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Butler wrestling season tough to gauge

Butler sophomore Santino Sloboda
Butler sophomore Santino Sloboda is coming off a 40-win season as a freshman. He was a WPIAL runner-up and placed fourth in the PIAA Tournament. Eagle File Photo
Golden Tornado facing early obstacles; solid matmen return throughout county

Butler wrestling coach Scott Stoner knows what he’s up against as he begins his 31st season at the helm of the Golden Tornado.

“My coaching skills are going to be challenged this year,” Stoner said. “It’s up to me to bring a lot of young guys along.”

While Butler returns stellar wrestlers like sophomore Santino Sloboda (40-3, WPIAL runner-up) at 121 pounds, junior Kase Chopp (34-9) at 139 and junior Gavin Rush (24-14) at 145, the Tornado are also starting three freshmen and are dealing with a number of injuries. And Ana Malovicvh will be wrestling for the school’s first varsity girls team.

Rush has a shoulder injury, Troy Ritson (189) is coming off a knee injury from football, Brennan Michael (172) has a torn labrum and sophomore Sutton Stoner is out for the season with a dislocated elbow.

“We have the ability to grow, but we’ll be piecing a lineup together here,” Coach Stoner said. “Some of our more inexperienced guys at the varsity level had great careers in junior high. We’ll see how they progress.

Butler is coming off a 21-2 season — the two losses by a total of three points — and finished fifth at the Chartiers Houston Tournament over the weekend. Chopp and sophomore Ethan Deless won four matches at that tourney, Sloboda went 3-0, Nicholas Savannah and Sullivan Stutz — both freshmen — won three matches each.

Butler’s initial girls varsity team, coached by Nathan Bottiger, has 10 wrestlers. That team opens the season by hosting a 10-team tournament at 12:30 p.m. Saturday in the Intermediate High School gym. Malovich, 51-34 in her career with the boys team, will be wrestling in an invitation-only tournament in Ohio that day.

Kaitlyn Plopi, a junior, has a 3-6 career record with the boys team. Brin Zehmisch, a freshman at 112 pounds, competed at nationals in Fargo, N.D., last summer.

Bottiger cited four first-year wrestlers — sophomores Melissa Arcuri, Haley Guseck and Lauren Minda, and freshman Lillianna Burgardt — as girls “who have really bought in to the sport, put in the time and effort. I’m excited about what we have here starting out.”

Josh Orris is in his second year as Knoch head coach, guiding the Knights into the WPIAL team playoffs last year.

“We’re a young, developing program, but I think we can get back into the team playoffs,” Orris said.

Two football linemen — Wyatt Foster (215) and Parker Anderson (285) — anchor the top part of the lineup. Owen Layhew is a sophomore standout at152 pounds. Miranda LaJevic (107) and Braycee Ireland (114) are two female wrestlers who posted near .500 records a year ago.

“We’ll have a full lineup this year and I expect us to keep improving,” Orris said. “Parker Anderson is one of the most athletic heavyweights I’ve been around in a while. It will be fun watching him compete.“

Ben Rings is coaching Mars again this season and returns a few wrestlers coming off solid years. Liam Hein (152) was 10-8 last season and won four matches at the Chartiers Houston Tournament last weekend. Cooper Courson (172) was 12-18 last year while Adam Budzilek (285) was 9-12. He is a sophomore who won two matches at Chartiers Houstron.

Paxton Hartle, a freshman at 127, won two matches at the Chartiers Houston tourney as well.

Darin Lyles is entering his fifth season at North Catholic. The Trojans graduated 19-match winner Matt Denninger from last season.

“A 19-win season is a lot for us,” Lyles said. “We’re always struggling with numbers because we don’t have a a natural feeder system. But we do have some promising kids.”

Among them are junior Scott Huffmyer at 139 pounds, who already has three wins this season, senior Gabe Paredes (9-7 last year), sophomore Angelo Amelio at 133, sophomore Logan Brethauer at 127 and freshman Victor Wagner at 107.

“I think we can be competitive as a team, in our section this year,” Lyles said. “Making the team playoffs is a possibility for us.”

Seneca Valley coach Kevin Wildrick has one of his younger lineups in a while, with only three senior anchors in the lineup. They are Connor Smith (33-10) at 113 pounds, Jack Tofanelli (12-17) at 121 and Roman Royal (13-12) at 285.

Other veteran starters returning for the Raiders are sophomore Zach Hill (21-12) at 133, junior Brody Pirt (11-10) at 145, sophomore Corey Wolfe (15-17) at 160 and sophomore Thomas Wuycheck (14-18) at 215.

Slippery Rock coach Denton Zeronas has helped build the Rocket program to the point where “we’ve got our biggest freshmen class since I’ve been here.

“Our youth program is kicking in and paying off at this level now,” he said.

Sophomore Zac Turberville won 25 matches as a freshman and will be wrestling at 152 or 160 pounds. Other top Rocket returnees are junior Kurt Shamblin (12-14) at 215, senior Josh Tomasovic (14-13) at 145 and sophomore Hunter Doerflinger (15-19) at 133.

“Our big goal this year is to get to the second day of the District 10 Duals,” Zeronas said. “We’ve never done that and this lineup is deep enough to make that a realistic possibility. These freshmen we have are talented and they will bolster this team.“

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