The 2010-11 season of high school wrestling kicks off this weekend throughout the state. For the bulk of Collier County programs, rebuilding is the name of the game.
From Palmetto Ridge to Lely, Barron Collier and even South Fort Myers, area wrestling lost a rash of seniors to graduation last season. But the biggest loss was unquestionably reigning national champion Josh DaSilveira, who transferred from the Cougars to Fort Lauderdale-Cardinal Gibbons, the top-ranked team in Class 1A.
While Barron Collier might lack another state title front-runner to fill DaSilveira’s place, don’t expect the Cougars to suffer too much, thanks to coach Jeff Mustari’s ability to assemble one of the best staffs in Southwest Florida.
“I got rid of one coach and I picked up two great coaches; I can already see the difference in morale with the team,” Mustari said. “You can see a difference when you’ve got these guys running the room. It allows me to bounce around and I’ve never had that.
“We’re not where I want to be, but we’ve still got three months ahead of us, so we’ll be OK. We’ve got a system in place that we’re working on with the coaching staff, and I hope by the end of the year everything jells.”
Barron Collier added assistants Tony Partello and Mark Carter in the offseason. Partello won a pair of state titles for the Cougars in the 1990s, and wrestled Division I at Chattanooga. Carter spent the last five seasons as an assistant at Palmetto Ridge, and was a longtime assistant at Naples before that.
The Cougars staff also features Dusty Leutz. The Lely graduate and former Division II wrestler at Limestone College enters his third season on the staff.
Mustari also praised Barron’s administration, which features former Bears wrestling coach Mark Rosenbalm as athletic director, and a principal who has traveled with the Cougars to the state finals in Tim Kutz.
“You can’t have two better administrators than that,” Mustari said. “It’s a huge advantage. … They’re involved, and that makes a difference.”
On the mat, the Cougars open with just three wrestlers ranked among the top 16 of their respective weight class in Class 2A, according to Scout.com. Senior Austin Vajen tops the list at 10th at 135 pounds, junior Harold Sawal ranks 14th at 125, and junior Stephen Decker is 16th at 140.
One glaring omission, however, is Bobby Dehnz. The senior sat out last season after transferring to Barron from Palmetto Ridge.
“I’ll use that as motivation,” Dehnz said. “I think since I sat out, I don’t know if people know where I’m at or what I’m going to do this year. … I believe I can win a state championship this year; I’m ready.”
Dehnz, who won’t join the team until the football season ends, plans to compete at 145 pounds. He also said Barron will benefit from the presence of his older brother, Richie. The three-time state champion at Palmetto Ridge plans to serve as a volunteer coach with the Cougars.
“We’ve got some studs on the team; that’s what I’m happy for. I think we’ll surprise a lot of people,” Bobby Dehnz said. “I feel like the lower weights are there. I haven’t really seen the heavier weights but after football season … I think we’ll be legit.”
Most area teams hope to surprise the wrestling community this season since just 20 wrestlers made the preseason rankings.
In 1A, South Fort Myers features four ranked individuals. Senior Anthony Debonis, who placed fifth last season, is fourth at 189; junior Mario Vega is eighth at 119; senior Tyler Branville is 11th at 103; and junior Courtney Fuller is 16th at 160.
Lely, which lost state champion Wismit Moinius to graduation, begins the season with three ranked wrestlers. Senior Guillermo Moreno is ninth at 135, while seniors Kevin Moinius and Davenson Cyceron are 13th at 145 and 152, respectively.
Estero also has three individuals ranked in 1A. Senior Mohammad Farah is eighth at heavyweight, junior Jimmy Keegan is 15th at 135, and senior Kyle Riesen is 16th at 140.
Immokalee senior Jesus Vidaurri is ranked 12th at 145, while Indians junior Jose Rubio is 16th at 189.
Aside from Barron, only Naples and Palmetto Ridge feature ranked wrestlers in 2A. Golden Eagles sophomore Joe Guelfi is ranked 12th at 125 and senior Cesar Delarosa 15th at 140. The Bears feature Naples transfer Sean McClimans, who is ninth at 125, eighth-ranked junior Esteban Rua at 152, and junior Nick Navarro is 12th at 171.
“Everybody lost a lot; there’s just not a lot right now,” Palmetto Ridge coach Steve Hart said. “The county is pretty young, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. By the end of the year, everybody will be a lot better.”