The Houston Report: “Season Preview” and Houston Area Individual Rankings
By Russell Pate
ITW Staff Writer
Each new part will be added daily 11/13 – 11/17
Part I: Monday, November 13
A look at 10 burning questions that loom large in Houston heading into the season, followed by the return of the Houston area Rankings from HoustonEye.
10. How will re-alignment affect things on a district and Regional Level?
On a District level it will affect all the teams in the Klein/Conroe District and District 24 (Brazoswood, Friendswood, Westbrook). Things will get much tougher on all the Conroe schools to qualify kids for Regionals, this will be most important for the Woodlands. They will not only face a tougher district tournament, they will now be locked into a district dual schedule during the 2nd half of the year. For the Klein schools their district lost a tough team in Bryan, added an even tougher one in the Woodlands, but also added a few schools worth of depth from the rest of Conroe. The big winners though are Brazoswood, Friendswood, and Westbrook. They see the Woodlands and Conroe move out, to be replaced by 3 brand new teams from Clear Lake. This basically lets them split up the 14 regional qualifiers the Woodlands had every year.
On a Regional Level the team race was significantly changed. The Klein schools and the Woodlands will now be much more limited in the number of guys they bring. Even with great teams, they will have a hard time winning (see Katy schools). With the way the districts are drawn, I doubt any Houston team can win a Regional Title now. All of the top teams are crammed into two districts while two districts remain weak. I would not be surprised if Cy Fair and Westside finish ahead of Cinco and The Woodlands at Regionals. And I would also guess a few Houston Teams finish Higher at State than at Regionals. (Not to mention the addition of Highland Park to that race).
9. Who will be the area’s dual representatives as Katy hosts State Duals?
Katy ISD welcomes the State Dual tournament to Houston this year and it is a great year for Houston to have it. This should be the most competitive group in some time. Klein, Cinco Ranch, Taylor, Woodlands, and Cy-Fair are my picks. The first 4 boast very deep and balanced teams, while Cy Fair will look to cover a few holes with individual excellence in the middle. I include 5 because of the likelihood that as host, Houston gets a 5th berth. All are capable of high finishes with Cinco looking to bring home the title.
8. Which wrestlers who did not qualify for state last year have the best chance to place or even compete for a state title this year?
Matt Hinton was on his way to a great season last year as The Woodlands Heavyweight before a knee injury stopped him short. Now he starts this season as a bit of an unknown. Will he be the physically dominating wrestler of a year ago, or will the injury have cost him too much in experience and mat time. However, having a great natural athlete under a great Greco and Big Man coach like Bautista spells trouble for opposing wrestlers this year. Additionally, he is a part of a tough Woodlands football team that looks playoff bound right now, so while this question may go unanswered until December or January, expect Matt to have a great February.
Austin Davis of Klein Oak had a freshman season that reminded many observers of past Klein Oak great Shane Doughman’s freshman year. Both spent the season as undersized 103s who lacked the physical abilities to make their superior technique pay off against top competition, but both battled gamely. In fact, the two even look alike. Davis is the kind of wrestler who could make a huge leap from a skilled, undersized freshman to a physical sophomore. He showed flashes of greatness last year with a win over state qualifier Matt Morgan of Katy. If he has grown enough to be a full sized 112 then he will be in the hunt for a state medal just like those who went before him.
7. Which wrestlers will most benefit from work put in this off-season?
Most people assume that off-season means Fargo for some reason. However, there is great folkstyle wrestling throughout the spring that often gets ignored. Chris Nguyen of Klein is a guy who wasn’t at the big summer freestyle meets but still put in some great work, namely a 1st place finish at the Cliff Keen Reno Worlds. Chris was a state place winner last year at 112 after qualifying the year before at 103. He has made steady progress for years now, and his work this past spring and summer might put him over the top. He is at a tough weight class (119) but could end up a State Finalist.
6. What young area team is ready to go from startup to competitor?
For years Brazoswood has been one of the few second tier teams that always put a full lineup on the mat. They were a team that put tough physical kids at every weight. But this season that might change. Slow and steady progress for the PROGRAM (not just a one year team), has seen the development of both a strong kids club and great community acceptance and support stemming from a program built by football coaches. Now this solid foundation has been handed over to a true Wrestling coach, Bill Baker, formerly of Friendswood. Bill knows how to handle the location and travel difficulties already, and he should help add some sound technique to the toughness and depth they already boast. They will be led by Jamaal Bufford at 180. He was a cadet Freestyle champ this summer beating Capadogli of The Colony in the Finals. Don’t be surprised if Brazoswood turns into a Bryan type of program in the next few years.
5. What area team has the best chance to make the jump from solid to elite?
Cy Fair had a breakthrough season last year. This is not unique as many upcoming teams put together a tough squad of seniors and compete for a year and then go away. However, it rare that an unknown team does this while being young. Azle was an example two years ago, as they broke through as a competitive team, only to return last season on a whole different level. Cy Fair could be the same with a team that broke through last year, and then graduated just one wrestler. Their lineup from 119-160 will be as tough as any in the state, and if they can answer some questions down low and up top (where they showed big improvement last year), they will be a team to watch.
4. Will any returning state placer stand atop the podium this year? (Sheets, Murray, Spjut, Nguyen, McNair)
The short answer is Yes, but let me expand. Eric Spjut had a great freshman year with just 1 loss, an overtime thriller to fellow frosh Jeremy Sandoval in the State Quarter-Finals. Now when 2 freshman dominate a weight like that it would be easy to assume that it was a weak weight class. But to understand how tough this weight was, consider that recent Fargo All-American and previous state finalist Brandon McDonald finished just 5th place. Spjut comes back this year looking like a definitive favorite to win his first state crown. I just hope that he gets a rematch at some point with Sandoval (now at 125), not because he needs to prove anything but because if it was anything like the first one it would be great wrestling (Oklahoma Open perhaps???).
But even without Spjut I think the answer would still be yes and the two reasons for this are Mike Murray and Jamie Sheets, both at 145 pounds. When last season ended I believe Murray had the edge in this potential matchup, but it seems Sheets has done some growing both physically and mentally in the off-season. Coming in on weight on October 1 was huge for a guy who chose not to cut as much weight in the past as some other top performers. It may have cost Sheets in some matches the last 2 years where his opponents were bigger and stronger, but the thing about not cutting a ton of weight is you continue to learn and improve in practice, rather than surviving and worrying primarily about weight. Along with constant work all summer and fall I think this has to make the difference come February. Murray however is a state champion level wrestler in his own right as wins over Bash and Luttrell proved last year. He is extremely physical and should be very big and strong in this weight class. Hopefully this match happens when Murray returns from his work as a starting Wide Receiver for the state ranked Cy Fair Bobcat football team, but even if it does not, they will see each other at regionals. And the good thing about it is that being in the same region all but assures they will be on opposite sides of the bracket come State.
3. Will Matt Harris repeat as state champion?
Yes. And I won’t spend a lot of time on it as you can read my last article for my thoughts (http://www.insidetexaswrestling.com/news/?p=107#more-107 ). I’ll just say that even if Matt is not the best 171 in the state right now he will be come February. His improvement over the past few years has been constant and never ending. As great as he was last year I would expect him to be that much better by the end of the season. His desire to excel is very impressive and rubs off on those around him, as seen by his football success for a playoff team and his wrestling prowess for a top title contender. There is no limit to how high he can go in the future if he continues to stay humble and work hard.
2. Which area district will be the best?
This is perhaps the toughest question on the list. Both Katy and Klein/Woodlands will be among the state’s 5 toughest districts this year. Both feature top teams and depth to match. In Klein, Klein Oak, and The Woodlands, you have a very tough triad of High School Wrestling. All 3 graduated key wrestlers, but will be back amongst the Region’s best this year (they’ve all had top 3 regional finishes in the past two years). Behind them is Klein Collins who produced a state champion in last year’s Kyle Jones. Behind the top 4 there is strength in numbers with Klein Forest and Oakridge, teams that are rarely full but often produce a high quality wrestler or state placer. Woodlands College Park is well coached and appears to be borrowing on a school wide basis from the Woodlands athletics model, and should be very competitive soon. With the Woodlands moved in this year, this will be a meatgrinder of a district for years to come.
In the Katy district Cinco is a clear favorite, but Taylor should be one of the top area teams as well. Katy could be almost anywhere in the top 10 depending on their upperweights, while Mayde Creek is probably the toughest 4th ranked team of any district. Additionally, Morton Ranch has improved considerably in their first 2 years and their first senior class ever should give them their best team. Seven Lakes and Strake Jesuit are not competitive on the highest level yet, but they both have almost full lineups and actual wrestlers at every weight. Seven Lakes in particular was a young program who looked promising last year. Waller rounds out the district. Considering both depth and strength at the top I would have to make my top 5 toughest districts on a year-to-year basis as follows
4. Highland Park/Lake Highlands/Dallas Jesuit
5. San Antonio
1. Who will be the area’s top team?
Cinco Ranch, and again I won’t give you too much detail since I covered it in my last article (http://www.insidetexaswrestling.com/news/?p=107#more-107 ). But I will say I expect two state champions and a team dual title. However, don’t expect them to look the part early as many are a part of the playoff football run. Here is a look at the lineup.
103 should be handled by JV kid or Kids program frosh
112 Nick Waltman, 12 (state qualifier, 39-7)
119 Nick Trocchio
125 Will Tarallo, 11 (20-18)/ Brett Morris, 10
130 Nick Tanory, 11 (22- 18, Regional Qualifier)
140 Brad Bartholomew, 11 (25- 19) /
145 Jamie Sheets, 12 (39- 4, 4th at state)
160 Will Morris, 11 (10- 5, La. State Placer in 05’)
171 Matt Harris, 12, (45- 1, 1st at state)
180 Will McNair, 12 (38- 4 2nd at State)
215 Matt Stewart, 11 (27- 12)
275 John Gioffre, 11 (23- 14)
And we close out with the Houston Area Individual Rankings as submitted by HoustonEye. Stay tuned the rest of the week for district by district previews and team rankings.
Houston Area Individual Rankings
1. Tyler Lukes, 9, Cy Ridge
2. Josh Brown, 9, Klein
1. Nick Waltman, 11, Cinco Ranch
2. Austin Davis, 11, Klein Oak
3. Luis Oporta, Lee
4. Necker, Waller
5. Espinoza, Conroe
1. Eric Spjut, 10, Woodlands
2. Matt Morgan, 11, Katy
3. Figueroa, Klein
4. Jacob Beasley, 12, Cy Fair
5. Kelley Ritchie, 12, Mayde Creek
1. Chris Nguyen, 12, Klein,
2. Austin McCain, 12, Cy Fair,
3. Neil Nicholson, 11, Westside
4. Kyle Brown, 11, Taylor
5. Derek Shaw, 11, Langham Creek
1. Austin Metcalf, 12, Cy Fair,
2. Nick Tannory, 11, Cinco Ranch
3. Brooks Langford, 12, Woodlands
4. Lutner, 12, Taylor
1. Michael Hasson, 12, Cy Fair
2. Vasil Boasherliev, 11, Woodlands
3. Almaraz, 12, Morton Ranch
4. Pita, 11, Taylor
1. Drew Pikulski, 12, Cy Fair
2. Brad Bartholomew, 12, Cinco Ranch
3. Matt Rascon, 11, Woodlands
4. Chris Hart, 9, Taylor
1. Jamie Sheets, 12, Cinco Ranch
2. Michael Murray, 12, Cy Fair
3. Dustin Curry, 11, Taylor
4. Schults, Klein
5. Kovacs, Woodlands
1. Kevin Holden, 12, Katy,
1. Rollie Williams, 12, Katy,
2. Hazzard, 11, Westside,
3. Brent Morris, 11, Cinco Ranch
4. Jay Fortner, 10, Klein Oak,
5. Patrick Gaume, 12, Woodlands,
1. Matt Harris, 12, Cinco Ranch
2. Jack Guillory, 12, Friendswood
3. Cameron Taylor, 12, Mayde Creek
4. Bryce Jennings, 12, Katy
1. Will McNair, 12, Cinco Ranch
2. Phil Thomas, 12, Klein
3. Cody Keonig, 12, Taylor
4. Jamall Buford, 11, Brazoswood
5. Josh South, 12, Westside
1. Gerald Moulton, 12, Westbrook
2. Zach Shabaan, 12, Westside
3. Poindexter, 12, Brazoswood
1. Steve Nijoka, 12, Strake Jesuit
2. Miller, 11, Klein
3. Ortega, 11, Taylor
4. Matt Stewart, 11, Cinco Ranch
5. Josh Dean, 12, Cy Ridge
6. Pisarski, 12, Brazoswood
1. Zac Benson, 12, Mayde Creek
2. Tom Elijah, 12, Klein Oak
3. Matt Hinton, 12, The Woodlands
4. Wayne Blackwell, 12, Taylor
5. Gioffe, 11, Cinco Ranch
6. JT Woodard, 11, Westside
7. Cantelmo, 12, Cy Fair
TUESDAY’S PART II
Part II:Klein/Woodlands District
This district was already tough but the addition of The Woodlands and the other Conroe Schools makes it one of the 5 toughest in the state. Look for a battle between Klein and The Woodlands for the district title. These two teams may have more depth and JV talent than anyone in the city. If forced to pick I may go with Klein on a district or dual level but the Woodlands on a Regional and State level. Klein Oak is a clear cut above the rest of the district for 3rd, but the other Klein and Conroe schools give this district numbers that will make the district tournament a battle.
Klein Oak… they graduated one of the best Senior classes in recent memory but the stable is far from empty. Austin Davis at 112 should be the one of the best in the Houston area. He is joined by Fortner (Sophomore, 160 ???), who looks to follow in the footsteps of older brother Tom, a state finalist… Klein… Also graduated a lot, but has one of the deepest and toughest JV teams in the state. Don’t expect them to drop off at all. Philip Thomas (180) and Chris Nguyen (125) are their top returning wrestlers. Thomas was a state qualifier and Regional finalist last year at 171. Expect him to contend for a state medal this year. He has a great stance, that combined with his athleticism and intelligence, makes him very tough to score on. He seems to never be out of position. Think Spencer Covey without the mat wrestling. Nguyen is a returning state placer who is looking to improve on that finish. He spent the spring and summer wrestling including a trip to Reno in search of competition. Miller at 215 is a full sized 215 and could give problems to some of the areas smallish 215s… Klein Forest… Klein Collins… They will be looking to rebuild after the graduation of 215 state champ Kyle Jones and 275 state Qualifier David Brown. Expect them to continue to be tough in the upper weights under Coach Rucker’s watch… The Woodlands… They will be very tough from 119 to 160. The switch in districts affects them more than anyone. In the past they were automatic regional contenders based mostly on the team’s strength but also on the high number of wrestlers they got to take to regionals. Competition in the Klein District will be tougher, but they are equipped to handle it. Eric Spjut (119) came up just short of a state title as a freshman and will look to correct that this year. Heavyweight Hinton was on his way to a likely state appearance last year before a December knee injury sidetracked him. If he comes back with the same form he should be a contender again. Also look out for Vassil Boasherliev at 140??? He had a great summer season and should step into the lineup and make immediate noise.… College Park… They fielded a competitive team last year in their first year, and Coach Gonzalez appears to have them on the right track. A 4th place district finish behind the big 3 would not be surprising… Conroe… Oak Ridge…
Wednesday’s PART III
An always tough district that should be at its best this year. Cinco and Taylor should be 1 and 2 again after graduating 1 and 2 starters respectively from last year’s strong teams. Both should be at the State Dual tournament.
Cinco Ranch… Lineup is very deep in addition to the studs everyone knows. Look out for Tannory (130) and Gioffe (285)… Katy… Returning State Qualifier Matt Morgan makes a tough move from 103 to 119. Glenn (125) pairs with him to give Katy some Tough lightweights. They will also be tough in the upper middle weights with Returning state Qualifier Rollie Williams and Kevin Holden (152, 160)… Mayde Creek… Benson (285) was a state Alternate and should be their best guy. Taylor (171) is also very tough… Taylor… Could be a very tough dual lineup. They will be led by their only seniors Keonig (180) and Blackwell (285). Both are potential State Qualifers. Strake Jesuit… Nijoka (215) is the heart of the team. He could compete for a regional and state crown under the right circumstances… Morton Ranch… This is a team that could break through. They have their first senior class and should continue to progress. Almaraz (135) and Lowery(152) are their top dogs. Seven Lakes… Another young program who has done everything right. Hauser (160) is just a Junior but is the kind of Wrestler they need to lead the young team…
THURSDAY: PART IV
The only certainty in this district is there will be a new champion for the first time. The Woodlands and their stranglehold on the district has moved on. Expect Westbrook and Brazoswood to finish 1-2. The most interesting dual may be when Brazoswood and new head coach Bill Baker take on Baker’s old Friendswood squad.
Friendswood… Jack Guillory (171) is a returning state qualifier. Fleichman at 119 is also tough… Brazoswood… They are led by Jamaal Bufford at 180. He was a cadet Freestyle champ this summer beating Capadogli of The Colony in the Finals… Poindexter (189) also needs to be watched… Westbrook… Moulton (189) has improved steadily over the past few years. As a sophomore he was a regional placer and then a state qualifier as a Junior last year. Can this be the year he breaks through…Clear Brook… Clearlake… Clear Creek…
Cy Fair District
This will be in a one team race for the district title. This is not a knock on other improving district teams, but rather a nod that Cy Fair appears to be moving to another level. They could be the first team from this district to accomplish anything at the Regional or State level.
Cy Fair… They return almost everything from last year’s team, and should be as tough as anyone in the state from 119 to 145. How far they go will be decided by the performance of their upper weights though. An unknown to watch is Austin Metcalf at 130… Cy Ridge… They look like a clear number 2 in the district and have grown into a team that puts a legitimate lineup on the mat every year. Their strength is in their team lineup rather than any individual, but freshman 103 Lukes has had some forum hype and is more than capable of living up to it. Dean at 215 is working on a great Football season and looks to follow up on the mat… Langham Creek… They were up and down last year but made big strides overall. Watch out for Derrick Shaw (125)… Cy Springs… Josh Lewis 189 is a contender for a district title… Cy Falls… Mike Brown at 152 should contend for a regional berth… Cy Woods…
FRIDAY: PART V
Westside… They graduated a lot but are still the class of this district and a perennial top team in the Houston area. Junior James Hazard at 152 is a returning state qualifier, and might have been a placer if not for an injury suffered in the 2nd round. He looks capable of becoming Westside’s next state medalist over the next two years. Neil Nichols (125) is another kid with a chance to make some noise this season. Lamar… Lee
St. Thomas… They are the top private school in the city but they will be very down from last year. They won’t have the top individuals they had a year ago but will still fill out a very tough dual lineup. Look out for Noser and Farhood (125, 130)… Kinkaid… Private School wrestling has a long history in Houston but it almost gone now. Kinkaid under Steve Leisz and St. Thomas under Bill Dushane (now at Cinco) were producing all-state wrestlers all the way back to the days of the pre-UIL combined state tournament. They were the “godfathers” of the sport in this city and led the way in the early days when public schools were just getting started. Even as little as 2 years ago Strake Jesuit was a top team. Now Kinkaid is down to a handful of wrestlers and simply can’t compete with big public schools, and their plight is replayed at all the area private schools. I hope I am wrong but last year might have been the end of area Private schools competing at the highest state levels.