The Fenwick wrestling team competes in the Chicago Catholic League-one of the toughest wrestling conferences around. Coupled with the realization that the Friars feature a plethora of inexperienced, albeit talented, wrestlers entering this campaign, this would hardly be considered an idyllic prospect for success in the CCL.

Head coach Jerry Ruffino, however, hopes the Friars can expedite their maturation process during the season, but he also intimated that a fair assessment of this group’s achievements may not be forthcoming until a few years down the road.

“This is one of the youngest teams we have had,” Ruffino said. “It’s hard to believe I could ever say winning is not as important, but our goals may not be quite as high in those terms. Our focus is to have these kids gain as much experience and knowledge as possible. This will be a bit of a revamping year.”

While Ruffino will monitor the development of his wrestlers on many levels, make no mistake that the left column of the results ledger remains a priority for the Friars.

A shining example of his commitment to winning is precocious sophomore Bobby Barnhisel, who went 41-7, won the Chicago Catholic League and qualified for state last season.

“One of our basic goals is to get Bobby into the state finals with a shot for the state title,” Ruffino said. “He’s the main cog of our team. Bobby is a quality leader and our ‘go-to’ guy.”

Along with Barnhisel, the Friars will look for freshmen brothers Nick and Chris Dardanes, at 112 and 119 pounds respectively, to make an immediate impact. At 125, senior Pat Nolan (6-3 record last season) lends much-needed varsity experience for the Friars.

Other key wrestlers expected to contribute this season include: (103) Matt Shannon, (135) Rob Sassetti, (140) Ryan Castronova, (145) Mike Perna, (152) Tim Sampey, (160) Mark Reichel, (171) Tim Reichel, (189) Kevin Caiafa, (215) Vince Storelli, and (275) John Osterhout.

Eight of the Friars’ top 14 wrestlers are underclassmen.

“We have guys in our lineup who want to be here,” Ruffino said. “There is no quit with this group, and they are very coachable. They have given me their undivided attention in practice. The young guys bring excitement and enthusiasm to what we are doing here.”

With six regional titles over the last eight seasons, the Friars have been successful during Ruffino’s 11-year coaching stint. Last year, Fenwick (18-7 overall) finished fourth in the Chicago Catholic League with a 9-3 league mark. The CCL, as always, will be loaded with talented teams this season-notably powerhouse squads St. Rita, Mount Carmel and Providence. These three programs have claimed several state championships, sometimes consecutively. Brother Rice and De La Salle also figure to be among the top 10 quality teams this winter.

“I think it’s the toughest wrestling conference in the state, and arguably in the country,” Ruffino said. “Going up against this level of competition will help our wrestlers mature and develop.”

The Friars opened their season with a 37-32 home loss to Glenbard West last week. Fenwick begins conference play with a match Friday night at Mount Carmel.

“Our team has high expectations for this season and certainly over the next few years,” Ruffino said. “I’m very honored to be working with these young kids, and we will work toward putting Fenwick at the top where it belongs.”