Returning core ready to lead Gateway squad
Gateway wrestling head coach R.J. Santilli said he has a lot to be excited about as the 2012-13 season opens at home this weekend.
The Gators host the annual Eastern Area Invitational Wrestling Tournament on Friday and Saturday, and, he said, it will give his wrestlers a competitive beginning to what he hopes is a rewarding campaign.
“We have a nice core coming back, even though we will be missing a couple of guys,” Santilli said.
“This time of the year is exciting. Things are new and we're going through a lot of new things, getting our routine down.”
A pair of wrestlers who competed at WPIALs — senior A.J. Wilkins and Jaymar Parrish — return to the lineup.
Wilkins made a return trip to WPIALs in 2012, and he went 2-2 in the 106-pound bracket and finished his junior season 26-9.
“Everyone is really excited,” he said.
“A lot of guys are stepping up and are ready to bring it.”
Wilkins leads half a dozen seniors into their final season with a lot to accomplish.
“There is a little sense of urgency,” he said. “It's our last year, and we know we have to give it our all. We need to do what we have to do to meet our goals, and that means pushing extra hard in practice and in matches. At the same time, we've experienced a lot and know what we have to do to get the job done.”
Wilkins, the 2011 Section 1 champion at 106 will move up and wrestle at 120 pounds this season.
“A.J. looks great,” Santilli said. “He's wrestling with a lot of energy. He's excited, and I'm excited to coach him this year.”
Senior Jaymar Parrish will move up to heavyweight, but the start of his season will be delayed as he recovers from a broken foot suffered late in football season.
“He's still in a walking boot, and will be out for another month,” Santilli said.
“It will probably be January before he starts wrestling again. Injuries are a part of sports, unfortunately. Everyone knows that. But he will be back and will be a strong competitor. The key is for him to be healthy down the stretch.”
Parrish competed at WPIALs last season and went 1-2 in the 220 bracket to finish 22-7 overall.
Santilli said senior R.J. Hughes, who competed at WPIALs at heavyweight last year, did not come out for the team this season.
But Wilkins and Parrish will be joined by fellow seniors Tyler Boehm (145), Mike Limbacher (152), Dom McKenna (195) and Malik Shuman (170).
Boehm went 10-14 last season, while McKenna was 7-3 in limited varsity opportunities. Shuman forged an 11-16 mark, while Limbacher was 9-14.
Junior Austin Davidson (160) returns as an anchor to the lineup after compiling a 19-14 record last season.
Fellow juniors Thaer Shouman (120) and Cody Pawlowski (182) also return after recording 13-13 and 10-9 records, respectively.
Sophomore Justin Leone was the only freshman varsity starter last year, and he returns to the lineup at 132.
“It was a very good learning experience for Justin,” Santilli said. “There were some wins and some losses, but he learned to overcome those losses. He realized he needed to work hard to get better. He's at the same weight class, but he's a lot stronger. He was hurt a little bit at the end of last season. I think he's going to win a lot more matches this season.”
Santilli said there are some younger wrestlers and new faces who can make an impact.
“There's been some good competition for spots in the lineup,” Santilli said. “We don't have a lot of numbers, but where we're going to have depth, we're going to have good depth. It's always good to have good competition in the room. Any coach wants that.”
Gateway wrestlers tested themselves last weekend at what Santilli said was a challenging Butler scrimmage.
“They got in two straight hours of live wrestling,” Santilli said. “It was a good measuring stick. It was a chance to see where they are, especially with conditioning. They worked hard on conditioning in the offseason, but once you get on the mat, it can be a different story.”
Gateway follows up the EAIWT competition by jumping right into Section 1 competition on Wednesday at home against McKeesport.
The Gators wrestle a section match at WPIAL power Kiski Area on Dec. 20 before closing out the month at the annual Southmoreland Tournament.
Gateway visits section rival Penn Hills on Jan. 2 before a nonsection clash with Plum on Jan. 4.
One of the largest opening-weekend wrestling tournaments will whet the appetite of local high school wrestling fans, as the 35th annual Eastern Area Invitational Wrestling Tournament will be Friday and Saturday at Gateway High School.
Twenty teams — up from 16 last year — will be in action, including three local squads — Plum, Penn Hills and Penn-Trafford — who are former tournament participants.
“That's nice to see,” Santilli said.
“Originally, it was called the Eastern Area tournament and designed for teams in the eastern suburbs. That kind of spread out and included other teams who wanted to come in. That was nice, and you don't want to exclude anybody, but it's great to get those local teams back.”
“They are close, and they usually bring a lot of fans and a lot of excitement. They also have a lot of good wrestlers who will make each bracket pretty competitive.”
Also taking part in the Eastern Area tournament are Allderdice, Bethel Park, Forest Hills from District 6, Jefferson-Morgan, Kittanning, Montour, North Catholic, Pine-Richland, West Mifflin, Belle Vernon, Blackhawk, Kiski Area, McKeesport, North Allegheny, Norwin and Woodland Hills.
Gateway finished sixth in the team standings at last year's Eastern Area tournament, and five Gators returning wrestlers earned place finishes.
Parrish, who will not be able to compete at this year's tournament because of an injury, was second last year, while Shouman was fifth.
Wilkins and Limbacher each secured sixth-place medals, while sophomore Leone, wrestling in his first varsity competition, took sixth.
Santilli said information on the tournament, as well as tentative lineups for each participating team, can be found on gateway wrestling.org.
Wrestling begins Friday at 4:30 p.m. with preliminary bouts in the 14 weight classes.
The first-round consolations will be at 8:30, with the quarterfinals set for 9:30.
Action resumes on Saturday at 10 a.m. with the second round of consolations.
The semifinals and third-round consolations are set for 11:30, with the consolation semifinals at 2.
The consolation finals will be from 5 to 6, with the Parade of Champions and the championship finals at 6:15.
Medals will be awarded up to eighth place.
Michael Love is a staff writer with Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5825 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.