If there were a year for the Fairfield Prep wrestling team to announce itself, head coach Rich Rapice believes 2011-12 is it.

The Jesuits return 12 of their 14 starters from a year where they finished eighth at SCCs and 17th at the Class LL meet.

"We've been kind of building to this year," Rapice said. "Lot of guys did offseason work, went to camps and are generally trying to improve."

Rapice realizes the challenge at hand trying to teach kids who may have never wrestled before. Four freshmen enter this season with prior wrestling experience, and the second-year coach said two of the four will likely start on opening night for Prep.

"It's good that we have the younger guys coming up," he said. "Guys are buying into the program."

In that opening match, the Jesuits will have to battle to class of their conference, Daniel Hand.

Rapice said his club looks at Hand as a model

of where his program can go.

"We're looking to compete at a higher level," Rapice said. "Our focus is set on Hand. They're always near the top of the state."

Learning new techniques is critical for the youngsters, but so is mental preparation. Rapice knows the importance confidence brings in wrestling.

"Our matches are won and loss before we take the mat," Rapice said. "If we get our guys to believe, we can win. If we don't think we can win, we don't have a chance."

Prep's team will consist of four senior captains. Jake Pesci (195), Shane Dempsey (170), Joe Roberts (160) and Tom Voreyer (138) will lead the club with both experience and skill.

"Those four seniors are anchors," Rapice said. "They've wrestled their entire careers here."

Sophomore Nick Crowle will wrestle at 220 and Rapice was pleased with his growth.

"He came in bigger and stronger and his technique improved," Rapice said.

Junior Conor Ward (145) and freshman Matt Freed (106) will try to fulfill Rapice's goal of trying to cause fits for opponents.

"A lot of teams view us as an automatic win," Rapice said. "We don't want to be that."

Jason Rojas-- Prep's lone winner against Hand a year ago and lone finisher at the Class LL meet-- is graduated, but winning the SCC's

Division B championship is the goal, and then seeing where the club can compete with the state's best.

"All of our guys should be shooting for the State Open," Rapice said. "But we've got to wrestle our best."

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