HOOSICK, N.Y. -- Hosting the Ken Baker Classic tournament a year ago, the Hoosick Falls Central School wrestling team came out on top in the last match. It was a sign of things to come as the Panthers won the Class C title and finished runner-up at the Section II small school state qualifier.
This season, after a second straight Wasaren League crown, Hoosick Falls is looking strong to embark on the same type of run, starting with today's Ken Baker Classic, hosted this year by Cambridge.
"As a team, it's looking great for us," said Hoosick Falls 106-pounder Luis Weierbach. "This is one of the best teams we've had and one of the best in a while. We should win the tournament and have a few guys in the finals. A lot of seniors really want it."
Fifteen other teams will participate in the Classic and look to knock off the defending champions. All five Wasaren League teams -- Hoosick Falls, Cambridge, Tamarac, Schuylerville and Granville -- are there. Others include Salem, Hadley-Luzerne/Lake George, Whitehall, Ballston Spa, Berne-Knox, Guilderland, Ichabod Crane, Maple Hill, Voorheesville, AuSable Valley and Burr and Burton Academy.
"We wanted to add a few teams to spice it up," said Hoosick Falls coach Landon Nelson. "I think it's going to be the same as last year, a close result. With illness, some guys could be out. There's a lot of different factors that could cause a different result.
A couple of the Panthers' mainstays have held serve all season.
Weierbach has been perfect this season at 27-0 heading into the Classic, winning 16 by fall.
Weierbach, a two-time sectional champion and a state place-finisher last year at 99 pounds, said he's had a few quality matches and big wins that will come in handy for later in the season.
"I like to believe I have a target on my back," Weierbach said. "I dont look at it as my record, it's all preparation for the state tournament. If I have a target, bring it on."
Senior Brad Burns, who won a sectional title and finished sixth at states, is 25-2 this season at 182 pounds, having topped some of the section's best competition.
But the rest of the lineup is close behind,
Six Panthers -- including Burns and Weierbach -- have already reached 20 wins. The team is extremely strong through the middleweights -- Tyler Randall at 126 pounds is 19-9, while Colby Davendonis (132) is 20-5. Mike Mattat is 22-4 this season at 138 and Bryan Sherman is 27-3 at 145, tied for the most wins on the team.
"We've had a pretty successful season, everyone is wrestling pretty well," said Sherman, who has 17 wins by either pin or technical fall. "Some kids want to take us out because this tournament is really important for sectional seeding."
Sherman's three losses are to Division I challengers, ones he won't see in the Division II small school tournament.
"He's one of the hardest workers," Nelson said. "He's exciting to watch this year. He's on fire and wrestling tough as nails."
One surprise in the Hoosick Falls lineup has been freshman Nolan Foster. Brought up to varsity last year as an eighth grader, Foster has parlayed the experience to a 21-7 record so far this year.
"[I] pulled him up as a eighth grader, and he placed at the [Glens Falls] Civic Center last year," Nelson said. "He's physical, knows the basics. A couple years down the road, he's going to be a solid wrestler."
The Panthers took on an ambitious schedule this season, traveling to tournaments in Ithaca and the Syracuse area.
"All these guys are making each other better," Nelson said. "We've wrestled out-of-section competition. If we're not tested in the 30 matches or so during the season, it won't make a difference at the end."
After the Classic, the team will gear up for the Class C tournament, then the Section II small school tournament in Glens Falls. Nelson said he wants his team to reach the top of both.
"The goal is to win Class C's again, which will mean a lot to do that at home," Nelson said. "We have our sights at the Civic Center, but we're really going to have to dig deep for that. They are fulfilling my expectations, wrestling tough. It's all I can ask for."
The New York state tournament takes place at the Times Union Center on February 22 and 23.