The dean of Southwestern Conference wrestling coaches, Maurice Brown, enters his 21st season at Belleville East with more enthusiasm and energy than he’s had in a decade.
After a series of middle-of-the-pack finishes in the SWC, the Lancers probably won’t challenge preseason picks Edwardsville and O’Fallon for the SWC championship this winter. But with a pair of former metro-east wrestling greats in Joe Bevis and Bob Dahm now on his coaching staff, and with a group of talented underclassmen eager to impress, Brown is as optimistic as he’s been about his program than he’s been in many years.
“I feel rejuvenated. I really do. Sometimes, you just need a boost and these guys have given me one in the way they’ve come in and worked hard this season,” Brown said. “We lost a great (assistant) in Bryan (Mitchell) who retired after last year, but with Mark (Bergman) still here and with Joe (Bevis) and Bob (Dahm) coming in to coach, we still have a great staff.
“Plus we’re getting more kids from the junior high programs like Wolf Branch, Central and West who have wrestled. We’re going to have two freshman and three sophomores in the starting lineup, but these kids already have a lot of matches under their belts and are ready to go.”
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The Lancers were ready in their first two matches last week, recording wins over Mount Vernon and Vianney. While the young Lancers have wrestled, most are new to the varsity level. Competing in one of the top Class 3A wrestling conferences in the state, keeping the spirits of the wrestlers at a high level could be one of the toughest chores for the East coaches.
“Unless you are a four-time undefeated state champion, you are going to lose a match every once in a while. It’s going to happen when maybe you have an off day or the person you are wrestling against is just better than you are or has more experience. The key is to not get down on yourself,” Brown said. “Being able to learn from your losses is also a key. If my opponent beats me, what do I need to improve on so that it doesn’t happen again?
“These are young athletes we’re dealing with. Part of our job as coaches is to keep them positive and not get down on themselves.
Among the freshmen expected to compete for a starting spot are David Arneson (126 pounds), Caleb Grau (152) and Carlos Tyse (195). Arneson is the grandson of former St. Louis Cardinals football player Mark Arneson.
“David has come in and looked strong in practice. He’s done a good job,” Brown said. “I know we’re having Caleb (Grau) and Carlos (Tyse) wrestle at weight classes were there are usually a lot of upperclassmen.
“I really think they have the ability to come in and compete at those weight classes.”
The rest of the Lancers lineup also lacks experience at the varsity level. Sophomores Kenneth Wilson and Lunden Pasnokot are battling senior Carson Gamboe for mat time in the 106-113 pound weight classes, while sophomore Trey Fernandes returns and will compete in the 120 pound weight class.
Fernandes, the son of former Lancers standout CJ Fernandes, had a solid season a year ago and should be one of the top 120-pound wrestlers in the area. Junior Justin Sanders (132), sophomore Logan Barringer (138), junior Brandon Bruce (145) and sophomore Jalen Hamilton (145) round out the Lancers in the lower and middle weight classes.
Grau will be solid at 152 pounds and will be joined by senior Alexander Garza (160), first year wrestler and junior Caleb Saounera (170), junior Doriun Martin (182) and senior Ein Austin (182).
Sophomore Aaron Wallace (220) and junior Eric Mukiza (285) round out the Lancers lineup.