If you want one word that describes Travis Tiger’s outlook entering the 2017-18 wrestling season, then upbeat is accurate.
“There’s a lot to be positive about,” said Tiger, Ridgefield’s head coach. “We have a much bigger roster than last year and a lot of freshmen with potential. We also have most of our top guys back, and they all look improved. I think we can be a serious threat in tournaments.”
After beginning last season with just 14 wrestlers, the Tigers have nearly double that number this winter.
“About half of them are first-year wrestlers, but it should still help us fill weight classes and make for better practices,” said Tiger, a former standout himself at Ridgefield High.
Another plus for Ridgefield? Graduation was kind. The only significant loss was Liam Courtney (152 pounds), who placed fourth at the conference championship and fifth at the Class LL meet.
At the forefront for the Tigers is a talented senior class that includes four of the team’s top performers: Jesse Walker, Peter Murray, Simon Preston and Chris D’Entrone. All four had top-six finishes at the FCIAC meet, and Walker (third) and Preston (fourth) placed at the Class LL championship.
D’Entrone, who will miss the start of the season with a hip injury, remains at 195 pounds, with Walker (132 pounds), Murray (138) and Preston (160) all moving up one or two weight classes.
“Those guys all have big goals this season,” said Tiger about the four seniors. “They want to be on the podium at every tournament.”
In junior Ben Smart (120) and sophomore Brian Showstead (152), Ridgefield returns two more proven wrestlers. Competing at 106 pounds last season, Smart was second at FCIACs, third in Class LL and fourth at the State Open. Showstead competed in a higher weight class (160 pounds) last winter as a freshman and placed fourth at FCIACs and sixth in Class LL.
“Ben and Brian are two other guys who should have real big years,” said Tiger, whose team opens the season today (Dec. 13) at home against Monroe-Woodbury (N.Y.) at 5:30 p.m. “They both showed what they could do last season as younger wrestlers.”
A nice addition for Ridgefield is the return of Jesse Chelednik (126 pounds), who sat out last season while recovering from a concussion. “Jesse has a great work ethic and attitude,” said Tiger. “Having him back is big for us.”
Ridgefield’s starting lineup will feature several freshmen, including Spencer Carlson (106 pounds), Riley Courtney (113) and Liam Keppler (171). Another ninth grader, Connor Brown, is vying with junior Lazar Agoev to start at 145 pounds.
Junior Sam Klotz (220 pounds) takes over at 220 pounds, with junior Stephen Rauscher and freshmen Michael Marrone and Jackson Trotter the leading candidates at 182 pounds.
“We should be a really good tournament team, but, like most years, we might struggle a little during dual meets, especially if we can’t fill the lineup,” said Tiger. “But overall I think we’re looking a lot stronger than we did last season.”
Notes: With his top-four finish at the State Open, Smart was the lone Ridgefield wrestler to qualify for the New England championship last season.
Showstead will miss the first few weeks of the year due to a tailbone injury.
Preston recently signed a National Letter of Intent to wrestle at American University in Washington, D.C.
Ridgefield has upped the difficulty level of its regular season. In addition to today’s opener against New York State giant Monroe-Woodbury, the Tigers also have dual meets against perennial power Danbury (the reigning FCIAC, Class LL, State Open and New England champions) and Fairfield Warde. The Tigers will also make a first-ever trip to the Panther Invitational Tournament in Whitman, Mass.