Now in his fourth season leading the program, Hilliard Darby High School wrestling coach Brendan Moody believes this year's team has the potential to be better than the previous three.
That sentiment is shared by senior Jake Donatelli, who is in his fourth varsity season.
The Panthers opened Dec. 6 by defeating Groveport 74-6 in a dual match and went 3-2 in 12-team Marysville Duals on Dec. 8 to finish third.
"This might be our best team," Moody said. "My first year was Jake's freshman year, so we've kind of went through this together. It's a safe bet right now that, if we stay healthy, this could be the best team we've had in the last four years."
Donatelli, who was a Division I state alternate a year ago at 126 pounds, is expected to compete at 132 this season.
"This is probably the best team that we've had out of all four years that I've been here," Donatelli said. "We have some really good leadership. We have people that are really working hard in our (practice) room and just trying to always better themselves and better each other."
Darby returns two state qualifiers in seniors Sam Valenti (120) and Matt Walker (170). Last season, Valenti went 1-2 at state at 113 and finished 34-13 and Walker went 0-2 at state at 160 and finished 35-12.
The Panthers' other state qualifier a year ago was 2012 graduate Tyler Bowens, who placed sixth at 170 and finished 45-9.
Other returnees are senior Devon Booth (138), juniors Sean Black (145), Belal Museitif (132) and Trevor Parker (182) and sophomore Robert Valenti (106).
Last season, Black and Valenti were district qualifiers and Museitif and Parker were district alternates. Booth was a district alternate as a freshman but missed the past two seasons because of injuries.
Also on the team are seniors Dalton Mankin (160), Alex Martin (195) and Adam Ruiz (126), junior Joey Conkey (113), sophomores Alex Barker (heavyweight), Keegan Davidson (160), Zack Donatelli (152), Zach Garrett (113), Chad Miller (220), Dylan Schmidt (126) and Nick Zawodny (heavyweight) and freshmen Jake Harms (182) and Tommy Stang (106).
Last season, Darby finished fifth (161) in the 10-team sectional at Central Crossing behind champion Dublin Coffman (196.5) and placed eighth (73) at district at home behind champion Marysville (174) as 37 teams scored.
The Panthers then scored 13 points at state to tie four teams for 36th behind champion Lakewood St. Edward (223.5) as 84 teams scored.
Last season in the OCC-Central Division, Darby went 5-2 in dual matches to place third, behind Hilliard Davidson (7-0) and Coffman (6-1) and ahead of Worthington Kilbourne (4-3), Upper Arlington (3-4), Central Crossing (1-6), Thomas Worthington (1-6) and Westland (1-6).
As part of OCC realignment, Darby and Kilbourne moved to the OCC-Cardinal with Hilliard Bradley, Dublin Jerome, Dublin Scioto, Westerville Central, Westerville North and Westerville South.
The Panthers' first league dual is Dec. 20 at Westerville North.
Bradley looking to build on last season
Bradley won the OCC-Capital title last season and is hoping to have the same success in the OCC-Cardinal.
The Jaguars won their first league championship a year ago by going 7-0 in the OCC-Capital and finishing ahead of Mount Vernon (6-1), Olentangy Orange (5-2), Delaware (4-3), Big Walnut (3-4), Watkins Memorial (2-5), Franklin Heights (1-6) and New Albany (0-7).
Their first OCC-Cardinal dual is Dec. 20 at Scioto.
"We have a real young lineup and the kids are working tremendously hard and we're making progress," fourth-year coach John Riggs said.
"We see it every day and every week. As long as we keep taking steps forward, we're going to be OK."
Bradley finished 10th (192) in the 16-team Olentangy Liberty Classic on Dec. 8 behind champion Wadsworth (461).
Among the key returnees is sophomore Keegan Driscoll, who placed sixth at 138 at district last season and finished 32-12. He is expected to compete at 145.
"I'm looking forward to getting into the full mix of the season," Driscoll said. "I have the drive to improve on anything I earned last year. I'm always trying to get better."
Other key returnees are senior Sam Riggs (182 or 195) and juniors Robert McGrath (113) and Jake Stratton (182). All three were district qualifiers last season, with Riggs finishing 17-5 and McGrath going 28-14.
The roster also includes seniors Luke Hammond (160), Hunter Kidd (170/182) and Fraser Smith (220), juniors Ryan McGrath (132) and Jacob Pugh (170), sophomores C.J. Campbell (106), Nick Hogenbirk (heavyweight), Justin Lemmermen (126) and Eddie Walter (152) and freshmen Will Stratton (120) and Christopher Wall (138).
Last season marked Bradley's first in Division I. The Jaguars placed second (216.5) in the 10-team sectional at Watkins Memorial behind Lancaster (220.5), finished 12th (63) at district and tied nine teams for 75th (1) at state.
The Jaguars had two state qualifiers a year ago in 2012 graduates Ricky McGrath, who went 1-2 at 182, and Jake Zoller, who went 0-2 at 152
Davidson seeking another league title
Davidson is looking for its third consecutive OCC-Central title.
The league now includes Liberty and Marysville, both of which moved from the OCC-Cardinal as part of OCC realignment. The Monarchs and Patriots replaced Darby and Kilbourne.
"We have the toughest (OCC) division," 14th-year coach Dominic DiSabato said. "We have traditional powers with us, Marysville and Liberty.
"It's going to be tough to battle it out in that division."
Davidson finished first (305) in the five-team DeSales Classic on Dec. 1, ahead of Amanda-Clearcreek (297), Marion Pleasant (204), Columbus Academy (136) and DeSales (122).
The Wildcats went 5-0 to win the six-team Harry Steel Classic at London on Dec. 8.
Davidson's top returnee is senior Lee Wilson, who went 0-2 at 126 at state last season and finished 35-7.
He is expected to compete at 132 and has set his sights on winning the state title in his weight class.
"I have to work hard and make sure everything this season goes as planned because the end goal is to get to the top of the (state) podium March 2," Wilson said. "I have to do it."
Other key returnees are senior Nick Lawler (138) and junior Trent Gill (106). Both were district qualifiers a year ago.
The roster also includes seniors Brandon Dean (152), Zach Duhl (126), Travis Gusan (heavyweight) and Galen Moore (160), juniors Jordan Erben (126), Jordan Heyman (170) and Bobby Smith (145) and sophomores Simon Erben (113), Amir Mansour (182), Austin Miller (195) and Quinten Wolfe (220).
A transfer from Walnut Ridge, Gusan placed second at heavyweight in the Division II state tournament last season. Smith is a transfer from Ready, where he was a two-time state qualifier in Division III. He placed fifth at 103 as a freshman and went 1-2 at 126 last season.
Last season, Davidson finished second (183) in the 10-team sectional at Marysville behind Marysville (257), placed sixth (84.5) at district and tied three teams for 29th (15) at state.
The Wildcats lost seven wrestlers to graduation, including three state qualifiers a year ago in Chase Delande, Jacob Davis and Clay Kuszmaul. Delande won the state title at 145 in 2011 and placed fourth at 152 last season. Both Davis (113) and Kuszmaul (170) went 0-2 at state.