Rebel wrestlers hoping last year was just the start

Champlin Park ninth-grader Alex Davis wrestles during the Fridley Invitational Dec. 1. Davis gives the Rebels some added strength in the lower weight classes. (Photo by Nick Clark – Sun Newspapers)

They made school history last March, and it is still reverberating throughout the Champlin Park wrestling program.

Fresh off their first Class 3A state tournament appearance ever, the Rebels have already seen a boost in participation numbers at both the high school level, and through the youth ranks.

What they’ve also noticed is the immediate show of confidence that accompanied the team into the room at the start of this winter, and the support of a student body suddenly invigorated by what the possibilities could be again this winter.

“It’s kind of crazy,” said senior captain Cory Berry. “Just walking down the hallway, two weeks before the season even starts, and kids are shaking my hand saying ‘good luck.’ They are ready for the season, ready to support us. There is definitely a buzz.”

By the looks of what the group possesses once again this season, that isn’t likely to wear off anytime soon.

Nine seniors graduated off last year’s state tournament team, but a surprisingly seamless transformation of the lineup has the Rebels poised to contend for a repeat of what they accomplished late last season.

The lower weights look stronger than they ever did a year ago. Combine that with the power Champlin Park has in the middle weight classes, and it is easy to assume the Rebels will be ahead more often than not late in matches.

The lone questions seem to center on the what the Rebels will get out of the last couple weights, including heavyweight, which is perplexing for a program used to owning that final weight class.

“We always have a list of heavyweights,” said head coach Bill Maresh. “Last year we had three guys who were among the best in the state. We just haven’t found anybody yet. I’m still working the hallways hard, trying to get some big bodies in there, but I never lie to these kids. I don’t tell them it will be easy, because we work hard.”

The good news is the Rebels look to have the depth across the rest of the lineup to offset any possible losses in the heavier weight divisions.

Ninth-grader Alex Davis is Champlin Park’s 106-pounder, and he’s already caught the attention of his coaches and teammates.

“I had heard about him, but had never watched him wrestle,” Maresh said. “I heard he was good, but after seeing him, he is better than good. He’ll have to prove it. But I’ve watched him compete now, and he is the real deal.”

Senior captain Christian Dube is back wrestling at 113 pounds. The 120-pound slot is still up for competition, but the 126, 132 and 138 pounders appear set in senior Andrew Longerbone, ninth-grader Andrew Ockuly and ninth-grader Paul Winkelmann.

“They are young, but talented enough to balance that lineup a little bit,” said Maresh.

Adam Cottrell (152 pounds), Berry (160) and Joe Sando (170) give Champlin Park some legitimate strength and athleticism in the middle, and LaQuan Wallace (182) relies on a strength of a different ilk.

“He has no fear,” Maresh said. “Some of the things he doesn’t even do correctly, but when you don’t have fear, and you are always attacking, you get away with a lot.”

Trenton Novalany (195) rounds out the bulk of the Rebels lineup, giving Champlin Park some added experience on the back end.

As a whole, the team will use the experience it gained last year in bulk.

They’ve already split a tri-angular, dropping a close match with North Branch before blowing out Spring Lake Park.

They also wrestled last weekend at the Fridley Invitational. This week, the team visits Mounds View Dec. 6 and then heads to Chanhassen for another tournament Saturday, Dec. 8.

They’ll have numerous other opportunities to compete between now and the time sections begin as well, and as Berry pointed out, they are all important.

After all, people all of a sudden watching.

“We’re on the map,” Berry said. “It’s out job to make sure it stays that way.”