If North Surry wants to repeat as conference wrestling champions, the Greyhounds will have to fend off Surry Central and an improving Mount Airy team while heavily retooling the starting lineup.
Gone are co-wrestler of the year Logan Younger as well as Zach Creed, Tyler Dowling, Duke Gregory, Dakota Key and Austin Riggs. Those six young men combined for 204 wins in the regular season against just 77 losses, a winning percentage of 72.6 percent.
Before buying the Greyhounds a funeral wreath, however, remember that North returns six all-conference wrestlers and one honorable mention as well as some good young athletes who had to wait their turn to start.
Coming back from the all-conference team are Austin Rozier, Austin McMillian, Tristen Brannock, Austin Collins, Dalton Golden and Levi Slate, plus honorable mention Devyn Green.
As a freshman, Rozier went 40-9 in the regular season at 106 pounds and was ranked in the top 10 in the state on Retro Rankings.
At 113, McMillian went 45-7 in the regular season, then finished fifth in the state tournament in Greensboro. He begins this season ranked second in 2A.
Brannock finished the conference season at 42-9 then finished sixth in the state at 120 pounds
Collins was second only to Younger in winning percentage as he finished 33-4 (89.2 percent). He began the season at 138, but moved up to 145 pounds in early January. He finished the regular season and conference tournament with 19 straight wins, then he finished fourth in the state at 145.
During that first half of the season when Collins was at 138, Green filled in at 145 and went a respectable 13-5. Then when Collins moved up, Green dropped down in weight and promptly lost four matches in a row.
After adjusting to the weight, however, the freshman won six straight matches and finished the year at 24-15 to earn honorable mention.
Golden stepped into the starting lineup at 152 pounds as a junior and went 25-14. He had an impressive holiday stretch, going 10-1 over the Christmas/New Years time frame.
Slate had a superb season at 170 pounds He went 43-8, but three of those losses came in one day at a holiday tournament on Dec. 22 against ranked opponents.
At the end of the season, Slate defeated Bishop McGuinness’ Alexander Valitutto for the conference title. Valitutto lost just six matches in the regular season and tournament, and Slate handed him two of those.
Where the Greyhounds have question marks is the upper end of the weight scale. Younger (182), Riggs (195), Creed (220) and Dowling (heavyweight) have moved on and will be hard to replace.
Slate will move up in weight, Coach Eric Jessup said, maybe as high as 195.
The 182 class probably will be manned by Dakota Goss, a sophomore who was impressive for the Hounds’ football team on defense and special teams.
Goss had fives wins at the start of last season at 160 pounds before suffering a rib injury Dec. 10. He sat out the rest of the season as Duke Gregory moved into the starting role and went 21-12.
As for the top two weights, Jessup said he has four young big men who are vying for those spots. Rather than pick a starter, Jessup believes in letting athletes compete head-to-head in a wrestle-off. Those matches will be held Monday before the team hosts two matches on Tuesday.
This is going to be a very interesting year, Jessup said. The guys are either going to be very experienced (including some with 100+ career wins) or very inexperienced.
He said nine of the 14 weight classes could be manned by freshmen and sophomores.
Hopefully these freshmen and sophomores are wrestling like old pros by the new year, he said.
“The conference is going to be tight as a tick this year,” he said. Mount Airy is steadily improving and has a lot of young talent coming up through the middle school.
Surry Central should be formidable after going 23-11 last year.
The Golden Eagles only lost two seniors, noted Jessup, and they were both young seniors who hadn’t been wrestling long.
East Surry lost state champion Jacob Fregia and state-ranked teammates Greg UpChurch and Chad Woods. However, the Cardinals have several good athletes returning at the lower weights, including sophomores Eddie Nunez (29-8) and Austin Bryant (19-12) and junior Jimmy Speer (23-15).
The Greyhounds open play Tuesday with an alumni night. The coaches have been reaching out to former wrestlers and inviting them to attend two matches against North Davidson and West Davidson beginning at 6 p.m. Surry Central also will take part in the meet against the two nonconference teams.
North and Central will not face each other this time, but will face off on several dates this season.
At the meet, North Surry will unveil three new banners honoring the many conference champions and state qualifiers to come through the program since its inception in 1977.
Jessup thanked former wrestler Jimmy Pippen (Class of ‘88) for researching the record books and newspaper articles to compile the list.
The banners will be on display in the main gym Tuesday before moving over to the fieldhouse to create a Wall of Champions where the wrestlers practice.