MANISTIQUE - The Manistique wrestlers hope a higher turnout will provide them with more opportunities to fill weight classes than in the past.
Manistique, which opens by hosting Munising and Kingsford Wednesday at 6 p.m., has 17 on its squad. Its average turnout had been in the lower teens the past several years.
"Our goal was to draw 16, so we're pretty happy with our turnout," said second-year coach Gary Bowman. "Right now, Amber Smith (sophomore at 112 pounds) is out due to a hyper-extended elbow. Once Amber is healthy we could fill every weight class but one, which will help us in dual meets."
Key returners are senior Mat Gonzalez (145 or 152) and junior Zavier Gonzalez (160), both of whom qualified for the Division 3 state individual tournament last season. Mat Gonzalez was the Upper Peninsula runner-up at 145 a year ago.
Also returning is their younger brother, sophomore Cole Gonzalez (135 or 140), seniors Zack Lindenmuth (152 or 160) and Cheyenne Shaver (189), junior Jake Milavec (125) and Smith.
"It's always nice to have a nucleus to build around," said Bowman. "Cheyenne had never wrestled at 189. He had always wrestled at 215, so this should help him."
Dec. 5 - Munising and Kingsford; Dec. 8 - at St. Ignace; Dec. 14 - at Rudyard; Dec. 29 - at Menominee.
Jan. 5 - at Fife Lake Forest Area; Jan. 9 - at Munising; Jan. 12 - at Gladwin; Jan. 19 - U.P. Championships at Marquette; Jan. 26 - Manistique D-4 Duals.
Feb. 2 - MP-C meet at Norway; Feb. 7 - D-4 team district at Newberry; Feb. 9 - D-4 individual district at Westwood; Feb. 13 - D-4 team regional; Feb. 16 - D-4 individual regional at Rogers City.
A promising newcomer is freshman heavyweight Landon Burton.
"Landon is a pretty decent sized kid who came up from the youth programs," said Bowman. "He will be tested. There are some decent heavyweights in the U.P. this year."
Bowman is looking for some of the younger wrestlers to step up this season.
"The strength of our team will depend on the kids who never wrestled before," he said. "One of our strengths, though, is how hard they work. They do everything they have to and more. The kids are like sponges. They want to absorb and learn more. Our main concern is our inexperience. We need to hope we can take advantage of the other teams' inexperience in order to win."
The Emeralds have dropped to Division 4. That, however, doesn't guarantee an easier road in the post-season.
"St. Ignace is in our district," said Bowman. "They have a couple state champions on their team. They'll be tough."
New to the Emeralds' schedule are the Menominee Super Duals on Dec. 29 and tournaments at downstate Fife Lake Forest Area and Gladwin on Jan. 5 and 12, respectively. They also host a D-4 super dual meet Jan. 26.
"We've picked up some super duals to give the kids a chance to see more and different competition," said Bowman. "Our goal is to get these kids at least 40 matches before the post-season."
Within the Mid-Peninsula Conference, Bowman points to Iron Mountain as the team to beat.
"Iron Mountain is always tough," he said. "Ishpeming has nearly its whole team back, as does Westwood. We took third last year, and our goal is to do better this year.
"Last year, every tournament we went to, we were right in the middle. We need to move up a little."