As he begins his 26th year coaching Cuyahoga Valley Christian Academy wrestling, Dave Bergen has seen several eras come and go for the Royals.
Entering the eighth year of second tenure as CVCA head coach, Bergen know the Royals are entering a new era with twin brothers Jacob and Jordan Decatur moving on to wrestle at Ohio State after winning six state titles between them.
"As I view this sport, everybody loses guys like that after four years," Bergen said. "You can think to yourself, ‘We’ll never have another Harry Lester, we’ll never have another Nate Tomasello, we’ll never have another Decatur twins.’ From a Christian perspective, you just have to see what God sends the program."
"Obviously, we don’t have any returning state champion in the room this year," he added. "In some ways, the motivation to get there [to the state meet] is even greater."
CVCA finished seventh at the Division II state meet last year. While he notes hits team will be young this winter, Bergen notes the cupboard is far from bare.
"We’re going to be led by two seniors this year in Matt Williams and Breslin Walker," Bergen said. "The leadership of the program is in great shape. We’ve got a big crop of freshmen. We’ve got a good supporting cast. A lot of these guys are green. They’re in the room every day working hard."
Bergen noted Tuslaw will probably be the Royals’ top competitor in the Principals’ Athletic Conference. With 16 wrestlers in the room, CVCA could field close to a full lineup this season, though Bergen notes the Royals will be a more tournament-oriented team early in the year.
Bergen’s assistant coaches include Paul Charvat, Steve Mitcheff, Tim Hinman, Tommy Ziegeer, Kyle Fergeron and Evan Francis.
Along with the loss of the Decatur twins, CVCA lost state alternate Danny Sinchok to graduation. Bergen notes the Royals’ strength will be "more spread out" after being concentrated in the lightweights in recent years.
CVCA could have a season-long fight between freshmen Anthony Perez and Owen Nelson for the starting spot at 106 pounds.
"They both have lots of experience, but not much in the way of credentials," Bergen said. "It’s going to be competitive."
Whoever loses the wrestle-off at 106 might bump up 113, where fellow freshman Braden Halen is also in the mix.
"All three of those guys are really unproven commodities," Bergen said. "These guys are all seasoned guys though."
Sophomore Jackson Sullivan is "a bit on the green side," but will start at 120 pounds.
"I expect Jackson to outperform where he did last season," Bergen said.
After being behind all-state wrestlers the last two seasons, junior T.J. Sarkiewicz will finally get a shot to start at 126 pounds.
"He’s pretty amped up to the compete. We just want these guys to improve," Bergen said. "He’s a guy that I think will make some big jumps this year."
After finishing sixth in Division II at 126 pounds last season, Williams moves up to 132 pounds and is laser focused on a state title run.
"He’s wrestling very well. He wrestled all summer," Bergen said. "He’s made really big strength gains. He’s transitioning better from positions. I’m really excited to see what he will do at the ironman."
Junior Caiden Scarbrough finished one win shy of making it to states last season. Bergen notes Scarbrough keeps growing, as he will start at 138 pounds this winter.
"He’s incredibly skilled," Bergen said. "He’s working so much harder this year in the room. I think he’s going to have that breakout year."
Junior 145-pounder Austin Pownall made his first trip to states last winter and hopes to improve on an 0-2 finish at Columbus.
"He and Matt are drill partners. We’re going to count on him to be placing at the state meet," Bergen said.
Sophomore J.J. Booner will be "learning on the job" as he gets the start at 152 pounds.
After an open spot at 160 pounds, freshman Neill Walker — younger brother of Breslin — will start at 170 pounds after coming through CVCA’s middle school program.
"He’s experienced, but not at a high level," Bergen said. "He sees the work ethic and the passion in our program and he’s really buying in."
By the far the most accomplished of CVCA’s freshmen is 182-pounder Kyle Snider. Coming off an All-Ohio season at linebacker for the Royals football team, Snider won the OAC Middle School state championship at 164 pounds last winter.
"Kyle is a very special kid," Bergen aid. I"t’s really the same expectations for him that he had in middle school. He’s technically sound and quick. He’s got all the tool..
Fellow freshman Jackson Kipp is new to wrestling, but will start at 195 pounds.
Brelin Walker’s career has been a bit star-crossed. Although he is a three-time state qualifier and recently committed to wrestle at Cleveland State, Walker has never earned All-Ohio honors.
Walker was unable to wrestle at states last year due to a skin infection, which Bergen said has lit a fire in his senior captain.
"I think Breslin is a finals potential guy," Bergen said. "He’s totally focused. The biggest thing is he’s matured so much emotionally and mentally. He’s moving well."
Freshman Tony Coliins joins the Royals from the football team and comes in at about 245 pounds.
"He’s been a fun kid to have around," Bergen said.
Bergen notes CVCA’s schedule in December is brutal, as the Royals will open across the road at the Walsh Ironman Tournament Dec. 13 and 14.
"Our focus isn’t on getting on the podium," Bergen said. "It’s about improving and wrestling top competition. That will pay dividends later."
Reporter Michael Leonard can be reached at 330-541-9442, email@example.com or @MLeonard_GHO