PALMDALE – Highland High’s wrestling team is hoping a new look brings familiar results. For the first time in years, the Bulldogs have no returning Southern Section medalists and just one defending league champion. Expectations nonetheless remain high for a program that has won Golden League titles 12 of the past 13 years, including the last three. “Normally, we do have more returnees, but I think we’re going to be just as good this year,” said senior Josh Purpose, the league’s defending 125-pound champion. “Knowing that we’re missing so many people, we need to step it up this year.” AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MORERose Parade grand marshal Rita Moreno talks New Year’s Day outfit and ‘West Side Story’ remake Purpose is among a group of talented wrestlers longtime Highland coach Michael Young believes can progress to elite status as the season progresses. Junior Ryan Gifford (152), a runner-up last season, and senior Paul Petros (130) and junior Randy Wallerstein (140), who finished third and fourth in league last season, are the most notable wrestlers with the potential make an impact. Seniors Heath Ikahihifo (189), the younger brother of former Highland standout John, and Robert Davis (215) are among those Young believes can be standouts, too. Highland hasn’t had a state qualifier since 2003. “We don’t really have any stallions,” Young said. “I think we will by the end of the year, but right now we have a lot of mules and they all pull together.” Highland’s depth will be a factor as it tries to fend off challenges from emerging league powers Littlerock, Antelope Valley, Lancaster and Quartz Hill. Littlerock, which interrupted Highland’s title run with a league championship in 2002, features Ryan Cambaliza (215) and Antelope Valley has Eric Timson (145), the league’s top two wrestlers and Southern Section medalists. Lancaster features standouts Jeff Merrill (112) and Kevin Plunkett (215). Quartz Hill is led by Jason Fonze (275) and Russell Curry (171). “I just think all the juniors and seniors need to step it up and help the freshmen and sophomores step up,” Purpose said. “If we do that, we’ll be successful.” It is an unfamiliar role for those who in years past took their cues from standouts Steve Frehn and Kyle Burnett. “They had intensity when they wrestled,” Purpose said. “We’re trying to bring what we learned from them to the new guys.” Said Gifford: “I feel like everybody looks up to us and expects to go out and win every match. They watch what we’re doing in practices. If we slack off, we know they’re going to slack off. If we’re working hard, then they’re going to work hard, too.” Gideon Rubin, (818)713-3607 [email protected] 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!