New Albany High School wrestling coach Marc Cofer has packed the season with dual meets, hoping to lessen the grind on his athletes' bodies by shaving a few tournaments off the schedule.
But Cofer, who is in his 10th season with the Eagles, knows two empty weight classes provide a glaring downside to that strategy.
"It's going to be one of those seasons where we're going to get a little bit better as the season goes on because people will get to the right weights and get the hang of things and develop into better wrestlers overall," Cofer said. "After this month, things will slow down for us and we'll have time to dissect a lot of things."
The Eagles won three of their first four duals. They lost to Marion Pleasant 59-12 and defeated Shelby 39-33 on Dec. 5 at Galion, then swept two duals at Granville on Dec. 6, beating Gahanna 45-13 and Heath 39-30.
"We try not to worry about (empty weight classes), but it affects the outcome of the match just because forfeits give up a lot of points," senior heavyweight Louis Zuk said. "But we'll do all right. It's not worrying so much about now, but worrying about peaking toward the end of the season and in the state duals."
New Albany opened the season Dec. 1 with a sixth-place finish (58) in Upper Arlington's eight-team Lee Spitzer Golden Bear Invitational behind champion Olentangy Orange (197). In the Kilted Klassic at Sparta Highland on Dec. 8, seniors Nick Fluty (120) and Corey Mulvey (160) each placed third.
The Eagles lost seven wrestlers from a year ago to graduation in Ryan Cao, Tommy Chamberlain, Johna Charles, Mac Ferguson, Eric Manias, Josh Park and Jack Powers. Ferguson was 33-10 at 182 and was a Division I district qualifier along with Cao (138), Chamberlain (145) and Fluty, then at 113.
Fluty is one of four seniors with Mulvey, Gabriel Sheets (170) and Zuk.
The remainder of the roster consists of sophomores Albert Antolik (160), Frank Boscarilli (138), Garrett Dildine (160), Hayden Estey (145), Jeff Kim (182), Joshua Mormal (152) and William Seward (145) and freshmen Alex Boffo (120), Jack Gorman (106), Matthew Jones (170), Jordan Lobel (145), Dylan Morales (220), Brian Woo (113) and Kevin Zuk (152).
"I told the guys at this point of the season I'd rather focus more on the conditioning and getting them in shape," Cofer said. "We'll wrestle a lot of situations but not try to overload them with a ton of moves here and there. The conditioning is really the focus right now.
"For this time of the season we're pretty good, but we're nowhere close to what we need to become sectional or district champions. They understand that and they're putting in the time to get into conditioning. Right now, we just need more matches than anything."
New Albany's OCC-Capital Division opener is Jan. 10 at Big Walnut for a tri-meet that also includes Orange.
The Eagles went 1-7 and placed seventh in the league last year behind Hilliard Bradley (7-0), Mount Vernon (6-1), Orange (5-2), Delaware (4-3) and Watkins Memorial (2-5) and ahead of Franklin Heights (0-7). They were eighth (80.5 points) in the 10-team Central Crossing sectional behind champion Dublin Coffman (196.5) and 31st (5) at district behind champion Marysville (174) as 37 teams scored.
Girls basketball team still finding its way
A 49-24 loss to Orange on Dec. 7 reminded the girls basketball team it still has considerable progression to make, even with the return of senior point guard Hannah Scipio from a torn anterior cruciate ligament in her left knee.
"Orange did a good job of limiting us in transition, and we need to be a transition team to be effective," coach Jeff Blunt said. "Right now, we're dribbling too much and not sharing the ball enough. All the girls are still learning the sets we need to run, and I see some promise. Once we get more fluid and learn things more, I think we'll have the makings of being a pretty good team."
Scipio, who suffered the tear near the end of last year's district semifinal loss to Pickerington North, returned Dec. 4 and scored two points in a 54-36 win over Teays Valley.
The loss to Orange dropped New Albany to 2-2 overall and 1-1 in the OCC-Capital entering a Dec. 11 game against Delaware.
The Eagles have road games against Franklin Heights on Friday, Dec. 14, and Olentangy on Dec. 21. Olentangy won the OCC-Cardinal last year with a 13-1 record and was a Division I district runner-up.