BENNINGTON — To anyone who knows or has been around the Mount Anthony Union High School wrestling team for any length, it's pretty obvious there's a championship culture in the wrestling room — and not only because of the national-record state title streak or even the three-time defending New England champions.
The Patriots, despite losing 11 seniors from last year's lineup, don't rebuild. They reload.
"That's what we're hoping to do," said coach Scott Legacy, now in his 31st season leading Mount Anthony. "Our slogan this year is 'The torch has been passed.' That's what we drill home and now it's their turn. It doesn't matter if they know you or don't."
Legacy said the transition this season will be similar to the same one from five years ago, when last year's seniors — like Troy Gassaway, Dylan LaFountain, Jake Woodside, among others — were freshmen.
"There were six in the lineup that year," Legacy said. "They were unknown and took their lumps, but seasoned by the state tournament. This group is the same, there's a lot of coaching taking place."
The Patriots will be led by its three captains in seniors Tyler Raetz and Calvin Call, along with junior Ashdin Schaefer.
"The learning curve is there of what it's like to lead and be a friend or put their foot down," Legacy said. "So far, so good. It's a lot more coaching for me to teach them how to be leaders."
Raetz will compete at 138 pounds, while Call will be at 120 or 126. After a season with only five losses, Schaefer figures to settle at 113.
"They've bought in and that's what the other kids see," Legacy said. "They need to be themselves. In championship cultures, you need to hold each other accountable and with a young group you have to drill that home. They need to be able to tell each other how to be strong and be there for their teams.
Others with varsity experience include Tyler Burgess at 160 pounds, Austin Pendergast at 170, AJ Wright at 182, Dakota King at 195 and Sebastian Rocher at 220 pounds. King and Rocher were blocked a year ago, but both were varsity caliber wrestlers.
"Tyler has gotten bigger at 160, he's a seasoned athlete and we really don't have a true 82 pounder, Austin and AJ could flip flop and either could go [to the heavier weight]," Legacy said. "Dakota has a little varsity experience, as does Sebastian."
Calvin Hayford, a sophomore wrestling at heavyweight, came down to Mount Anthony after wrestling as an independent from Winooski.
"He's a good heavyweight and he has Zac Oldham, who beat 4th, 5th and 6th in the state last year in the wrestling room," Legacy said.
Freshman in their first varsity season include Chris Mayer at 145, Gage McLaughlin at 132 pounds, Taylor Keenan at 120 pounds and Tyson Sauer at 106 pounds. Sauer, while having no varsity time because junior high students aren't allowed to compete in Vermont, is a middle-school all-American and already captured his first crown at the Mohonasen tournament, while Keenan was a youth prodigy before leaving the sport for a while.
"Tyson is a terrific athlete and they might not know him yet, but they will," Legacy said.
The rest of the roster includes Austin Condo, Dylan Ross, Noah Call, Mickey Bernard, Devin Allen, Bryce Bush, Noah Stein, Zach Sauer and Colin Crowley.
"The roster is a little down in numbers, based on who we graduated," Legacy said. "I wasn't surprised how well we did this weekend, but I wondered if they knew. Now we need to keep building on it. It'll be an interesting season."