Despite returning three Division I district qualifiers, third-year Watkins Memorial High School wrestling coach Mark Kurth anticipates that his team will experiencing some growing pains this season.
"We are very young this year, so I am looking for constant improvement throughout the season," said Kurth, whose team opened Dec. 7 in the Rick Link/Doan Ford Invitational at Belmont Union Local. "Hopefully, we can qualify a few wrestlers to the state tournament."
Watkins Memorial had one state qualifier last season in 2013 graduate Nick Lancia, who went 0-2 at 152 pounds to finish with a 46-6 record. He advanced to state after placing third at district at Hilliard Darby and finishing first in the home sectional.
The Warriors had four other district qualifiers last season in senior Dylan Scott, junior Andrew Lieb, sophomore Dean Marek and 2013 graduate Noah Holter.
Lieb was a state alternate last year at 126, going 4-2 and placing fifth at district to finish 43-8. Holter went 3-3 and placed sixth at 138 to finish 42-10, Scott went 1-2 at 132 and finished 21-8 and freshman Dean Marek went 0-2 at 106 to finish 30-20.
Lieb and Scott are two-time district qualifiers, as were Lancia and Holter.
This season, Lieb has moved up to 138 and Marek is competing at 120. Scott, who returns at 132, is expected to miss some meets early in the season because of an injury.
Other key returnees include seniors Rob Chism (182) and Adam Tompkins (170) and sophomore Robert Speaks (152).
Last season, Tomkins was 25-25 at 160 and Speaks was 16-19 at 145. Chism, who began last season at 160, competed in only 11 matches, going 5-6.
"We've got a number of wrestlers who I think could have very good seasons," Kurth said. "With Andrew Lieb placing fifth in the district tournament last year, I am looking for another great year from him, obviously. Dean Marek and Dylan Scott, being district qualifiers, should do very well this year.
"Rob Chism and Adam Tompkins are seniors who should also have very good years."
Injuries hurt the Warriors last season, as 2013 graduate Chris Bankes (132, 40-6) and seniors Josh Lyday (195, 16-10) and Taylor Evener (heavyweight, 11-14) were unable to compete in the postseason.
Lyday tried to return from a knee injury sustained playing football, but he aggravated the injury on the first day of practice and is expected to miss the entire season. Evener, who has a nagging shoulder injury, decided not to compete this season.
"We're missing two upper-weight guys (in Lyday and Evener)," Kurth said. "Plus, we only have four seniors and a few juniors now."
Expected to be starters are senior Simon Ponce (heavyweight), junior Andrew Triona (132), sophomores Logan Morrison (145), Matt Kennedy (160) and Jack May (220) and freshmen Alex Lieb (103) and Andrew Cornelius (126).
Also on the team are sophomores Marvin Bennett (160) and Nick Daniel (152) and freshmen Gary Chapin (138), Kyle Clark (170), Dante Fair (152), Brad Swearingen (103) and Jarod Taggart (103).
"We don't have many kids above 170 and we have a lot in the lower and middle weights," Kurth said. "But I think we should still be very competitive in the Licking County League this year. Licking Valley and Granville will likely be the top teams in the league."
Expectations high for girls swim team
The girls swimming and diving team has returned its top talent from last season in senior Rachel Baughn and juniors Kayla Fenimore, Jayna Hulse and Shelby Seas.
Last season in the Division I district meet at Ohio State, Baughn, Fenimore and Seas joined 2013 graduate Miranda Gessner to set program records in the 200-yard medley relay (1 minute, 59.21 seconds) and 200 freestyle relay (1:47.46). Both relays finished 17th.
Fenimore also set the program record in the 100 butterfly, placing 24th (1:02.41).
Also at district, Seas finished 17th in the 100 breaststroke (1:10.3) and Gessner placed 14th in the 50 free (25:22) and 20th in the 100 free (56.61).
"With (Baughn, Fenimore, Hulse and Seas) back, that's a strong core right there, but then we've got (junior) Monica Tumblin back and we have some strong freshmen in Gracie Gessner and Abby Jarvis," second-year coach Heidi Williams said. "I think the girls are looking great right now."
Tumblin, whose primary focus is the sprint free events, competed as a freshman but sat out last season.
According to Williams, Baughn's best stroke is the 100 backstroke, Seas specializes in the 100 breast, Fenimore's best stroke is the 100 fly and Hulse is strong in the 100 back.
Jarvis will compete in the free events and 100 back and Gracie Gessner will compete in the 100 back and 100 breast, Williams said.
Completing the girls roster are seniors Kellie McLeod and Daphne Snyder, junior Adriana Wright-Ross, sophomores Kaitlyn Hill, Chelsea List, Hailey Miller and Lynne Stockdale and freshman Kelley Spicer.
"We'd like to get to state in the medley relay and the 400 free relay," Williams said. "Individually, we'd like to see Fenimore make it to state in the 100 fly and 200 (individual medley) and Seas in the 100 free and 100 breast."
Watkins Memorial competed in the OCC-Capital meet last season, placing fifth (114) behind champion New Albany (312). The LCL currently is not scheduled to have a league meet this season.
The boys team has returned its top two swimmers from a year ago in junior Alan Chapman (50 free, 100 breast) and sophomore Skylar Chapman (200 free, 500 free, 100 fly).
The Chapman brothers and sophomore Jess Neibert (50 free, 100 free, 100 breast, 100 fly) are expected to lead the Warriors.
"We have no seniors and just two juniors, so we want to set the foundation for next year," Williams said. "We've got two freshmen and three first-year sophomores."
Also on the team are junior Jacob Abram, sophomores Grady Marshall, T.J. Miller, Jacob Sloan and Brian Wright and freshmen Anthony Juarez and Kevin Nguyen.
Neibert, Sloan and Wright are first-year swimmers.