In exercise that I try to do before every season, I’ve gone through both divisions to identify who the contenders, sleepers and favorites are in each. This is my way of forecasting how I think the season might turn out, using my knowledge of the talent that every team in the section has coming back. I’m sure I’ll be off with some of my predictions, but I’m also confident that many of the teams that I’m listing will have strong seasons.
Since Division 1 features more teams, I listed three contenders and three sleepers there, while only choosing one team for each category in Division 2. At some point during the season, I will update my current tournament rankings, but think of this as a template to get us started.
The Champ –
North Rockland: After taking second in the section in 2011-12, the Red Raiders were able to capture a long awaited championship last season with a dominant team. North Rockland was clearly the best dual meet and tournament team in Section 1, leaving no doubt about who the strongest program was. The Red Raiders had a grand total of 10 wrestlers place and collected almost 40 more total points than second-place Yorktown. They earned their title convincingly with quality wrestlers from top-to-bottom.
The Favorite –
North Rockland: It may be hard to believe, but you could argue that North Rockland may be even better this year than it was last season. The Red Raiders return seven of their 10 wrestlers who placed, including both of their All-State wrestlers in Matt Caputo and Blaise Benderoth. They might have better numbers than any other program in the section and will not have a weak spot in their lineup. Once again, North Rockland looks like the team to beat in both dual meet and tournament settings. Last season could have been the start of a dynasty.
The Contenders –
Fox Lane: The team that I think has the best shot of taking second in the section is the Foxes. They are coming off of a third place finish, having previously won three straight titles, so it’s very fair to call them the most consistent program in Section 1 over the last half decade. With five of its six All-Section wrestlers back, Fox Lane has the firepower to contend for a title. But with no defending section champs among the returners, the only way that I can see the Foxes challenging North Rockland is if they get at least two of those guys over the hump.
John Jay-East Fishkill: The Patriots had a relatively young team last season, yet still managed to send 11 wrestlers to sectionals and take fourth overall. They could be even more formidable this year with nine of those sectional qualifiers back, including state-place finisher Brett Perry. Aside from Perry, JJEF only has one other returning All-Section wrestler, which makes it a long shot that it could challenge for a title. But with so many returners who have wrestled on the sectional stage, it’s probably safe to say that the Patriots are in good shape for another top five finish.
Pearl River: The Pirates are one of only two teams with two returning section champs, so that alone should put them in the mix. Along with John Muldoon and James Kelly, they return a total of six of their seven sectional qualifiers from last season, which makes this the most experienced team that coach Grier Yorks has had in awhile. Pearl River took sixth overall last season and it’s difficult to imagine a scenario in which it doesn’t crack the top five this year. Barring injuries, the Pirates have a lot of reasons to be optimistic.
The Sleepers –
Arlington: The Admirals return eight of their nine sectional qualifiers from last season, which is a clear indication that they are poised to make a jump. After taking 13th overall last season, they probably aren’t a team that many consider to be in the section title conversation, but I think it would be a mistake to count them out. Aside from the eight returning sectional qualifiers, Arlington also has an ace up its sleeve. Nick Tolli was keeping pace with the likes of Muldoon and eventual state champ Alex Delacruz in that loaded 120-pound weight class last season before he got hurt, forcing him to miss the sectional tournament. But his return this year will provide a major boost for the Admirals.
Brewster: If you look at recent history, it tells you that the Bears have been a better dual meet team than they are in tournament formats. They won the Section 1 duals just two years ago, but haven’t been able finish quite as strong at sectionals. I think this could be the year that perception changes. Like Arlington, Brewster returns eight of its nine sectional qualifiers from last season, including defending section champ Liam Erickson and three others who placed. The Bears finished one spot ahead of the Admirals at 12th overall last season, so I’d look for them to make a similar projected jump into the top 10 — and possibly even top five.
Tappan Zee: The only team besides Pearl River to return two defending section champs is the Dutchmen — and you could argue that TZ is the team most likely to have multiple champs. John Hartnett and Mike Manni will be back occupying the 220- and 285-pound spots in the Dutchmen lineup, where they will be heavy favorites to repeat. That alone should almost guarantee another top 10 finish, but TZ does have a lot of other holes to fill. It has no one else who looks like a sure bet to place, but if a couple of guys can emerge, this team could be right back in the mix.
Others to watch: Clarkstown North, Clarkstown South, Horace Greeley, New Rochelle, Suffern
The Champ –
Nanuet: The Golden Knights have built a dynasty with three straight titles coming into this season, but this will be their toughest test yet. The core that was largely responsible for those titles have graduated, leaving coach Carmine Serra with 10 spots to fill — or, two-thirds of his lineup. That includes each of his three All-State wrestlers, so it’s probably fair to say that the era of dominance is over at Nanuet. With that being said, this team will still be in the mix. No D2 program has been able to consistently produce new talent like the Golden Knights, and they have capable wrestlers ready to fill most of those vacancies. They won’t have as much leeway this season, but if things break their way, a four-peat isn’t out of the question.
The Favorite –
Putnam Valley: As I wrote in yesterday’s post with our new poll, there really is no clear favorite in D2. But considering the Tigers’ trend — taking third place in 2011 and second last year — coupled with the fact that they bring back more All-Section wrestlers than Nanuet, I think they’re as safe of a bet as any. Put Valley returns three section finalists to a team that seems to get better every year, so the talent is there on paper. Now, the key for the Tigers will be to avoid reading things like this and focus on the task at hand. If they stay the course, a title could very well be theirs.
The Contender –
Edgemont: For the first two years of Nanuet’s run, it was the Panthers who were the top challenger for the title. They took second in 2010 and 2011, but fell behind Putnam Valley last year when a couple of their top wrestlers were upset at sectionals. Edgemont loses a few key guys — most notably state champ Trey Aslanian — but brings back a bigger portion of its lineup than Nanuet does. At this point, you have to rank the Panthers slightly behind a Putnam Valley team that finished higher last season, but it’s pretty darn close. If they get a better showing from some of their section title hopefuls this time around, this could be the year that Edgemont gets it done.
The Sleeper –
Pleasantville: The Panthers were the last team to win a D2 championship besides Nanuet back in 2009, and after a couple of down years in between, they appear to be ready to vie for a title once again. Pleasantville returns both of its section champs — James Bathon and Stephen Paternostro — from last season’s team, which took fourth overall. That suggests that the Panthers could make a jump, which jumbles the section title picture even more so. I see this as a four-team race, and I wouldn’t be surprised if any of the four teams that I’ve identified take home the hardware.
Others to watch: Croton-Harmon, Irvington, Pawling