With nine individual conference champions in the 2008-09 season, Jay M. Robinson High School's wrestling team was nearly dominant against many of its opponents.
The Bulldogs were strong enough to finish in the state's top four at the 4A level last year. Though he doesn't concern himself much with Robinson's drop to 3A this season, coach Dave Parisi thinks his roster may be just a little bit better than last year's.
Six of those conference champions return, all of whom qualified for the individual state championship tournament. With a couple of key additions, Robinson (11-1 so far in dual meets) could seriously contend for a state team title.
After Christmas, the Bulldogs will travel to a state championship-caliber tournament in New York that should give Parisi an idea how his team compares with some of the nation's best.
Last year, Robinson lost to Matthew Butler High in the semifinals of the state dual team playoffs, the farthest the Bulldogs have ever advanced. They tied for second in team points at the state individual tournament, another program best.
Parisi thinks the Bulldogs could have been even more competitive had they not been weak at the three heaviest weight classes.
"We were going down 18 points every match" in those classes, Parisi said.
Two key additions make Robinson stronger in those classes this year: Sophomore Jordan Taylor has won nine of his first 15 matches at heavyweight, and senior Tyler Robertson is 9-2 at 215 pounds.
Nathan Tesh has been perhaps the most impressive newcomer to the starting lineup. For a sophomore in an upper weight class (171 pounds), his 14-1 record is especially remarkable.
They complement a stellar group of returnees, led by senior Dominic Parisi, the coach's son, at 119 pounds. A two-time defending state champion, Parisi has won 135 straight matches since his sophomore year. He needs nine victories to tie for the fourth-longest winning streak in state history.
If he were to match his number of wins from last year (58), his winning streak would reach 176, which would be good enough for second-best in state history. With a 170-9 career record, he seems a cinch to reach the 200-victory plateau.
Leading last year's returning state qualifiers is 112-pound junior Garrison White, the state runner-up last year. He is 13-2 and was one of four Robinson wrestlers who captured individual titles at the prestigious Jim Hayes Tournament at East Mecklenburg Dec. 4-5.
Other winners there were Parisi, senior Jay Similton (14-0, 125) and junior Jake Eldridge (16-0, 152), both state qualifiers last year. Additional state qualifiers from last year are senior Caleb Swinson (10-2, 112) and junior Davante Andujar (14-3, 140).
Robinson's team results have been equally impressive. Its only loss was in its own Bulldog Dual Tournament to Davie County, a 4A power that Robinson knocked out of the playoffs last year.
The Bulldogs' big wins have been against Butler and Mooresville, a 4A stalwart that moved up from 3A before the school year. Robinson got pins from Robertson, White, Parisi and Similton (with 10 seconds remaining) in the final five matches to tie the score with the Blue Devils 42-42. The Bulldogs won the match via the eighth tiebreaker criteria.
Next Sunday, the team will leave for Windsor, N.Y., Dave Parisi's alma mater (Windsor Central High, class of 1978) for a tournament Dec. 28-29. Robinson made the same trip five years ago but with disastrous results. Parisi thinks this time will be different because of his team's talent and work ethic.
"We don't want to be in the end of February saying, 'If we only did this or that,'" Dave Parisi said. "So the kids are working hard and the intensity is up. If everything aligns, and guys keep their heads up, it can be a long season.
"I think they're there, and I think we have the makings for another (deep) run. But it's not going to be a walk in the park."