Top area teams: Marmion, St. Charles East, West Aurora, Geneva, Kaneland, Batavia, St. Charles North.
Projected starters: Batavia: Michael Doranski, fr., 106; Luke Schulz, soph., 113: Joey Shump, sr., 126; Charlie Smorczewski, sr., 138; Marc Goodin, jr., 145: Trevor Kilgallen, jr., 152; Jon Wagner, sr., 160; Nick Offutt, jr., 170; Noah Frazier, soph., 182; Mickey Watson, sr., 195; Connor McKeehan, jr., 220; Mitchell Krusz, soph., 285. Geneva: Steven MacDonald, fr., 106; Julian Dessens, fr., 113; Brad Martens, sr., 120; Keneen Freeman, sr., 126, Collin Parsons, soph., 132; Mike Huck, soph., 138; Mark Henrikson, sr., 145; Mike Villanueva, sr., 152; Alex Kunkle, sr., 160: Tony Castellvecchi, sr., 170; Cody Murphy, sr., 182: Jake Boser, sr., 195; Stephen Kemp, fr., 220; Jake Anderson, jr., 285. Kaneland: Adam Mish, soph., 106; Stephen Gust, sr., 113; Connor Williams, sr., 120; David Barnhart, sr., 126; Esai Ponce, sr., 132; Sonny Horn, sr., 138; Danny Goress, sr., 145; Austin Parks, fr., 152; Zach Russell, jr., 160; Freddy Paulino, fr., 170; Zach Parker, fr., 182: Nick Sharp, sr., 195: Zach Thielk, soph., 220; Zach Theis, sr., 285. Marmion: Anthony Bosco, jr., 106; A.J. Jaffe, fr., 113; Johnny Jimenez, jr., 120; Jake Field, sr., 126; George Fisher, sr., 132; Sammy Breen, jr., 138; Trace Carello, fr., 145; Riley DeMoss, fr., 152; Nick Ferraro, jr., 160; Josh Meyers, jr., 170; Raul Jaimes, fr., 182; Cody Snodgrass, sr., 195; Lucas Warren, fr., 220; Alex Fritz, sr., 285. St. Charles East: Anthony Rubino, fr., 106; Ryan Rubino, sr., 113; DJ McDermott, soph., 120; Austin Hrubec, jr., 126; Ryan Valesh, jr., 132; Isaiah Vela, jr., 138; Keone Derain, soph., 145: Ramon Lopez, soph., 152; Brad Kearbey, sr., 160; Cam Carlson, sr., 170; Xander Doria, sr., 182; Keegan Furmanski, sr., 195; Peter Banks, sr., 220; Will Leite, soph., 285. St. Charles North: Mike Cannata, soph., 106; Conrad Noverini, soph., 113; Anthony Perrilli, soph., 120; Steve Collins, soph., 126; Eric Conrad, sr., 132; Kevin Deisher, sr., 138; Mike Perrilli, sr., 145; Ethan Fredericks, soph., 152; Chris Page, soph., 160; Sal Destephano, jr., 170; Greg Dierkin, sr., 182; Tyler Fisher, jr., 195; Wes Pasholk, sr., 220; Zack Greiter, soph., 285. West Aurora: John Doyle, fr., 113; Carlos Jacquez, soph., 120; Ethan Lesher, sr., 126; Sam Fox, jr., 132; Anthony Rivera, sr., 138; Jason Clayton, sr., 145; Brandon Farias, sr., 160; Dequon Booker, jr., 170; Trevon Williams, sr., 182; Karl Fowlor, soph., 195; Julian Lopez, jr., 220; Sam Deisher, fr., 285
Scouting report: It was a Thanksgiving weekend to remember for the St. Charles East boys basketball and wrestling teams. On the mat, the Saints opened the season by dismantling St. Charles North and then followed it up by claiming the tournament championship at Conant.
"It was the first time since my sophomore year, 1997," first-year St. Charles East coach Jason Potter said of the Saints winning at Conant. "I knew we were going to have a pretty good team. I told (the kids before the season started) to come out swinging. Having this kind of success the first week of the season can only be a positive thing."
Potter, the only two-time state champion in school history, said the Saints' inability to qualify any wrestlers for the state tournament last year still stings. Vela was all-state for St. Charles East two years ago as a freshman, but a broken rib robbed him of a chance to return last season. The junior was the lone champion for the Saints at Conant.
St. Charles East is far from a one-man operation, though, as experience, depth and balance can be found throughout its lineup.
"This is (an) exciting (start) for us, and we're looking to keep it going," Potter said.
St. Charles East is far from the only Upstate Eight Conference River Division squad to come flying out of the gates. Geneva began its season in impressive fashion as well, running the table in seven dual meets at Carmel Catholic in Mundelein to run its season-opening winning streak to nine. Martens is one of only two returning state qualifiers from Class 3A in the area.
But the senior may face the most arduous task of any local athlete. The largest-class 120-pound division is littered with former state champions and state finalists.
"One-hundred and 20 is absolutely loaded," Geneva coach Tom Chernich said. Chernich is counting on his plethora of four-year athletes to carry the team. "We have a lot of seniors who are going to score big-time points for us," Chernich said. "We would like to make a run for the conference (championship)."
Geneva will be tested right away when encountering archrival Batavia on Thursday night to kick off league play.
"After seeing that St. Charles East won the Conant Tournament, I think they are the team to beat," Chernich said. "Whoever wins the match on Thursday will be the top challenger."
Chernich has high expectations for Boser, a conference champion two years ago whose junior campaign was limited due to nagging injuries. Kunkle is another main factor for the Vikings.
"Kunkle has improved a lot," Chernich said.
Batavia is yet another local squad looking to make up for a disappointing postseason. Shump, a state qualifier two years ago as a sophomore, also incurred a season-ending injury last year. Watson is another four-year starter for the Bulldogs looking for a sense of redemption. But the Bulldogs suffered mightily when former conference champions Anthony Scaccia and Laren Eustace elected not to come out to concentrate on respective collegiate futures in football and baseball.
"Two of our guys who won 30 matches for us are no longer with us," said Scott Bayer, the Bulldogs' first-year coach who has been with the program since 2005. "(Shump and Watson) are both hungry as heck. They have something to prove. (Shump) is in elite company for our program (after surpassing 100 career wins)."
Like many area coaches, Bayer has grand expectations for his seniors.
"Our seniors are our core," Bayer said.
Legendary coach Tom Arlis has also rejoined the Bulldogs' staff this winter. Arlis, who came to Batavia in 2003 after producing multiple state champions at Naperville North, returns after a two-year hiatus.
"It has been great to have (Arlis') presence on the bench and in the (workout) room," Bayer said.
Peter McNamara is also making his head-coaching debut in the area for St. Charles North.
"Don't ask me how I got this job," said McNamara, who had a distinguished four-decade career in suburban Indianapolis. "I thought I was retired -- and now I'm not."
Pasholk, the only North Star to win a match against St. Charles East last week, is the heart and soul of the program.
"We're trying to build some pride in the program," McNamara said. "We're headed in the right direction. We had four guys place at Conant (headlined by Pasholk finishing runner-up) last weekend. We've never done that before."
The other big news in the area was the elevation of Marmion to Class 3A. Ryan Cumbee is the Cadets' new coach after Dean Branstetter mentored nine state champions in a three-year period.
Marmion is blessed yet again to have a remarkable balance of state-seasoned veterans and an infusion of underclassmen with unlimited potential.
"We have a freshmen class composed unlike anything I have ever seen before," Cumbee said. "When you have freshmen (on varsity), you are a psychiatrist as well as a coach. We feel like we have something special at Marmion. We're not looking forward to next year (as in the 2013-14 school year). We're looking at next February."
Jimenez is in search of a third consecutive state championship; the junior enters the season as the top-ranked 120-pounder in the land. Jimenez was named the MVP of the Barrington Tournament over the weekend after dispatching all comers.
Bosco and Fisher, who claimed wins at Barrington as well, enter the season with top-rated distinctions from the authoritative website, illinoismatmen.com. Fisher, runner-up a year ago after becoming one of five Marmion wrestlers to claim a state championship two years ago, captured a national championship at Fargo, N.D. over the summer.
The Fisher triumph at the national level is essentially a metaphor for the Cadets as a program this year.
"We have the toughest schedule in the nation," Cumbee said of the Cadets' participation at three out-of-state tournaments. "We plan on taking lumps and getting better from it. I am very excited to be able to compete against the biggest schools in the state."
For the first time in recent memory West Aurora was not included in the large-school top-20 poll in the matmen.com team preseason rankings. Mike DiNovo, who has directed the program to four regional championships during his nine-year tenure, is undeterred.
"I like this team a lot," DiNovo said. "They might have to go through some growing pains. There are enough juniors and seniors (in the starting lineup) to give us experience."
Jacquez is the other returning state qualifier from the area in Class 3A. Martinez, the younger brother of former state champion and current Illinois starter Mario, headlines the Blackhawks' always productive freshmen class.
"He wants those comparisons (to Mario)," DiNovo said. "The outlook is promising."
With Marmion no longer in the middle tier of the three-class state tournament, Kaneland has the distinction of representing local aspirations in Class 2A. Gust, Ponce and Goress are all state-finals contenders for the Knights.
"I see nothing but good out of this senior class," Kaneland coach Monty Jahns said. "The practice room, at this point, is just unbelievable. (The seniors) are going to lead those guys into the work that needs to be done. I see us having one of the best tournament teams around, at least as far as (Class) 2A is concerned."
Key dates: Dec. 1, West Aurora Mega Duals; Dec. 7, Ironman Tournament; Dec. 13, Marmion at Montini; Dec. 14-15, Hinsdale Central Rex Whitlach Tournament; Dec. 22-23, Dvorak Tournament; Dec. 22-23, DeKalb Invite; Dec. 27-28, Palatine Berman Classic; Jan. 5, Geneva Tournament; Jan. 12, Batavia Invite; Jan 18-19 Conference tournaments; Jan. 26, DuPage Valley Conference championship.
Predicted state champions: Class 1A, Lena Winslow; Class 2A, Montini; Class 3A, Marist