MANISTIQUE - One thing about high school sports is you can be reasonably certain your program is going to be dealt a new hand each year.
Such is the case for the Manistique wrestlers, who have 10 on their roster and open in Saturday's St. Ignace Invitational.
First, the Gonzalez brothers (Zavier and Cole) have transferred to Norway and older brother Mat graduated. Mat and Cole were Division 4 individual state qualifiers last season.
"We also had six people who were going to return and aren't here for various reasons," said coach Gary Bowman. "We have four freshman, but one is hurt and another is ineligible. At one time, we thought we'd have about 20 kids. We pretty much got hit with Murphy's Law. But we're not going to quit. Nobody dropped any bombs on us."
Additionally, returning junior Amber Smith at 112 pounds and sophomore Landon Burton (215) have been battling injuries. Smith has an arm injury and Burton is out with a twisted ankle.
Austin Miller (125) is the Emeralds' lone senior. Other hopefuls are junior Gabe Karr (171) and sophomores Travis Dufour (135) and Bill Stevenson (140).
Dec. 7 - at St. Ignace; Dec. 11 - Ishpeming, Munising and Kingsford; Dec. 13 - at Rudyard; Dec. 18 - at Newberry; Dec. 21 - at Munising.
Jan. 4 - at Roscommon; Jan. 8 - at Munising; Jan. 11 - at Gladwin; Jan. 18 - U.P. Championships at Marquette; Jan. 25 - Manistique D-4 Super Duals.
Feb. 1 - M-PC meet at Westwood; Feb. 6 - D-4 team district at Newberry; Feb. 8 - D-4 individual district at Iron Mountain; Feb. 12 - D-4 team regional; Feb. 15 - D-4 individual regional at Rogers City. Feb. 27-28 - D-4 individual state tournament at Auburn Hills.
"We'll be starting anew," said Bowman. "We need to work on basic skills. We have some kids who have no wrestling background whatsoever. At least four have never been on a mat before. The thing that's nice is the kids are questioning a lot of things and they're getting more involved with the techniques. We'll make a lot of mistakes and can learn quickly that way. Our goal is to surprise some people at the end of the year. We're beating the bushes and hoping to draw a few more kids."
What can the Emeralds expect in their opener?
It's real good tournament," said Bowman. "Gladstone won it last year and a couple teams came up from below the (Mackinac) bridge and had nice teams. Sault Ste. Marie also had some nice wrestlers.
"It looks like Gladstone is the team to beat in the U.P. and Norway will be the team to beat in the Mid-Peninsula Conference. Escanaba will also be among the teams to watch."
The Emeralds also have two downstate meets on their schedule, including the Roscommon and Gladwin Invitationals on Jan. 4 and 11.
"We go downstate to see what some of our competition will be like in the (individual) regionals," said Bowman. "Wrestling is a great sport. We're looking forward to getting the season started."