The Licking Heights High School wrestling team is hoping to get back in the state tournament program after it failed a year ago to extend its streak of representation to seven consecutive seasons.
With four of their five Division II district qualifiers having returned, the Hornets expect that experience to blend with a strong freshman class and progress toward postseason success.
"We're as athletic as we've been in a long time, which will be huge for us," seventh-year coach Bo Ramsey said. "We're going to be a scrappy team and that should enable us to stay in every match. We may take some lumps early, but I think it'll be a gradual progression and I expect us to be very competitive later."
But before the Hornets reach that point, they will be working on a few things.
"We have got to get in better shape," Ramsey said. "The older guys have to get healthy because we've got a number of them injured or coming back from injuries. The young guys, even as good as they are, are going to take time to adjust to high school, varsity level competition."
The returning district qualifiers are senior A.J. Velasquez, junior Ty Yeager and sophomore brothers Anthony Haist and Brandon Haist.
Velasquez went 24-15 last season at 220 pounds. He will miss the first few weeks while he recovers from a knee injury and will start at heavyweight before working back to 220.
Yeager, a two-time district qualifier, was 29-6 at 132 last year.
"A.J. has been around a long time and has a lot of experience and he showed so much progression last season," Ramsey said. "He's going to be one of our top point scorers and is champing at the bit to get started. Ty also will be one of our top point scorers. He's a very good counter wrestler and really tough on top."
Brandon Haist, who competed in last year's postseason with an injured shoulder, is moving up to 120 after going 35-11 at 113. Anthony Haist returns at 106 after finishing 24-15.
"Brandon is a physical kid who isn't afraid to mix things up and he's always stringing moves together and never allowing his opponent to rest," Ramsey said. "But he has to adjust to moving up a weight class, whereas Anthony is returning at 106. Anthony will be a big, solid 106 and he's good on his feet and gaining confidence."
The other district qualifier last season was 2013 graduate Michael Zaky (heavyweight, 30-15).
Other returning letterwinners are seniors Mike Hopewell and John Neary and sophomore Taylor Woolard.
Hopewell, who was 12-10 at 195 last season, will start at 220. He is expected to go back to 195 when Velasquez drops to 220.
"It's going to be a real interesting year," Brandon Haist said. "We're young, but I think we have a high skill level and a lot of potential. We all know each other, push each other and help each other. I think we're going to battle every step of the way."
Neary will compete at 170 when he returns from an ankle injury in January. Woolard will compete at 126.
Sophomore Josh Jamison (152) wrestled at Beechcroft last season, and junior Colton Williams (220) and sophomore Adrien Hammonds (182) also are new to the program. Hammonds was in the lineup when the Hornets defeated Johnstown 37-17 and lost to Central Crossing 55-18 in the opener Dec. 4 at Ready.
The lineup also included freshmen L.A. Kelly (138), Josh Martin (145), Dereck Wilson (152), Josiah Harrell (160) and Garrett Sommerkamp (heavyweight).
"Harrell was fifth in the junior high state tournament (Ohio Athletic Committee) last year and Kelly and Sommerkamp also were state qualifiers," Ramsey said. "Wilson was a state runner-up in fifth grade. Martin also has had a ton of success.
"Harrell was first in the OURWAY state championship and second in the NUWAY nationals. He doesn't look like a freshman. He's a gifted athlete who has major ability, but he's wrestling up a weight class, as is Wilson. We have to remember that these freshmen are 14 or 15 and wrestling against kids who could be 16, 17 or 18. But they all have the tools."
Completing the roster are freshmen Gabbie Shank (113/120) and Finn Bohlen (132/138).