It’s a fact that the Fenwick wrestling team is entering the 2009-10 season without a Bobby Barnhisal-caliber grappler, but the Friars still shouldn’t be taken lightly.

After winning a state title at 152 pounds and wrestling to a 42-2 record, Barnhisal is now at Navy. Though he lacks a star wrestler, head coach Jerry Ruffino isn’t worried that his team may break a 14-year tradition of winning seasons. Ruffino sees this year’s team being more powerful as a unit, while gaining experience as individuals.

“This is a very young team but most of the guys have wrestling experience through our off-season program or they are coming from other programs,” said Ruffino. “We were senior heavy last year, and it was difficult for some of these guys to break into the order. You can’t replace a Bobby Barnhisal, but as a team I feel we are very much improved.”

The Friars aren’t entirely without a possible state contender. Matt Garelli returns this season wrestling at 103 pounds. Garelli went 28-11 last season battling opponents that were 10 pounds heavier. Ruffino said the sectional qualifier who is ranked in the top five has a shot to make the state tournament.

“He’s just barely at 103, so he’ll really need to use his quickness and skills, but Matt has the potential to do some great things this year,” he said.

A slew of sophomores are expected to fill the 112 through 130 weight divisions. John Jablonsky (112), Tony Aguilar (119), Matt Matigian (125) and Carlos Pike (130) will take to the mat at these lower weights. Aguilar and Pike have limited varsity experience. Aguilar wrestled in 15 matches as a freshman last year, while Pike earned nine victories.

Others expected to make an impact this season include Mike Mrstina (135), Graham Joss (140), Jason Heredia (145), Jordan Chang (152), Phil Gough (160), Andrew Schroeder (171), Jason Dalessandro (189), Steven Sreniawski (215) and heavyweight Jimmy Conrad. Bill Weiland, a senior, also has a shot at 140 pounds.

Heredia was a regional champ last year and went 18-7 on the year. Chang, also a sectional qualifier, fills in for the departed Barnhisal. Sreniawski, a junior, went undefeated at both the freshman and sophomore levels.

Ruffino hopes to see good things from his senior heavyweight. Conrad won 11 matches last season before a broken foot sidelined the 300-plus grappler.

“Coming off that injury, I think a healthy Jimmy will help us a lot,” said Ruffino.

The Friars will try to improve on last season’s fourth place finish in the always difficult Chicago Catholic League, although it won’t be easy. Mount Carmel, Providence and Brother Rice are expected to fill the top three spots, while the Friars battle it out against St. Rita.

“We’re going to have our growing pains to start, but I think near the end of the season these guys should be wrestling like they’ve been on varsity for years,” said Ruffino.

The Friars begin the season today (Wednesday, Nov. 25) against Glenbard West. They travel to Barrington for a tournament this weekend.

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Brad Spencer

Brad Spencer has been covering sports in and around Oak Park for more than a decade, which means the young athletes he once covered in high school are now out of college and at home living with their parents...