HONESDALE — Ryan Chulada isn't harboring any illusions when it comes to winning a Lackawanna League title this winter.
Honesdale's always- affable coach is entering his eighth season at the varsity helm and, while he loves what he's seeing from a young Hornet squad, he's also something of a realist.
"Delaware Valley is just loaded again this year," he told TWI Sports. "Barring a couple of major injuries, they're probably in a class all by themselves. After that, though, things could get very interesting..."
Which is exactly how it all played out last season.
DV rampaged through its schedule, winning all five league matches en route to a Division One title. The Warriors then went on to cop the District Two Duals championship and make some serious noise at the PIAA's Class AAA state tournament.
Honesdale also enjoyed a solid season, posting a 3-2 league record and tying for runner-up status with perennial powerhouse West Scranton and a scrappy Scranton High squad.
Although the Hornets lost several key wrestlers to graduation, a solid nucleus of battle-tested veterans returns for the upcoming 2012-'13 campaign.
"We have a huge crop of sophomores," said Coach Chulada said. "We may get banged around a little bit in the short term, but I'm very excited about the potential for this team down the road."
Honesdale already has a pair of scrimmages in the books. The Hornets took on both Blue Mountain and Easton last week and are now deep into preparations for their initial tournament.
Coach Chulada's lads will travel to Wissahickon High School Friday to compete in the Southeast Classic.
"We've enjoyed quite a bit of success there over the years," he said of his team, which placed third overall in 2011. "I think we'll learn a lot about ourselves this coming weekend."
The Red & Black open up their Lackawanna League slate Dec. 19 at Valley View, then return to the Maple City for their home debut Dec. 22 versus Delaware Valley.
Page 2 of 3 - Both of these matches will begin at 6:45 p.m.
Zack Smith will lead the way this season for the Hornets.
A senior who won 30 bouts a year ago and placed second at the District Two tournament (160), Smith will be competing at 182 this winter.
"Zack is going to be our go-to guy up top," Coach Chulada said. "He just signed a letter of intent for George Mason University so we're very happy for Zack. He's going to have a big season."
Evan Kennedy will also return to the starting line-up. A junior who went 28-14 a year ago and finished third at districts (126), Kennedy will be moving up to the 138-pound bracket.
"Evan had a very good sophomore season for us," Coach Chulada. "He went 3-2 at Northeast Regionals last year and I'm expecting big things from him."
Ben Rutledge has been battling a nagging knee injury he sustained during off-season freestyle action. However, he's been cleared to wrestle and Honesdale's staff is excited about his prospects.
A junior who battled his way to an 18-13 mark last winter, Rutledge has been penciled into the starting line-up at 120.
"Ben may be flying under the radar a little bit at the start of the season," Coach Chulada said. "But, if Ben stays healthy he's capable of having a big year."
Eric Daniels is a leader both on and off the mat.
A senior who's seen varsity time in each of the previous three seasons, Eric is a true scholar/athlete who's been near the top of his class academically throughout his high school career.
"I think you're going to see Eric at 152 and 147 this season," Coach Chulada said. "He's just a great kid. He's incredibly smart and very dedicated. Eric would run through a wall for us if we asked him to."
Page 3 of 3 - Other seniors who should make their presence felt on the mat include Trevor Kowalczyk (Hwt), Scotty Donovan (220) and Joe Quinn (195).
"All three of those kids are football players and they bring that tough gridiron mentality to the team," said Coach Chulada.