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Clearfield wrestlers have solid core
Thursday, December 6, 2012
By Rich Murawski Assistant Sports Editor
HYDE - The Clearfield wrestling team had an uncharacteristic down year a season ago, compiling a 3-12 dual meet record and only sending one representative to the PIAA Tournament in Hershey. Clearfield returns just seven letterwinners from that squad and currently only has 16 kids in the room.
But Bison head coach Jeff Aveni says despite the low numbers, the pieces are in place to have a successful 2012-13 campaign.
"I think the guys we put on the mat are going to be solid," he said. "They are going to compete at the level we need them to. It's just a shame that we don't have a couple weights where I know there are kids in the hallway, but they don't want to put in the effort to be part of the team.
"That's shame from a team standpoint, but it's a benefit to them in the room because the guys that are here want to be here, and they want to work and get better. I'm seeing that attitude more and more every day. When you see kids upset because they had a bad practice, that's a good thing."
The Bison have just four seniors on the roster in letterwinners Shane Billings, Nolan Barger, Dylan Graham and Christian Stone, and have an even smaller junior class with letterwinners Mike Beck and Jake Verchick, along with John Gavlock.
But a sophomore class - featuring letterwinner Noah Cline - that is six kids strong, and solid youngsters in junior high has Aveni excited about this year and beyond.
"We knew we didn't have any kids in the sophomore class last year, and now we don't have many in the junior class," Aveni said. "And our senior class has been small since the day they came in here. When they came up there were only three of them and we picked up Billings to make four.
"Those two classes are still killing us in numbers, but it's coming back in the ninth and 10th grade classes, and I think we'll be alright in eighth. We're coming back as a dual meet team. It's stinks to have the low numbers, but as a program, I see it coming back."
Barger, a two-time PIAA qualifier, and Stone, who has made three trips to Hershey will anchor the Bison. Each is closing in on 100 career wins and both are gunning for big things this season.
"Christian and Nolan are coming in as seniors with a lot of unfinished business," Aveni said. "I know the level they are capable of wrestling at. Coach (Brent) Lykens and Coach (Andy) Squires know what they are capable of and, to an extent, we have put it on our shoulders to get them there. We need to get those guys producing at the end of the season the way they produce the rest of the season.
"I think we have a game plan in place, and I think they have the right attitude. Now, we just need to keep pushing and make them step higher and higher and be ready for the end of the year."
Graham is also a team leader, who upped his game considerably as a junior. He placed first in District 9 a year ago and just missed a trip to states with a fourth-place finish at regionals. He is another Bison Aveni thinks can go very far this year.
"Dylan flipped the switch last year," Aveni said. "Dylan's going to do what he does. The way he has approached practice since about halfway through his junior year, Dylan gets better every day.
"With his attitude, his strength and his style of wrestling, the sky is the limit for him too. He's going to be real fun to watch because I think he turned the corner last year on how to go from being real good to possibly being great."
Aveni also expects his other returning letterwinners to be building blocks for the team.
"We also brought back Beck and Cline, and Verchick is back from an injury and that is a big help to us at the upper weights," he said. "We want to see those guys continue to progress. I'm anxious to see where those guys are."
Verchick missed the entire 2011-12 season with an injury after lettering his sophomore year; and Cline burst on the scene in 2011 as a freshman who improved continuously throughout the year.
"Noah closed the gap with everybody last year," Aveni said. "He was wrestling tight matches with all the good kids last year. Now he has to be able to score on those guys. He has to be able to grind it out like he did last year, but now we need to score on them.
"If they can't score on us with a lead, they're not going to score on us when we have the lead. Noah has been taking some good shots and he's working in his finishes and I think he's in a better situation this year."
Cline, who placed second in District 9 last season, will lead a solid group of lightweights.
Freshmen Logan Gilbert and Josiah McClarren are slated to compete at 106 and 113, respectively, with Cline bumping up to 120 after spending his first varsity season at 106.
Sophomore Jonathan Sponsler, who wrestled a handful of varsity matches last season will go at 126. while sophomores Jace Peters and Tyler Pike provide solid depth.
"Josiah and Logan are doing a good job pushing the other lightweights, and Jace Peters is in there standing toe-to-toe with all of them too," Aveni said. "We have a little bit of depth down there with Jace. Tyler Pike is in there too. He's willing to learn and he's a fun kid to have in the room."
Graham (132), Stone (138) and Barger (152) give Clearfield a stellar group of middleweights, while sophomore Grant Climie will see his first varsity action as the team's 145-pounder.
"Climie is going to be raw. He's still developing, and he's young," Aveni said. "Hopefully we can help him figure it out and do what he needs to do."
Beck will man the 160-pound weight class, while another sophomore - Josh Kennedy - looks to hold down the 170-pound spot. Junior John Gavlock is also in the mix at 170.
"Right now, Josh Kennedy is my Noah Cline of last year," Aveni said. "He's a kid that walked through the door and said, ‘I'm here to get better, and I want to be able to compete at this level.' He has worked his butt off every day in the room. He's banging heads with Verchick and he sticks his nose in there and wants to win. He's getting better every day."
Verchick follows Kennedy at 182, while the Bison will not have anyone at 195 or 220 to begin the season.
Billings will hopefully be back to take over the 220-pound spot, but is currently out due to a medical issue.
The heavyweight class will be manned by another sophomore, as Curt Mignot will make it at least five from that class in the starting lineup.
"Curt's going to take his lumps there as a 10th grader," Aveni said. "But he's a big, strong kid and willing to learn. He wants to work. We're going to see him get better.
"This sophomore class is going to be the turning point of everything. I see them becoming a very strong class. The whole group is having fun with it, and I think they're going to continue to get better. It's fun to watch kids like this compete and grow."
As far as goals are concerned, Aveni says this team is more than capable of putting together a winning dual meet season.
"With the lineup we're taking to Top Hat, I think with a little bit of maneuvering, we have to go into it looking to have a winning season. I think we're capable of that," he said. "We might be giving up one or two forfeits, but that's just one match where you need to get back a fall. You expect one of those senior leaders to be at the top of the game and go out there and equalize that forfeit.
"Now you put it on 12 other kids to win the match. Looking at our schedule, I think we can win some matches with the lineup we're putting out there."
Aveni, who will be assisted by Lykens and Squires as well as Scott McKenzie and Doug Mignot, also thinks the entire squad has what it takes to get to be extremely competitive at the district tournament that features a new setup this season.
In addition to the familiar District 9 foes in Bradford, DuBois, Punxsutawney and St. Marys, the Bison will also contend with the likes of Jersey Shore, Shikellamy, Selinsgrove and Williamsport in a combined District 4-9 event.
The top four wrestlers at each weight class will advance to regionals.
"You have to get into the Top 4," Aveni said. "I think barring any weights getting jammed up with a bunch of Barger's and Stone's, every kid we put on the mat should have the goal of getting to regionals. It's a realistic goal for these kids. Every one of these kids is capable of getting in the Top 4 in the district."
Clearfield opens its season Friday at the Top Hat Tournament in Williamsport.

Roster
*Nolan Barger, *Shane Billings, *Dylan Graham, *Christian Stone.
Juniors
*Mike Beck, John Gavlock, *Jake Verchick.
Sophomores
*Noah Cline, Grant Clymie, Josh Kennedy, Curt Mignot, Jace Peters, Tyler Pike, Jonathan Sponsler.
Freshmen
Logan Gilbert, Josiah McClarren.
*Returning letterwinners

Schedule
December
7-at Williamsport Top Hat Tournament, 5 p.m.; 8-at Williamsport Top Hat Tournament, 10 a.m.; 11-DuBois; 13-at Bald Eagle Area; 18-Central; 20-Punxsutawney.
January
4-at Meadville Tool City Tournament, 4 p.m.; 5-at Meadville Tool City Tournament, 8:30 a.m.; 8-at Penns Valley, 7:15 p.m.; 19-Bison Duals, 8:30 a.m.; 22-at Bellefonte; 25-at New Oxford Tournament, 5 p.m.; 26-at New Oxford Tournament, 9 a.m.; 29-St. Marys; 31-at Tyrone.
February
5-Philipsburg-Osceola; 7-Huntingdon; 22/23-at District 9 Tournament (Clarion University), TBA.
March
1/2-at Northwest Regional Tournament, TBA; 7/8/9-AT PIAA Tournament, TBA.
Matches begin at 7 p.m. unless noted.
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