BELLEVILLE — The 2012-13 wrestling season was a banner one for the Belleville West Maroons.
Led by the brilliance of state champion DeMechico Spraggins and junior Nate Higgins along with a strong supporting cast, West finished as co-champions in the Southwestern Conference, won more than 20 dual matches and had three wrestlers earn medals at the Class 3A State Tournament.
So what do you do for an encore? You rebuild, said veteran coach Al Sears.
"We lost two state (tournament) place winners and three other starters from the varsity lineup who were all pretty high-level kids,'' Sears said. "I think it will be a little bit of a rebuilding year, but I also think we've got a good nucleus of six or seven kids who have wrestled for a long time who could make it fun. But we'll see.''
West will get an early season challenge this weekend when it competes in the Lockport Duals. There, the Maroons will take on three of the top teams in the state -- Minooka, Lockport and Chicago Mount Carmel.
One wrestler who will hold his own against anyone in the state this season is Higgins. Third at the Class 3A 152-pound weight class at the state tournament a year ago, Higgins should be one of the top 160-pound wrestlers this season.
Sears said Higgins will compete at 160 pounds during the season then move down to 152 for the state tournament series.
Entering his fourth season in the Maroons' lineup, Higgins will attend and wrestle at Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville next year.
"Nate is a big-time NCAA Division I athlete. I'm glad he knows where he's going to college. Now he can just relax and wrestle,'' Sears said. "Nate's also a leader. I told the other kids that if you want to watch someone or if you have a question, watch what Nate does during practice and how hard he works.''
Also expected to play a key role for the Maroons is Cooper Secker who returns at 106 pounds. Secker weighed only about 90 pounds when he competed at 106 pounds a year ago.
"Not any more,'' Sears said of Secker. "He's actually at 113 pounds and he's cutting to 16. That's not bad.''
West has question marks at both 113 and 120 pounds, but senior Titus Taylor should be among the elite 126-pound wrestlers in the area.
J.D. Bass is also a solid wrestler and will be the starter at 132 pounds, while Nate Smalling, a state qualifier two years ago as a freshman, will be the starter at 138 pounds.
Injured in the postseason a year ago, Nick Foster will be the starter at 145 pounds while transfer Orlando Sanders will see mat time at both 160 and 170 pounds.
Sanders wrestled at Bellleville East last year.
Claude Shelby and Wil Peterson are among those competing for starting spots at 182-195 pounds.
Junior Ricky Nelson will be the Maroons' heavyweight. A gifted athlete, Nelson is currently out with a knee injury but will hopefully be back in the lineup soon.
Sears concedes that the Maroons may not be as deep or talented as in the past four or five years, but he likes how Maroons go about their business.
"The attitudes and work ethic of this group has been tremendous,'' Sears said. If you walk into our wrestling room, you'll notice how quiet it is.
"It's not from me getting on them. It's because they are all working so hard. That's great to see.''
Contact reporter Dean Criddle at 239-2661 or firstname.lastname@example.org
49-3 placed third at 152