Pickerington High School Central wrestling coach Jason Allen has a heavy job on his hands.
The Tigers return 10 starters, including six district qualifiers, from a team that finished third in the OCC-Ohio Division and third in its Division I home sectional. But their top four weight classes feature competitors who have about a season of varsity experience between them.
"We'll be pretty solid throughout the lightweights and middleweights," said Allen, who is in his fourth season. "We did lose some kids in the upper weights that were contributors, and we'll be pretty young in the upper weights. The job as a coaching staff (is) to get those upper weights ready to go very quickly. They're very, very raw."
Junior Dillon McDowell is expected to start at 182 pounds, junior Jordan Maynard will be at 195, senior and first-year wrestler Alex Nichols is at 220 and sophomore Aaron Morefield is at heavyweight. Morefield and Maynard saw some varsity time last year, the latter filling a roster spot until 2012 graduate J.J. Chowoe, a state qualifier, rejoined the team after Central's football team lost to Cleveland St. Ignatius 34-13 in the Division I state championship game.
The Tigers hope that inexperience is offset by returning district-qualifiers A.J. Bondurant (senior, 160), Tyler Hogue (senior, 120), James Pearson (senior, 170), Jordan Pieczynski (junior, 138/145), Ason Sunkle (senior, 170) and Aaron Yarger (junior, 152) as well as district alternate Rocky Santilli (126), a junior.
Sunkle qualified for state at 145 by finishing fourth at district, but he was unable to compete at state because of a skin infection. Chowoe and 2012 graduate Ryan Schmelzer (195) both went 0-2 at state.
"(Missing state) is pushing me to do a lot more," said Sunkle, who went 34-11 last year. "I've worked on strength and technique, mostly technique. I think that's what held me back a little bit."
The remainder of the roster consists of junior Alex Viney (138), sophomores Dalton Dunnette (132), Devon Johnson (106), Ryan McElwee (113), James Payne (106) and Jonathan Taranto (120) and freshmen Thino Chandara (106), Vu Nguyen (106) and JoJo Terry (120).
Central opened Dec. 1 by finishing third (452) in the 13-team Wazie Classic behind host Mount Vernon (629) and Delaware (535) and ahead of fourth-place Northridge (442). The Tigers compete in the Liberty Classic on Saturday, Dec. 8, at Olentangy Liberty and will try to defend their championship in Worthington Kilbourne's Wolfpack Classic on Dec. 15 before opening OCC-Ohio competition Dec. 20 at Gahanna.
Central's first home match is an OCC-Ohio quad Jan. 17 that also will include Lancaster, Newark and Pickerington North.
The Tigers went 5-2 in league duals last year, finishing third behind Lancaster (7-0) and North (6-1) and ahead of Gahanna (3-4), Grove City (3-4), Reynoldsburg (3-4), Groveport (1-6) and Newark (0-7).
Central was third (194.5) at sectional behind champion Olentangy (249.5), placed seventh (75) at district behind champion Marysville (174) and did not score at state.
"I'm hoping we can be sectional champs. That's a good goal to set. We should be able to do pretty well in districts," Yarger said. "And it's always a goal to win your conference. Hopefully we can get that done."