24 wins. Seniors Mike Kwon and Jeff Katz, and junior Charlie French give the Churchmen depth in the middleweights. Eddie Floyd will be a junior heavyweight.
"We're a little inexperienced at either end, but we're solid through the rest of the lineup," Hill said. "We've got some paybacks coming this year."
Haverford School. The Fords will be going for their 35th Inter-Ac crown in this, coach Neil Buckley's 45th season as the only coach Haverford has ever had. The Fords are coming off a 17-0 season and their second-straight PSISWT team title. With only three starters gone from that team, the Fords will be the league favorite again.
Chris Arcuri (125) was 17-0 as a freshman and should be one of the area's best at 125. Senior-captain Paul Chan also will be an anchor in the lighter weights. Tucker MacLean (171) is a talented senior, but Buckley will have strong underclassmen throughout his lineup in juniors Rono Ghosh (140), Greg McKechnie (145), Dan Glennon (152), Drew DiMarino (152), Sam Ryan (160) and Dave Stilley (189). Mark Kulesa will be a sophomore heavyweight.
Malvern Prep. As bright as things appear at Haverford, they are just as
bleak at Malvern. Gallagher was the rock of a team that went 8-12-1 last season. Anything close to that record would be just fine with coach Bruce Kennett, now in his 12th year.
Two juniors, heavyweight Hunter Jones and 119-pounder Eric Everts, appear to be the top grapplers, although both are battling leg injuries.
"We've got some good, tough kids," Kennett said. "But technically, we just won't be there."
Shipley School. Alex Frazier takes over the coaching reins at Shipley and acknowledges there are holes to fill after graduation got finished with a team that went 10-2 last season.
Senior Josh Marsh is back however, and he could be a steadying force at 125. He was 12-0-1 last season. Graham Driscoll (130) is also back after a 12-2 freshman campaign. Todd Kelly, a junior, will be at 135 this season after a 16-0 season at 130. And Pat Staib, a co-captain along with Marsh, will hold down the 152 spot.
But the experience drops after that. Junior Scott Sander is working hard at 140. And Chad Trexler will give it a go at 145, although he's only a freshman.
"We have a lot of strength in the middle," Frazier said. "But we might have to forfeit four or five weight classes a match. The only way to look at it is to think about developing kids for the future."
Valley Forge Military Academy. Trojans coach Craig Evans is pleased with his team's work ethic. But it will take time before all the effort shows on the mat. Valley Forge expects to take some early lumps this season.
Paul Burkhead (119), who was second at the PSISWT and sixth at the national preps, is back and should be one of the area's best. After that . . .
"We may have six people (wrestling varsity) who have never seen a mat before this year," Evans said. "But the kids are really working hard. I really think there will be teams we'll lose to early that if we wrestled them later, like in the middle of February, we could beat."
PIONEER ATHLETIC CONFERENCE
Great Valley. Montgomery won nearly 30 matches last season, but just as important, it was a leader in the practice room. The Patriots, coming off a 5-15-1 season, will need that leadership again to compete in the rough-and- tumble PAC-10, one of District 1's best leagues.
Although a junior, Eric Stoltz (130) will be one of the team's captains along with senior heavyweight Mike Salisbury. Senior Rich Miller (135) is back after missing most of last season with mononucleosis. Sophomore Jamie Bankert (125) and freshmen Pete Montgomery (112) and Tom Deja (140) also could contribute.
"We have nobody at 171 or 189; we're all sandwiched from 140 on down," said Joe Tornetta, in his second season as coach. "We're going to be giving up some forfeits, there's no doubt about that."
Phoenixville. The Phantoms seem to be a year away, with basically a junior and sophomore team. Juniors Rob Sweigart (125, 19-6 last season), Herman Yeager (145, 10-10) and Chris Bednarczyk (171, 10-10) will be the anchors. But repeating the 7-11 record of last season may be a long shot.
Coach Gary Barron, in his fourth year, agrees with Tornetta in picking Spring-Ford, Owen J. Roberts and Pottstown as the class teams of the league.
DELAWARE VALLEY LEAGUE
Harriton. Brad Roseland collected a school-record 210 points in his four- year mat career at Harriton. And coach Bill Zimmerman, in his 31st season, would love to have one of his current grapplers approach the talent of the Class AA District 1 champion, now graduated.
Zimmerman has some talented wrestlers returning, too. Sage Landau, now a junior, was 20-4-1 last season. He'll be at 130. Fellow junior Adam Roseland (125), who went 13-12-1 last season, will also be a lineup steady.
Other key Rams, back after 11-win seasons, include seniors Gautam Chinta (112), Phil Bayless (119), Elron Yellin (135), Mike Colleran (152) and junior Adam Small (160).
"A lot of those kids have double-digit losses, too, but that means they have some experience," Zimmerman said. "I'm optimistic, since they're working hard. As long as they don't get pinned, they have a chance to do a good job."
SUBURBAN ONE AMERICAN
Upper Merion. Coach George Zapien made an impression in his first season, getting the Rams to 4-6-1 in the conference's Liberty Division after the Vikings had but one win the year before. But Boccella will be a big loss. He was a gutsy, aggressive wrestler who led by example.
Senior Alex Schlachterman (135) and junior Dan Cregan (145) will be the team leaders. And a strong sophomore class should also lift the Vikings.
FRIENDS SCHOOL LEAGUE
Friends' Central. First-year head coach Mark Fifer allows that there won't be any superstars on this season's Phoenix squad. And there is only one senior. But the coach sees a solid lineup, and it has proven itself in the early going this season with a 3-0 mark. Friends' Central was 7-7 overall last season.
Senior Ben Bergman (145) and junior Adam Granite (119) will be captains of the team. Josh Deringer (125) will be another key junior with sophomores Dan Levitt (112) and Coleman Lindsley (135) also anchors in the lineup.
Hill Top School. It's another new year for the Hawks, as only freshman Kevin Sauter (119) returns to the lineup. Sauter was a Tri-County Tournament and Shipley Tournament champion.
"The rest of the team is brand new," said coach Chas Cognato, in his seventh season. "We're real young and with a lot of lightweights. And some of them have experience. It looks like an aggressive bunch, too."
Post-graduate Sean Raynes (heavyweight), first-year senior Peter Foos (135), and sophomores Jesse Fellows (130) and Pat Castefero (125) should all contribute. The Hawks hope to better last season's 0-12 mark.
Phelps School. Captains Bob Powell, a senior 171-pounder, and 160-pound sophomore Austin Maack have been a big help in the early going, said first- year coach Dixie Marich, as he familiarizes himself with the Lions' program. It's a young team, with only three seniors, coming off a 6-6-1 campaign.
John Posey (152) and Chas Quandel (135) also have shown promise in the early action for Marich, who formerly wrestled and refereed in New York.
"It's great to win, but as long as they learn something, that's what is important," Marich said. "I'm committed to the program. Hopefully, if nothing else, the kids will be in shape by the end of the year."
Woodlynde School. The Warriors will be young, as first-year head coach Chris Miller has a raft of eighth and ninth graders with only one senior and four juniors on his roster. Senior Gunnar Roberts (135) has decided to take the season off, which leaves a big hole in the lineup. He owns most of the Warrior wrestling records.
Mike Pettit (152) will be team captain.
"He really wants it this year," Miller said. "After him, I don't know who will surprise. Scott Riley (112) could, even though he's just an eighth grader."
The Warriors were 4-10 last season.
Delco Christian. Yet another area team that must rebuild after seven starters graduated. A middle-school program has been started, but it will take a few seasons before that feeder program can help the varsity Knights.
Coach Doug Haring, in his 10th season, will have some talent to work with. Junior John Fiorelli (145) was 12-5 last season, and junior Rob Meely (140) is in top shape after a fine cross-country season. Those two will be tri-captains along with junior Jon Batty (130).
Sophomores Jared White (119) and Rob Blair (171) also will see mat time. The Knights went 6-5 last season and Haring said a .500 season would be satisfactory.
Archbishop Carroll. New coach Mike McGinnis says he'll stick with the Patriots' mat program until they "throw me out," which is good news for Carroll after a succession of coaches in the last few seasons.
Seniors Tom Potter (140) and Tom Haly (171), and sophomores Bill Durning (119) and Tom Hart (152) have shown the most promise so far for the Pats, coming off a 2-15 season.
"The kids might get hammered early, but if they hold together, they should be fine," McGinnis said. "It's a building year and it's not going to happen overnight. But if they're willing to put the time into it, I'll put the time into it."