Blair Academy wrestling coach Brian Antonelli coaching at the Walsh Ironman (Photo/Sam Janicki, SJanickiPhoto.com)
Like in modern era college football where Alabama is the bluest of the blue bloods and seemingly has an ironclad grip on the top position of the rankings, there is a similar dynamic in high school wrestling with Blair Academy (N.J.). The Buccaneers start the season on top of the Fab 50 rankings for an eighth straight year, while they seek a seventh national title in that stretch of time. The last year they were not ranked preseason No. 1 was in 2010-11 when Apple Valley (Minn.) was ranked No. 1 in the preseason and also held that through the duration of the season; Blair was the preseason No. 2 and would finish the season in that position.
Like many in the college football punditry are citing this Alabama team as the best of their decade long run on top of the game, one could make the same argument for this year's Blair Academy wrestling team. The Buccaneers will start the season with an absurd 11 nationally ranked wrestlers, including six ranked within the top four of the country.
That group of six wrestlers is equivalent to the total number of wrestlers that No. 3 Bergen Catholic (N.J.) has ranked in total; while the nine wrestlers that Blair Academy has ranked inside the top ten is one more than the eight that No. 2 Wyoming Seminary (Pa.) has ranked in total. Anchoring this year's Buccaneers squad is A.J. Ferrari, the top overall junior, who is ranked No. 1 nationally at 195 pounds; ranked second nationally is Michael Colaiocco (126), Trevor Mastrogiovanni (120) and Julian Ramirez (170) are ranked third, while Anthony Ferrari (113) and Dominic Mata (160) are ranked fourth.
The top three teams will all be attending the Beast of the East on the campus of the University of Delaware right before Christmas. Blair Academy is also scheduled to be in a common tournament with Wyoming Seminary two weeks before, the Walsh Ironman, and will travel to face the Blue Knights in a Jan. 18 dual meet. Bergen Catholic is not scheduled to dual against Wyoming Seminary, but will take on Blair Academy in a January 26th dual meet at Lehigh University.
From an individual perspective, Wyoming Seminary is led by two-time National Prep champion Beau Bartlett, who is ranked No. 3 at 132 pounds; while the Blue Knights also have three others ranked inside the top ten. Half of Bergen Catholic's six ranked wrestlers reside inside the top three at their weight class: No. 3 Alex Almeyda (106), No. 1 Robert Howard (126), and No. 2 Jacob Cardenas (195).
Rounding out the top ten are five teams that were ranked within the top nine nationally to end last season, with the other two pretty close by. Starting the season No. 4 will be Cincinnati LaSalle (Ohio), which ended last season ranked No. 16 in the country. The Lancers feature five ranked individuals -- fourth most of any team this season -- led on an individual perspective by Super 32 champion Lucas Byrd, who is No. 4 at 120 pounds.
Perennial Ohio power St. Edward, winner of the last eight big-school state individual state tournaments, is ranked No. 5 to start the season. The Eagles have an excellent core of middle-weights led by three ranked in the top ten nationally, including Junior freestyle champion Bryce Andonian; he is ranked No. 2 at 145 pounds to start the season.
With four ranked individuals, No. 6 Montini Catholic (Ill.) has the fifth most individuals ranked out of any team nationally; Junior freestyle runner-up Peter Christensen is the highest ranked of that group, No. 4 at 195 pounds. No. 7 Detroit Catholic Central (Mich.) and No. 8 Lake Highland Prep (Fla.) each feature three nationally ranked individuals.
California powers Buchanan and Gilroy each feature a pair of ranked individuals, and will round out the top ten (Gilroy ended last season ranked No. 12 in the country). Each of the Golden State teams has an individual ranked within the top three to start the season -- Matthew Olguin is No. 2 at 160 for Buchanan, while Ryan Reyes is No. 3 at 195 for Gilroy.
Blair Academy is one of seven teams ranked from New Jersey, while the other six will compete against one another throughout the New Jersey state tournament series. Bergen Catholic is joined by No. 22 St. Joseph Montvale and No. 41 Delbarton as non-public schools; while No. 19 Paulsboro, No. 35 South Plainfield, and No. 40 Howell will battle in the various public school divisions for dual team crowns.
Ohio and California each feature six teams in this initial national ranking. Cincinnati LaSalle and St. Edward will be battling it out for the Division I (big-school) state title this year with three other nationally ranked teams in the periphery -- No. 16 Elyria, No. 25 Wadsworth, and No. 39 Brecksville. No. 26 St. Paris Graham has had an iron clad grip on the Division II (medium-school) crown, winning eighteen in a row; however, in the first year of the Travis McIntosh era (Jeff Jordan stepped down as head coach), they lack a nationally ranked individual to start the season.
In the single-class California state series, Buchanan and Gilroy will be joined by four other ranked teams. No. 17 Clovis and No. 43 Clovis North exit the Central section along with Buchanan, Gilroy exits the Central Coast section, No. 23 St. John Bosco exists the Southern section, while No. 45 Poway exist the San Diego section.
Two other states feature four nationally ranked teams, Pennsylvania and Illinois. Wyoming Seminary joins Blair Academy and a pair of ranked teams from Maryland (No. 28 Mount St. Joseph's and No. 34 McDonogh) in competing at the National Prep tournament, while No. 15 Bethlehem Catholic and No. 24 Erie Cathedral Prep are both Class AAA (big-school) and No. 37 Reynolds in Class AA (small-school). The other three ranked teams in Illinois are Class 3A (big-school), as is Montini; No. 30 Marmion Academy, No. 33 Chicago Mt. Carmel, and No. 49 Oak Park River Forest.
Two other states feature three ranked teams, Michigan and Minnesota. In Michigan, all three teams are Division 1 (big-school), Detroit Catholic Central along with No. 18 Brighton and No. 29 Davison. In Minnesota, No. 21 Simley and No. 31 Kasson-Mantorville are Class 2A (medium-school) and No. 42 Apple Valley is Class 3A (big-school).
States with a pair of ranked teams are as follows, along with Maryland: Florida, Missouri, Oklahoma, Iowa, and Texas. In all eighteen states have teams in the national rankings.