Hornets are the reigning Lackawanna League and District Two Duals champs

There’s simply no denying it: Honesdale caught just about everyone by surprise last year.

After four straight losing seasons on the Lackawanna League wrestling scene, the Hornets dominated their competition in 2016-17.

Under the direction of veteran head coach Ryan Chulada, the Red & Black went undefeated en route to a Division II title.

The local lads earned the top seed at District Duals and continued to roll. They defeated Berwick, Valley View and Western Wayne to claim the Class AA crown and qualify for the PIAA state tournament.

Honesdale suffered back-to-back losses at Hershey, but returned to the Maple City with heads held high.

“We had a great season and it was definitely a lot of fun,” Coach Chulada said just prior to Thursday’s practice session.

“But, it’s a new year and we’re back to square one.

“We lost some key components to that team, but boy we have a really solid nucleus of kids coming back. I’m very excited to get out there and see what we’ve got.”

Local fans will get their first glimpse of this 2017-18 squad on Tuesday, Dec. 12 when the Hornets travel to Wallenpaupack Area for a battle with the Buckhorns,

Mat action gets underway at 6:45 p.m. on the shores of The Big Lake.

“I’m really looking forward to it,” Coach Chulada said with a smile.

“We’ve had some great matches over the years and this one should be a barn burner too.”

Stage Set

Honesdale opened up its 2016-17 campaign with a loss at West Scranton.

The Hornets followed that up with a mediocre 27th place finish at the Holiday Classic Tournament, hosted by Bethlehem Catholic.

It wasn’t exactly an auspicious start, but something special was brewing in the Red & Black wrestling room. A run was brewing and it began with a dominant performance in a tri-meet at Blue Ridge.

Coach Chulada’s squad pummeled both the Raiders (60-21) and Montrose (55-18). From that point on, the Hornets just kept getting stronger and stronger.

By the time the season was over, the local lads had posted one of the best records in school history at 22-5. Led by a trio of outstanding seniors Honesdale reclaimed a place among the elite programs in District Two.

And, while Alec Dragos, Dennis Putzi and Troy Russell are gone, several talented youngsters are primed to take their places.

“Those Guys were hugely important,” Coach Chulada admitted. “They punched out over 30 wins each.

“Losing Dragos, Russell and Putzi hurts, but I think kids like Matt Davis, Gerald Pepper, Michael O’Day and Joey Rutledge are poised for a breakout year.”

Leadership

Whatever measure of success the Hornets enjoy this winter, the seniors will play a vital role.

Davis is coming off a stellar junior season. Matt saw action in three different weight classes, but finally settled down at 132 where he became one of the area's elite competitors.

He posted 23 wins in 2016-17, battled his way to a third place finish at the district meet and qualified for regionals.

“We're really looking for Matt to help set the tone in the lower half of our line-up,” Coach Chulada said. “Matt is a very good athlete and I'm expecting big things from him this year.”

Pepper wrestled at 152 and 160 last season, carding nine wins along the way. Gerald is a multi-sport standout who also excels on the cross country team.

“I really feel that Gerald is one of our best kids,” said Coach Chulada. “He lost a ton of razor-thin matches last year and I think a lot of those will go his way this year. Gerald is poised to get off to a really hot start here in the early going.”

Rutledge pounded out 22 wins last year as a junior, medaling at districts and advancing to NE Regionals. He'll be penciled in at 145.

“I'm looking for Joey to have a monster year,” said Coach Chulada. “He's such a smart kid, on the mat and in the classroom, and he's a pleasure to coach.”

O'Day is another Hornet who posted 20 wins last winter while wrestling at a weight class (160) that's traditionally been one of the most brutal in NEPA.

“No one's worked harder than Michael has over the past few years,” Coach Chulada said. “Where he is physically right now as compared to his sophomore year is night and day. I think Michael is going to be a very steady presence in the middle of our line-up.”

On Their Way

In addition to these battle-tested veterans, there are several talented youngsters waiting in the wings to grab the spotlight in 2017-18.

Nick Lizza is still just a sophomore, but he carved out a spot for himself in the varsity line-up last winter.

Lizza went 21-12 as a frosh and powered his way to a District Two medal at 120 pounds.

“If things go the way I think they will, Nick is going to challenge for a district title this year,” said Coach Chulada. “He's a very polished wrestler and a hard-working young man.”

Jake Kabonick hammered out a 22-14 record last year as a sophomore. He's another multi-sport star who plays on the football team.

“Jake really looks good,” said Coach Chulada. “If we're going to have a big season as a team, Jake will have to be a big part of it at 184 pounds.”

Brandon Lawson is a junior who'll line up at 152 this season. Lawson is an outstanding student, ranked number one in his class academically.

“He's a scrappy kid,” said Coach Chulada. “Brandon is smart and dedicated. He won 18 bouts for us last year and I'm looking for even more this year.”