Chris Kamelesky knows Cardinal Stritch wrestling.
The former Cardinals standout, a 2003 graduate, won NWOCSA individual titles at 125 pounds as a junior and senior. He’s also been an assistant coach on staff ever since he graduated, but this is his first season as the team’s head coach.
“We are really young this year,” said Kamelesky, whose nine-man squad includes five sophomores, two freshmen and no seniors. “We have a lot of first-year kids and we’re trying to teach them good, basic wrestling. Hopefully we can build on that as they stick with us over the years. My goal is to teach the younger kids good, solid wrestling and get our numbers up and be a competitive team every year.”
Kamelesky said the Cardinals have four individuals who have the potential to be district qualifers, “and a couple maybe who could be state qualifiers.”
Stritch’s top wrestler is junior James Dobson, a 170-pounder who moved from North Carolina last summer. He qualified for the Division 3A state tournament as a sophomore at 170, but he has bumped up to 182 this season. Dobson took second place behind four pins at last week’s season-opening Derr Invitational at Northwood.
“I was encouraged,” Kamelesky said. “We were waiting to see him perform live against other high school kids to see what he could do. We see him in the wrestling room and see him drill, but that doesn’t always tell you what kind of wrestler you’re going to be. We saw him in five or six matches and got a feel of what we need to teach him. He has potential to be a state qualifier this season. He’s real tall and lean, and it’s all lean muscle mass. He looks to go out there and take you down and pin you as fast as he can.”
Freshman Tyler Axtell, a first-year wrestler, is first in the Cardinals’ lineup at 106 pounds along with fellow freshman Caden Jankowski, who competed at 113 at Northwood.
“He comes from Eisenhower (Junior High) and has been wrestling for quite a few years,” Kamelesky said. “Once he gets down to 106 pounds I expect him to be very competitive. I expect him to turn it around and get some wins and do some good things.”
Axtell is picking up things pretty well, according to Kamelesky.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do,” the coach said. “His dad wrestled in, I believe, Washington. Caden might have talked him into coming out. He came to a couple matches and fell in love with it. It looks like he’s going to stick to it.”
Sophomores Kyle Zapadka and Rick Hrebic will compete at 120 and 145 pounds, respectively. Zapadka and Hrebic both lettered last season.
“I expect Kyle to get over that .500 mark this year,” Kamelesky said. “He’s still learning. He’s got a great ‘shot,’ but he doesn’t use it. He probably has one of the best shots on our team. When he shoots, he’s good and can compete with anybody. Rick was another guy I was looking forward to seeing wrestle this past weekend. He’s a kid who we think, just from the improvement we see in the wrestling room, can be a .500 wrestler or better this season.”
Sophomore Connor Ryan, a transfer from St. Francis de Sales, will compete at 152 pounds. He wrestled one varsity match for the Knights.
“He’s been doing this for a few years,” Kamelesky said. “I have yet to see him on the mat in live competition, so I don’t know what to expect from him. I’m expecting to get some varsity wins out of him.”
Ricky Pratt, at 182 pounds, played basketball the past two years but decided to come out for wrestling. Kamelesky said he likes what he’s seen from the junior so far.
“He is a naturally good wrestler,” Kamelesky said. “If we would have had him the past two years, we’d be looking to get him qualified to the state tournament. He’s naturally good at wrestling. Last week he went at 195 and he only weighs 184 pounds. He lost all his matches, but he was close to getting two wins and he competed his butt off for us. He was out there just going after guys. He’s just a tough, hard-nosed kid.”
The rest of Stritch’s lineup consists of sophomores Tommy Nutter at 195 and Josh Kramer at 220. They are both first-year wrestlers.
“He’s a kid who is helping us rebuild the program,” Kamelesky said. “He’s a hard worker, he just doesn’t know a lot of wrestling yet. Josh is doing this more, I think, to be a better football player. I told him this is one of the best ways to do that. He comes in and tries to learn as much as he can every day.”
Kamelesky’s staff includes Stritch grads Josh Reindel and Scott Zapadka, and Joe Mileski, who wrestled at Tiffin Calvert.
“I have one of the best staffs around,” Kamelesky said.