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High school wrestlers chasing European titles this season will find it crowded at the top.

Six defending European champions return for another try as the season begins Saturday at Würzburg, Brussels, Giessen and Baumholder.

Last season’s returning champs are:

• 103 — Bryan Apgar, Ramstein;• 112 — Josh Quiocho, Mannheim;• 119 — Joe Morrow, Patch;• 125 — Devon Gardner, Bitburg;• 130 — Josh Anderson, Patch,• 189 — Richard Rendon, SHAPE.

Many of the champions will be wrestling at different weights this season.

Other wrestlers, such as Andrew Elizaldez of Mannheim, are hungry for more. Elizaldez took little pride in his European 103-pound bronze medal last season.

“The third-place finish left a nasty taste in my mouth for one year,” he said.

Since few coaches and wrestlers are sure yet of what weight suits best this season, here’s a four-class breakdown of the class of the field — the wrestlers who’ll likely contend for gold in February’s European championships:

Lightweights (103, 112, 119, 125)

Apgar’s back, but he might be out for the season with a knee injury, according to Ramstein coach Dave Izzo, whose Royals nonetheless will dominate at these weights. Chris Barbe, European runner-up at 112 last season; Tracy Tibbitts, fourth at 112; Noah Sheppard, second at 119; Danny Burns, third at 119; Karl Saucier, fifth at 119 in 2002, and Matt Grahek, fifth at 125, lead a group of nine returning Royals who placed in Europeans last year.

If Apgar can’t go, the path is wide open at 103 for a pair of Bitburg Barons — Daniel Brunal, fourth in Europe last season for Jeff Watts’ team, and newcomer Scotty McQuisten.

There is a logjam at 112 pounds. Quiocho’s moving to 119, opening the door for his teammate Elizaldez to battle Barbe, if the Royal stays at 112. There’s also Division III champ Michael Walker of Baumholder, and the Brussels duo Steve Cote, sixth at 103, and Paul Moseman. Moira Simes, who placed sixth at 103 in 2002 for Izmir has returned to the mats for Ankara this season.

Morrow’s moving up to the 130-135 area, leaving the 119 field open for Sheppard, Saucier and Burns of Ramstein along with Anthony Messina and Kevin Labelle of Bitburg and Jonathan Painter of Würzburg.

With Gardner vacating 125 for 130, that class becomes available for Jon Coker and Joe Pears of Brussels, along with Chris Vucich of Patch, Jesse Painter of Würzburg and Ramstein’s Grahek.

Welterweights (130, 135, 140, 145)

Packed doesn’t begin to describe the talent at this level. Morrow and Anderson of Patch will decide among themselves who’ll fit where, as will Bitburg’s Gardner, European runner-up Joe Hartfield of Kaiserslautern, Cole McClain of Menwith Hill, perennial placer Deighton Jones of Alconbury, Ian Lange and Greg Best of Menwith Hill, Jon Pears and Kevin Nicholson of Brussels, Tony Gagnon and Matt Alexander of Wiesbaden and Andrew Zachar of Heidelberg, runner-up last season at 125.

Watching this group shake out over the season should be nothing but fun.

Middleweights (152, 160, 171)

Experience is the watchword at this level, too. Even though all of last season’s champs have left, plenty of talent remains.

Start with AFNORTH’s Ryan Butler, undefeated last season at 160 until he lost the title bout Tyler Arms of Heidelberg. Believe it or not, Butler’s getting better, according to coach Greg Blankenship.

“We’ve been working with Ryan with a program designed to make him stronger and quicker,” Blankenship said. “We’re also getting him more endurance.”

Wiesbaden’s Aaron Austin, Ansbach’s Adam Golden and Rory Lozano and Ramstein’s Zachary Sheppard are potential foes, while Ankara’s Marc Steinbuchel also might join the party when the Europeans roll around.

Sean Dowty of Patch was third at 160, but is moving up to 171 this season. Bitburg senior Jordan Watts, a three-year placer, will pressure him there, along with Würzburg’s Jim Curtis and Robert Fleck, Patch’s Mike Beuckens and Wiesbaden’s Rick Gonzalez.

Andrew Isbell of Brussels, the 152 champion, has graduated, but his brother, Bryan, who was third in Europe, is ready to take his brother’s crown. Matt Hall of AFNORTH could challenge.

Heavyweights (189, 215, 275)

Look for another battle here between Rendon and the man he beat at Europeans by a point, Tony Althoff of K-town. Mike Ewing and David Herold of Ansbach figure in here, along with Mike Gamberton of Menwith Hill, Shawn Mallon of K-town, Steven Church of Würzburg, Eric Gardner of Ramstein, Brian Bowles of Patch Emmett Wilson of Baumholder, Nick Dybdahl of Lakenheath, Joe Bouknight of Hohenfels and Patrick Fry of Brussels.

Two-time 275 champ Bo Daniels of Iceland has entered military service, leaving K-town’s Chuck Madden and Bitburg’s Randy Van Ginkel as the favorites.

The picture will become more clear Dec. 20, when most of Europe’s best wrestlers are expected to gather for the annual Wolfpack Holiday tournament at Leighton Barracks in Würzburg, the last continent-wide meet before the European tournament in mid-February.

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