Published: Nov 20, 2011 02:23 PM
Modified: Nov 20, 2011 02:25 PM
The Tri-Nine Conference was wildly competitive in wrestling from start to finish last year.
While Panther Creek (19-3) won the conference title, the Catamounts needed a win in the final bout to hold off runner-up Cary. And third-place Holly Springs. And fourth-place Green Hope.
All four teams went down to the wire against one another, and all but Green Hope (19-6 last year) reached the dual-team postseason. Unfortunately, none advanced past the second round.
Although hoping for better playoff performances, the league's competitiveness could play out the same way this year, with Cary and Holly Springs the only two teams ranked in the 4A preseason rankings.
Cary (26-4 last year) is listed as ninth among 4A teams and third among 4A teams in the East. Holly Springs (19-4) is 10th.
The Tri-Nine has just one defending state champion in Green Hope's Jon Sparks. Sparks became the school's first state champ by going 47-0 at 112 pounds last season. He allowed just four takedowns all season and already has 101 wins in his Falcons career.
Sparks projects to be in the 120-pound class this season, a division that didn't exist last year (but 119 pounds did).
Weight classes have been tweaked for every U.S. school, with one smaller weight class shifted to the higher ones.
Panther Creek was hit hard by graduation but returns Nate Allison (113 pounds) and Collin Higgins (145 pounds). Allison was a state qualifier last year.
Cary, the defending conference tournament champ, is led by state qualifier Bo Mulligan (152 pounds).
Holly Springs lost just one starter to graduation last year and boasts standouts Javon Johnson (132 pounds), Jeff Cramer (145 pounds), Jacob Baum (195 pounds) and Chris Sauls (heavyweight).
Cramer, Baum and Sauls were all state qualifiers last season.
In addition to Sparks, Green Hope first-year coach Steve Gursslin also returns 182-pounder Ian Callahan. Callahan was a state qualifier as a sophomore.
Middle Creek finished last year 11-21 overall and in a three-way tie for sixth place in the Tri-Nine with Athens Drive and Lee County. The Mustangs do return a state qualifier, however: conference champ and 100-win senior Alex Battaglia (120 pounds).
Middle Creek also added Baffour Atakora-Bediako, a transfer from Pennsylvania already ranked fifth among 113-pounders in North Carolina.
Apex, which finished fifth in the Tri-Nine, will have Ross Little as its first-year coach.