ROCKTON - Armed with an overwhelming state champion favorite, five returning sectional qualifiers and a promising returner to the lineup, the Hononegah wrestling team is optimistic about its chances to have a special season.
Now if they could just get healthy.
The Indians have been met with a litany of injuries, that have put a bit of a damper on preseason expectations. There will be a new face guiding the Indians, as Anthony Miers, a former standout Hononegah wrestler himself, was chosen as head coach after Jason Glodowski resigned to spend more time with his young family.
Heavyweight Tony Cassioppi, the Iowa commit who cruised to an IHSA Class 3A state title last season, will have to travel to the Midlands Duals before he sees a worthy adversary.
Miers said the Indians do their best to challenge him in practice.
"We've got a lot of people in that wrestling room that we use as practice partners for him," Miers said. "That's the thing about wrestling: Anyone can eventually be broken, even Tony. So we pound on him pretty good, try to get him worn out. He's one of our top competitors, obviously, so he sets goals for every meet. Saturday in Barrington, he wanted to get nine takedowns, then still et the pin before time ran out, and he was able to do that."
Returning sectional qualifiers Zach Fausel (113) and Spencer Taylor (195) are both out perhaps until regionals with leg injuries, as are would-be starters Trevor Diemel and Jarrett Kinney. Unlike in previous years, the Indians are lacking a bit in depth.
"Over the last four years, we've seen a decline every year in kids going out," Miers said. "I don't know if it's a sign of the times or what. Wrestling is a really hard sport, and maybe kids just don't want to work that hard. But we're going to have some holes in our lineup that hopefully can get plugged by the time regionals roll around."
The return of 152-pound senior Dominic Ballano, who didn't wrestle as a junior after two solid seasons, has Miers excited.
"Dominic has been really good for us so far," Miers said. "Both mentally and physically, he's gotten a lot stronger. He's definitely a kid that I look to as having a chance at qualifying for the state meet."
Nate Kaiser (220), who has been one of Cassioppi's sparring partners the past few years in practice, worked hard to cut weight and is off to a solid start.
"Nate really had to work to get down to 220," Miers said. "Even in football, he was cutting down knowing wrestling was right around the corner. He placed sixth in Barrington, which is a meet that's probably tougher than our sectional meet, and we had a JV guy place eighth, so we're in really good shape at 220."
Giovanni Cassioppi, who qualified for state in his freshman year before missing out by just one victory last year, is primed for a big junior season.
"Giovanni has shown incredible improvement," Miers said. "He was second in the Barrington tournament, and wrestling alongside his brother this summer, you can just tell how much stronger he's gotten and how much better technically he is."
Mason Schewe (182) is another returning sectional qualifier who Miers said has a lot of potential.
"This is his senior year, and I think he realizes this is his last opportunity to do big things," Miers said. "Last year was a little bit of a down year for him, but he's shown a lot of leadership this year and I think he's going to progress and improve throughout the year."
Miers said Rockford East poses the biggest challenge to the Indians when it comes to NIC-10 play.
"They have that depth that we used to have," Miers said. "They don't have any holes in their lineup, and when it comes to a conference tournament type set-up, that really helps them out."
Hononegah will wrestle Saturday at the St. Charles, a terrific early-season test for many on the roster.