ATHENS — The Athens wrestling squad returns plenty of talent — including two-time state medalist Gavin Bradley — but the Wildcats’ roster also features 10 freshman and just three seniors.
Bradley, a junior, will be expected to be the leader of this year’s team along with senior Zach Stafursky, juniors Kaden Setzer and Karter Rude and sophomore Jake Courtney.
Senior Kyler Setzer is coming off an injury and would be a big boost to the Athens lineup if he’s able to return this season.
The Wildcats will also look for juniors Lucas Forbes, Colin Rosh and Josiah Stringham as well as sophomore Chris Bathgate to make some noise on the mats this year.
The freshman class includes Josh Courtney, Ryan LaSusa, Josh Nittinger, Elmo Mallore, Mason Vanderpool, Jadon Rice, Brock Dennison, Jason Dunn, Landon McGrath and Tyrese Ford.
Athens assistant coach Jay White believes the freshmen group could make an impact this season.
“They are all freshman. They are going to be super talented by the time they (are) seniors ... I’m thinking that we will have two or three of those freshman win 20 matches for us this year,” said White.
Despite having a young team, the Athens coaching staff didn’t shy away from competition this year.
“Our schedule this year is not easy ... Our non-league matches right now, we’re going to have dual meets against some of the best teams around. We’re going to wrestle Benton, Line Mountain, Selinsgrove, Hughesville, Lewisburg. We’re going to wrestle a dual meet against Bellefonte, West Perry, they have a great team out of AA, Jersey Shore, Halifax, Mifflinburg,” White said. “I mean we have a lot of good dual meets, and unfortunately with a young team they are going to be thrown into the fire right off the bat, but you know what? They compete with the kids in the room and I think we’re going to be all right.”
Like every season, the Athens wrestling program is focused on preparing kids for the individual postseason as the Wildcats try to add another name to “The Wall.” While this year is different because of COVID, the goal hasn’t changed in the Athens room.
“We’re all about getting kids as many good bouts as we can, that’s why we’re hunting down better schools to wrestle. I basically call (the other teams) ahead of time and if it’s going to be a blowout against us I just ask the coach, ‘look, here’s our lineup we know we don’t have a chance to beat you, can we set these matches up to get the best ones?’” White said. “If you can’t beat us, we try not to put you on our schedule.”