Section champions are crowned in every weight class at the end of each wrestling season, but in Section 1, they begin each new season with a tournament that focuses more on team performance than the individual wrestlers. The Section 1 Dual Meet Championships will kick off the 2015-16 season on Tuesday, determining which is the best overall team in Division 1 (large schools) and Division 2 (small schools).
To get you ready for the action, here are 10 things to watch from wrestling beat reporter Vin Mercogliano …
1. Weight class shuffle — It’s the most frequently asked question in the preseason: “Which weight class will (fill in the blank) be in?” There has been plenty of speculation, but we won’t know for sure until they hit the mats. That starts on Tuesday. (And new weight class rankings will come shortly thereafter.)
2. Coaching shuffle — Many familiar faces will be barking instructions this winter, but a few teams will have new coaches in the head chair. Femi Wheeler and Scott Gilberti will share the head-coaching responsibilities at Mamaroneck, former Dobbs Ferry coach Steve Crowley is now at Eastchester (where his son, Nunzio, is a returning section champ), Fox Lane alum Joey Grippi is the new head man at Byram Hills, Tom Josephson has taken over at Port Chester, Craig Bergquist has been promoted for Lakeland/Panas and Sean Conklin has replaced an accomplished coach in Carmine Serra at Nanuet.
3. Division shuffle — Last year, Pearl River dropped from Division 1 to Division 2 and made waves in the small school ranks, losing to Putnam Valley by just three points (42-39) in the finals of the Section 1 Duals. This season, Hen Hud is dropping down to D2, which will only stiffen the competition.
4. Defending champs — Don’t be surprised if Suffern (Division 1) or Putnam Valley (Division 2) repeats this season — or both. Each team graduated a few high-end wrestlers, but both return much more than they lost. Suffern remains as deep as any team in the section, while Put Valley will be extremely tough from the light to middle weights.
5. Emerging contenders — The teams that finished second in the Section 1 Duals last season — John Jay (D1) and Pearl River (D2) — look loaded. John Jay has been building toward a resurgence and will trot out a lineup littered with talented juniors and sophomores, and Pearl River returns five section finalists.
6. Sneaky sleepers — Dual meets are more about depth and less about superstars. The best any individual wrestler can do is win one of 15 matches, so it’s about having a team with very few holes from top to bottom. Mahopac, Brewster, Carmel, New Rochelle, Yonkers and East Ramapo fall into that category in D1. And in D2, watch out for Pleasantville, Nanuet and Edgemont.
7. Storied rivalries — Last season, everyone expected the D1 championship to come down to Rockland County rivals Suffern and North Rockland, and when they met in the semis, the dual lived up to the hype. The Mounties won by three points (39-36) before beating John Jay in the final for the title. They’d both have to make it to the final four to meet again, but some potentially intriguing quarterfinals matchups could be John Jay vs. Mahopac, Suffern vs. East Ramapo and New Rochelle vs. North Rockland. Nanuet vs. Pearl River would be a must-see semifinal in D2.
8. The schedule — By the end of the week, the field in Division 1 will be dwindled down to eight teams and there will be just two remaining in Division 2. The big day for D1 will be Wednesday, with eight quad meets featuring 32 teams. The quarterfinals will be held on Dec. 8 with the final four on Dec. 15 at John Jay High. The D2 quad meets will be held on Tuesday, with the quarterfinals on Thursday and the championship final on Dec. 10.
9. D2 predictions — Pleasantville may have the deepest roster of any small school team, but the consensus is that this will come down to Putnam Valley and Pearl River once again. They’re on opposite sides of the bracket, which lines them up for another championship showdown. Last season, Putnam Valley built up a big lead with its upper and light weights, but Pearl River went on a run in the middleweights and nearly pulled off a wild comeback. The difference this year is that Put Valley has lost its three best heavyweights, which could give Pearl River an edge. We’ll take the Pirates in a tight one.
10. D1 predictions — Just like in D2, don’t be surprised if the D1 final comes down to the same two teams as last season. Suffern was the better team last year, but the Mounties were hit harder by graduation than runner-up John Jay. The Indians have to make up 15 points after losing 43-28 in 2014, but this appears to be their best team since they last won in 2010. It’ll be very, very close, but we’re giving John Jay a slight advantage.