Youthful wrestlers hoping to make great strides

WARREN, Mich. - Brett Stanley's senior season came a year early.

Or so it would seem.

Stanley is actually just a junior, but with the De La Salle Collegiate wrestling team being so young, he's kind of been forced to serve as a mentor, a leader for the 2019-20 Pilots. 

"Obviously we had a lot of guys who left last year that were seniors," said Stanley, who's entering his third year with the program. "We're going to need our younger guys to step up and fill in those weights. Hopefully, some of these guys can look up to me, and I can make them better any way I can."

Coach Dennis Park's team lost six starters to graduation and a couple more decided not to return, so he will be relying on Stanley and a few others returning with experience from a year ago.

"Our team is very young," said the coach, who is entering his 15th season at De La Salle. "We've got just one senior on the team and he is a first-year wrestler (Michael Kafoury). Brett and Kenny (Ryder) will be our stars."

Stanley finished 47-5 last year, winning district and regional championships en route to finishing seventh at the MHSAA Finals - good for all-state honors. Ryder won 45 matches, navigating his way through the district and regional tournaments and on to states.

"I try to be the best leader that I can be," Stanley said. "Even when we're going live (in practice), I'm trying to make Kenny better, make Dominic (Ragona) better, as well as some freshmen that need some help. I'll go around helping them with moves they don't know, correct them, make them better."

Ragona is a promising sophomore whose freshman season was cut short due to a back injury. He was 5-1 before his season ended.

"I'm not used to being an upperclassman, because I'm just a sophomore," Ragona said. "But I kind of have to be (a leader). There aren't many seniors and juniors left. It's not a choice, it's a responsibility. I know where they are, having come in last year myself. They don't know a lot of people. 

"I want to make them a lot better. We're a young team, but we're going to get better as the season goes on and hopefully by the time districts and regionals come along, we're a better team, so that we can take on these other better teams."

Juniors Jeremy Schelosky and Clayton Beleshi also return from last year's team. They both wrestled at individual districts for the Pilots. Freshman Mason Collins is also expected to make his mark this season. He enters high school with some good club wrestling experience. 

"This is a huge freshman class," Parks said, noting he has 12 freshmen on his roster. "I just wish there were upperclassmen in front of them so they could gain experience. We're going to be throwing these kids to the wolves early. It will tell us whether they can last throughout the season. That's the disadvantage that we have. 

"Several of these young guys have prior wrestling experience. That's an advantage that we haven't had in the past. Probably 80 percentage of this freshman class has wrestled before or at least have knowledge of the sport."

Others looking to fill out the Pilots' roster include juniors Thomas Marsh and Anthony McCollom, sophomores Fischer Schluessler and Gavin Urban, along with freshmen Nathan O'Donnell, Lucas Pasternak, Dean Oakie, Brady Bennie, Peyton Smithling, Javon Williams, Vinny Lertola, Casey Beleshi, Cody Beleshi, Preston Toutant, Jesse Lietzow and Gjon Nikollaj. 

De La Salle finished second to Detroit Catholic Central in the Catholic League Central division a year ago and was third at the league tournament. The Pilots dropped a close match to Warren-Mott in the district final. Parks said the goals of the team have not changed.

"Our goal in the league is always to finish second," said Parks, conceding that the three-time defending state champion Shamrocks will once again be the favorites. "We'll also be looking to win the districts and focus on some individuals getting up to states. Hopefully we'll have three or four again. They're young. The cliche is, 'It's not where you start, but where you finish.' If we can get them in (the training room), I think by the end of the year we'll have some success."

The Pilots will scrimmage L'Anse Creuse Saturday (Dec. 7) before opening up the season next Thursday (Dec. 12) in a quad where they'll face Brother Rice and Hazel Park - at Brother Rice High School.

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