Despite the absence of a single senior on the roster, the Erie Tigers have a lot to look forward to this season. And the next.
The Tigers graduated 4A state runner-up Clay Bunker last season. But head coach Steve Gratton said he's plenty excited about the group that has returned for the 2012-13 season.
And if early results are an indication of the Tigers' potential, Gratton may have every right to be "very optimistic," as he says.
At the Middle Park Panther Invitational on Saturday, the Tigers won four individual titles.
Showing similar potential to Clay Bunker, junior 160-pounder Ladd Bunker was voted Most Outstanding Wrestler by the tournament coaches. Ranked sixth by Tim Yount's On the Mat preseason rankings, Ladd Bunker beat two ranked kids -- Widefield's Joey Trujillo (seventh at 160 pounds in Class 4A) and North Park's Derek Richard (second at 170 pounds in 3A) -- on his way to the 160-pound championship.
After placing fifth at state his freshman year and fourth as a sophomore, Tigers junior Brandon Wetsch won the 132-pound title with two pins and a triple-overtime win over Cherokee Trail's Bruno Nicoletti, who is ranked sixth in 5A at 126 pounds. Wetsch is ranked third in 4A at 132s.
Tigers junior William Schell beat two 5A opponents (Ralston Valley and Cherokee Trail) on his way to the 145s title.
Sophomore 106-pounder Anthony Nieto was the Tigers' surprise of the tournament, winning his weight class. Junior Zach Starbeck took third at 138s.
The Tigers are still thin at the upper weights, so duals could be a challenge. But the Tigers lineup took sixth out of 18 teams at Middle Park, half a point behind fouth-place Widefield and Bear Creek.
Though young, the Tigers appear capable of contending for tournament titles at several weight classes this season. But if they all stick with the team and continue improving, next season could be much more interesting.
For more info on the team, check out the new Erie Tigers Facebook page.
Follow Brad on Twitter: @BradCochi