An increase in numbers this season means increased expectations for the Watkins Memorial High School wrestling team.
"Last season we finished with 17 (wrestlers) in grades 9-12 and we're at 30 now," second-year coach Mark Kurth said. "We have a freshman class (that) is really good. There are 12 freshmen, several of whom will contribute heavily this season. There's good talent there down the road and, if they stick with it, we're going to have some exciting times in the future."
Watkins Memorial returns five Division I district qualifiers in seniors Chris Bankes (132 pounds), Noah Holter (138) and Nick Lancia (152), junior Dylan Scott (126) and sophomore Andrew Lieb (120).
"We have very, very, very high hopes this year," Bankes said. "I worked out twice a day and also had a job all summer. I did strength training and cardio and had awesome workouts where I was drained every day. Heck, I showered three times a day, too.
"We all put in the work to have a great season. My goal individually is to be a state placer. I only wish I had started wrestling when I was younger. I played football until ninth grade when everyone was getting bigger and I wasn't. Nick Lancia talked me into trying wrestling and I just fell in love with the sport."
Bankes (23-17 record last season) and Lieb (34-17) are expected to compete in the same weight classes as they did last season when they qualified for district. Lancia qualified for district last year at 138 and finished 43-10 and Holter qualified at 126 and finished 32-18. Scott was a district qualifier as a freshman at 103.
Other returnees include senior Damian George (220) and juniors Taylor Evener (heavyweight) and Josh Lyday (195).
"Our upperweights have come a long way the past few years," Kurth said. "Lyday has improved a bunch, George is looking strong and Evener has been working very hard."
Senior Jared Corum (182) has rejoined the team after a two-year absence.
Also expected to be key contributors are junior brothers Josh Chism (138) and Rob Chism (160), junior Adam Tompkins (170), sophomores Elliott Holter (113) and J.J. Kent (145) and freshman Dean Marek (106).
"Last year, Tompkins was a 152 wrestling at 160 or 170," Kurth said. "He's a legitimate 160 or 170 this year. He's a lot stronger and gained valuable experience last year, as did Elliot Holter."
Other freshmen who have impressed Kurth so far include Tyler Buechner, Matt Kennedy and Robert Speaks in the middle weights.
Watkins Memorial opened Dec. 1 in the 17-team Rick Link Invitational at Belmont Union Local, finishing third (303 points) behind champion Wheeling (W.Va.) Park (427). Lieb and George won titles and Lyday and Scott placed second.
Last season, Watkins Memorial finished sixth (2-5) in the OCC-Capital Division, behind Hilliard Bradley (7-0), Mount Vernon (6-1), Olentangy Orange (5-2), Delaware (4-3) and Big Walnut (3-4) and ahead of New Albany (1-6) and Franklin Heights (0-7).
As part of OCC realignment, Bradley moved to the OCC-Cardinal and Olentangy moved to the OCC-Capital from the OCC-Cardinal.
The Warriors, who last won the OCC-Capital championship in 2008, begin their league schedule Thursday, Dec. 20, against New Albany at home.
Last season, Watkins Memorial placed fifth (135) of 10 teams in its home sectional behind champion Lancaster (225) and finished 21st (23) in the district tournament at Hilliard Darby behind champion Marysville (174).
Swim coach pleased with girls team's start
First-year swimming and diving coach Heidi Williams has set high goals for both the boys and girls teams this season.
The girls team has 13 members, including five who compete for club teams during the offseason.
"The girls have already been very impressive with some of their times," said Williams, who replaced Heather Faulkner as coach. "We've had some personal records set already. I was comparing some of their times, both personal and relays, against the times recorded last year at state and they compared favorably in some cases. Plus, it's so early. There's lots of time to improve."
The five girls who also compete for club teams are senior Miranda Gessner, junior Rachel Baughn and sophomores Kayla Fenimore, Jayna Hulse and Shelby Seas.
Gessner specializes in the sprint freestyle events, Baughn in the 100-yard backstroke and 100 butterfly, Fenimore in the 200 individual medley, Hulse in the distance free events and 100 back and Seas in the 100 breaststroke and 200 IM.
"Gessner, Fenimore and Seas competed very well in the Ned Reeb Memorial (Dec. 8 at Ohio State) and the rest of the team went to the (Northridge Viking Splash Invitational at New Albany) the same day," Williams said. "Baughn and Hulse did great at the Viking Splash, too. The potential is there that, if we get the right lineups figured out, all three relays could go to state in addition to their individual events."
Also on the team are senior Rebecca Tumblin (sprint frees, 100 breast), juniors Michelle Blake (sprint frees) and Daphne Snyder (100 back, sprint frees), sophomore Adriana Wright-Ross (distance frees) and freshmen Ashlyn Adams (sprint frees), Autumn Adams (distance frees), Chelsea List and Hailey Miller.
Watkins Memorial finished fifth (18 points) of 10 teams in the Viking Splash Invitational, behind champion Big Walnut (120). On Dec. 11, the Warriors defeated Central Crossing 57-34 at Urbancrest YMCA.
Last season, Gessner (50 free) and Fenimore (200 IM) competed in the Division I district meet at Ohio State and joined Seas on the 200 free relay and 200 medley relay. The Warriors didn't score at district after finishing seventh (94) in the sectional behind host and champion Thomas Worthington (254).
The Warriors finished third (170) in the OCC-Capital meet a year ago, behind New Albany (326) and Delaware (282) and ahead of Mount Vernon (155), Orange (155), Big Walnut (110) and Bradley (92).
Olentangy has replaced Bradley in the OCC-Cardinal.
The boys team is comprised of 10 swimmers, including two who competed at district last season in senior Charlie Grady and sophomore Alan Chapman.
Grady and Chapman both competed on all three relays at district.
"Alan Chapman finished first in the 100 back (1 minute, 6.54 seconds), second in the 50 free (24.75) and was part of the third-place (200) medley relay (2:04.93) in the Viking Splash," Williams said. "He's versatile, but so is Charlie Grady."
The Warriors finished third (55) in the Viking Splash Invitational behind champion Big Walnut (87) and lost to Central Crossing 55-37 on Dec. 11.
Also on the team are juniors Willi Burnett (sprint frees, 100 breast), Chad Kilpatrick (sprint frees, 100 fly) and Luke Michel (100 breast, distance frees), sophomore Jacob Abram (sprint frees) and freshmen Skylar Chapman (200 IM, 100 fly), Marshall Grady (sprint frees), Trenton Lucas (200 IM, 100 breast, sprint frees) and T.J. Miller (100 back, sprint frees).
Last season, Watkins Memorial finished fifth (103) in the OCC-Capital meet, behind New Albany (389), Delaware (221), Mount Vernon (201) and Orange (143) and ahead of Big Walnut (98) and Bradley (25).
The Warriors finished 11th (29) in the sectional at Thomas Worthington behind champion New Albany (254) and did not score at district.