SALAMANCA — With numbers rising and noticeable commitment from his wrestlers, Keith Jones is starting to see some progress in his third year as Salamanca varsity wrestling coach.
Salamanca starts the season with 19 varsity wrestlers and just one senior, which suggests the Warriors’ numbers should last for several years. The Warriors’ lone senior, Elijah Cook, comes with varsity experience, returning to the district after wrestling at Randolph last year.
“The biggest thing as far as progress for this year, I think it's my biggest year (in that) we have the most kids coming back, between varsity and modified,” Jones said. “That's what we're looking to do, as far as building.
“Six out of the seven that we finished with came back. I think that's the biggest thing, as far as the numbers are coming back. So seven, and then we have four that came up from modified, and plus we have Elijah Cook back, who wrestled here and then went to Randolph and wrestled for a year, now he's wrestling for us his senior year. That's going to be a huge help.”
Salamanca’s rise in numbers, combined with a good variety of weight classes, has Jones hopeful the Warriors can compete in more duals this season.
“We should be more competitive,” he said. “We're a little more spread out this year, too. Even when we had, at the beginning of the year, we had 14, 15 kids last year, we were grouped together, it was the same weight (classes).”
The Warriors have eight juniors, led by Trevor Ellis and Lucas McKenna, along with Devin Bialaszewski, Norman Green, Justin Nichols, Sam Oakes, Marjorie Osgood and Ezra Stahlman. Salamanca’s sophomores include Shawn Bacelli, Skylee Baldwin, Jordan Ground, Blake Harrison, Malaki Harrison and Jessica Seekins. Four freshmen (Maysen Jimerson, Cruz Otero, David Smith, Konner Spring) also make the team, jumping up from modified.
“Even though we've got people back, we're still young,” Jones said. “We've still got a lot to learn. I The biggest thing I've learned with these kids is they're more willing to push this year. A lot of them were new last year, Trevor (Ellis) and Mushirah (Sheppard) and Lucas (McKenna) were pretty much my only returners last year, so this year, I think they know it a little better, they're a little more willing to learn, we've gone a little harder the first couple weeks of practices, which comes with experience.”
Jones has liked the leadership shown by Ellis and Ground to start this season.
“Trevor for sure, Jordan Ground has picked it up a lot this year,” Jones said. “(Ground) came in 30 pounds lighter, so his conditioning's better, he's a little more mature, more willing to lead, so that's huge.”
The Warriors are set to get one match in before the Thanksgiving break, visiting Frewsburg on Tuesday. Jones said he’s interested in seeing how the team responds against another school.
“I guess that's what we'll see Tuesday,” Jones said. “It's hard to judge sometimes now. Even the kids, they know each other, so the matches seem a little closer because they know each other better.”
Jones plans to evaluate this season on a variety of levels, from team victories, to maintaining numbers and postseason tournament performance.
“I think the big thing will be that most kids stick it out, and I think they will,” Jones said of what he considers progress. “My first year, we won three matches. If we can win more than three matches, that would be good. Keeping 15-19 kids on the team, that would be successful. And sending more than one kid to state qualifiers, I think would be a success as well.”