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Last season’s DODDS-Europe championship teams — Ramstein, Naples, Ansbach and Brussels — open defense of their high school wrestling crowns when the season opens Saturday at four sites.

While all four schools have good programs, only Division IV champion Brussels should begin making room in its trophy case for a 2006 award, according to at least one coach.

“Pound-for-pound, Brussels is the best team out there,” said Dave Izzo, coach of defending Division I champ Ramstein.

Brussels romped to the title last year, more than doubling the point total of runner-up Menwith Hill. And although the Brigands graduated 171-pound champion Bryan Isbell, they’re launching the new season with European runner-up Paul Moseman and bronze medalists Steven Cote and Eric Popp back for another campaign.

Menwith Hill returns just one European qualifier.

Still, Brussels coach Joe Fiedler isn’t allowing any engraving to be done just yet.

“We hope we’re in good shape,” he said. “But anything can happen in wrestling.”

Fiedler has 26 wrestlers out this season, drawn from a high school student population, male and female, of 100 or so.

“We’re going to have someone in every weight class except 275,” he said. “That’s unusual for us.”

Fielder’s big numbers aren’t unique. Izzo’s wrestling room entertains 50 grapplers each day, among them returning European champions Noah Sheppard and Coty Reinhart, and five other place winners — bronze-medalists Trey Fortunato and Michael Kane, fifth-placer Joel Smith and sixth-place finishers Ryan Gough and Eric Oyen.

The Royals crowned four individual champs last season but still barely fended off perennial power Heidelberg 227-220½ in the Europeans. This year, setting a lineup will be a bit of a problem for the Royals.

“Unfortunately, we’re all bunched in the middle,” Izzo said. “We don’t have anyone at 103 or 275.”

Heidelberg, led by silver-medalist Andrew Moon, bronze-medalists Andrew Johnson and Elliott Boltz, and fourth-place finishers Jeremy Brady and Brandon Simmons, will contend again.

Also expected to challenge is Wiesbaden, led by unbeatable, at least since 2003-2004, 189-pound champion Chad Abramson. Abramson epitomizes the concept coach Steve Jewell emphasizes at Wiesbaden. “We don’t worry too much about team scoring,” he said. “We focus on individual titles.”

Kaiserslautern, under new coach Russell Payne, returns bronze-medalist Madison Hayes and fifth-place heavyweight Troy Price, but perennial power Würzburg endured a disastrous offseason, according to coach Steve Kennedy.

“We had 95 percent turnover,” he said. Still, the returning 5 percent includes 103-pound champion Anthony Davis.

Division II champion Naples welcomed 30 newcomers and 18 returnees, including fourth-placer Guadalupe Flores.

“If we can get the 30 new kids ready,” coach Jim Hall said, “we’ll be tough.”

Bitburg pressed Naples all the way last season, but veteran coach Jeff Watts sees this year as a rebuilding one in spite of the presence of Anthony Messina and Jamie Watts, fourth and sixth, respectively, last season at Europeans, and Pacific placer Randall Pelletier at 275.

Division II also boasts one of the six returning individual champions, Gary Vogt of Aviano.

Division III champion Ansbach edged London Central by 2 points last February, but the shoe could be on the other foot this season.

London Central returns two-time European champion Jonathan Scott among its 30-plus wrestlers. Ansbach’s lineup, on the other hand, has lots of open slots.

“We’re down in numbers,” said coach Gary Feletar. “We have 15 high schoolers out [for the team].”

Four of them qualified for Europeans last season, but none placed, Feletar said.

He’s counting on junior David Zumbach and sophomore Daniel Roberts to rectify that situation this year.

“We don’t expect to do as well as last year,” he said, “but you never know.”

Division qualifiers are Feb. 11 at Alconbury, Heidelberg, Ramstein and Vicenza. The European finals are scheduled for Feb. 17-18 at Wiesbaden Army Airfield.

Returning European champions

103 pounds—Anthony Davis, Würzburg

119—Gary Vogt, Aviano.

125—Noah Sheppard, Ramstein

130—Jonathan Scott, London Central

135—Coty Reinhart, Ramstein

189—Chad Abramson, Wiesbaden

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