Despite an unusually high amount of injuries last season, the Exeter Twp. High School wrestling team had a good season. The Eagles were 5-2 in the Berks League and had some individual success in the post-season tournaments.
The Eagles have a good amount of talent back from last year's team, but they will have to come up with some surprises from the younger wrestlers to compete for a division title.
About 2/3 of the team will consist of sophomores and freshmen. But already several of them have shown that they are ready to make a big impact on the team already.
"We have a large team this year, with some really promising young talent and some key returning starters,' said Exeter head wrestling coach Jonathan Rugg. "Last year we were hit by the injury bug a lot, and it was hard to recover from. This season is no different. If we can stay healthy, I think Exeter is really going to surprise some people.'
Leading the team will be seniors Tristan Watts and Scott Baker.
Watts has started for the Eagles since he was a freshman and is expected to reach the 100 win milestone this season.
"He has come a long way since ninth grade and has developed into one of the most complete wrestlers on the team,' said Coach Rugg. "He is a team leader and we expect him to qualify for the state tournament. He made it to the District 3-AAA Tournament last year, but lost two of three in the event and did not qualify for states.
Baker, a starter for his second season, also made it to the district tournament, where he lost his first two bouts. He would like to improve on that this year.
"He's been with us since his freshman season. He was patient his first two year, worked extremely hard and was very coachable,' said Rugg. "Now he is a leader and one of the hardest working kids on the team. His patience paid off last year when he qualified for districts.
Ethan Stever, a junior, is in his third season as a starter for Exeter. After a promising freshman season, his sophomore year was interrupted by an injury. Still, he came back to qualify, and win a match, at the district tournament. Coach Rugg expects a 30-win season from him and maybe a trip to the state tournament.
Brett Kulp and Scott Schaeffer are two sophomores who had very good freshmen seasons.
Kulp was a 30-match winner last year and his potential is limitless.
"Brett hjas worked really hard this off-season, lifting, getting stronger and competing,' said Rugg. "I know that Brett has some very high goals this season, and I have all the confidence in him to reach those goals.'
Schaeffer won 17 matches last year as a freshman at 195 pounds. This season he will go down to 182.
"Scott has a motor that just doesn't quit, and as time goes by, he's going to continue to improve and be a very tough wrestler,' said Rugg.
Austin DeSanto and Tyler Bagoly are a pair of freshmen that Rugg really likes.
DeSanto was a top-notch wrestler in junior high who went undefeated over the past two years. He's a nationally ranked freshman who should make an impact on the team immediately.
"The thing I'm most excited about with Austin is that in my experience, talent like his is usually accompanied by laziness,' said Rugg. "Austin is the exact opposite, being one of the hardest workers in the room every day. He has committed himself to the sport during the entire off-season.'
Bagoly also had a very successful junior wrestling career and much is expected from him in high school. Of course this is his freshman season, so he has a lot of learning and maturing to do.
"The think that excites me with Tyler is that he's a gamer,' said Rugg. "He loves competition and will battle with anyone. Tyler is going to have a lot of success this year and we are excited to have him on the varsity team.'
Since the team is so young, it's hard to predict how good the Eagles will be this season. But they have several younger players who have the potential for big seasons. If that happens, they certainly have a shot at a division title this year.
They would even like to win a district team match, and believe they have the team to do just that. Of course, in order to do that, they have to stay healthier than they were last year. According to Rugg, it's all up to the wrestlers themselves.
"Our young wrestlers have to be coachable,' said Rugg. They have to be willing to listen and learn from our coaches after every win and loss, and during every practice.
"They also have to embrace the grind. Wrestling isn't a sport for everyone, we all know that. The ones who embrace the daily hard work and grind that comes with the sport, that's were success is created.'
The Eagles start the season with a pair of road matches - Dec. 7 at Saucon Valley and Dec. 10 at Conrad Weiser. Their first home match will be against Conrad Weiser on Dec. 11.