The top priority for Canal Winchester High School wrestling coach Trent Brooks is to build up his team's numbers.
Two seasons removed from having more than 40 members in the program, the Indians opened Dec. 1 in the Cambridge Invitational with only 17. They weren't able to fill six of the 14 weight classes in the 16-team tournament and scored 58 points to finish 13th behind champion Minerva (194.5).
"Last season our pay-to-participate fee went up to $300 and our numbers went way down to 27 kids on our high school team and eight kids on our middle school team," said Brooks, who is in his 11th season.
"Only one of our middle school kids was an eighth grader and he's not wrestling this year, so we didn't add any experienced wrestlers to our team at all."
Making matters tougher, Brooks underwent neck surgery Oct. 15 and hasn't been able to participate in any of the Indians' practices thus far. He hopes to be medically cleared to resume physical contact on Friday, Dec. 14.
Assistant coach Paul White has been running practices and served as head coach at Cambridge.
"It's hard to get first-year guys to try wrestling, but I'm usually able to get kids to try a practice, and once they come out for that first practice, we've been able to get them hooked on the sport," Brooks said. "Paul is doing a good job, but he doesn't work in the building, so he can't give kids that extra push to come to a practice. I'll be back soon, and I'm hoping I can work some magic and get more kids out because our numbers are too low. My goal is to get our numbers up to 23 or 24 before the holidays."
The Indians, who will compete in the Panther Invitational on Saturday, Dec. 15, at Pickerington North, returned six letterwinners in seniors Nick Brady (113 pounds), Max Lacey (220) and Zach Snyder (152), junior Emmanuel Barnes (132) and sophomores Mike Dean (182) and Nick Hammond (145).
In the Cambridge Invitational, Lacey went 5-0 to place first and Barnes and Hammond each went 4-1 and placed fifth.
Last season, Lacey went 3-1 and placed third in the Division I sectional tournament at Watkins Memorial, as the top four finishers in each weight class advanced to district. He was one of three district qualifiers for the Indians, with 2012 graduates Royce Calloway (152) and Dalton Tullius (145) being the others.
Hammond missed qualifying for district by one spot, as he went 3-2 at sectional and placed fifth at 126.
Canal Winchester finished eighth (92.5) in the 10-team sectional behind champion Lancaster (220.5).
The Indians ended last season at district at Hilliard Darby, as Lacey went 2-2, Tullius went 1-2 and Calloway went 0-2. The top four finishers in each weight class advanced to the state tournament at Ohio State.
Canal Winchester scored 7.5 points at district to finish 30th behind champion Marysville (174) as 37 teams scored.
"We have some good wrestlers back, but we also have a lot of first-year guys," Brooks said. "My first goal is to fill our lineup and get some experience for our young guys."
Last season, Canal Winchester finished fourth in the MSL-Buckeye Division with a 4-3 dual-match record, behind Amanda-Clearcreek (7-0), Teays Valley (6-1) and Hamilton Township (5-2) and ahead of Circleville (3-4), Logan Elm (2-5), Fairfield Union (1-6) and Bloom-Carroll (0-7).
The Indians open league competition Jan. 10 against Fairfield Union and Logan Elm.
"We're missing guys at a lot of weight classes, so we're not looking to win duals this year," Hammond said. "We have a lot of first-year guys, but they're catching on to things quickly and they will be good if they stick with it. Our big goal is to try to get four or five guys to the state tournament."