The holidays came early for the Pickerington High School Central wrestling team, and the Tigers didn't even have to win a match.
According to coach Jason Allen, this year's team is further ahead of schedule than any of its predecessors in his five seasons at the school.
"We're ahead of schedule as far as implementing technique and conditioning. We're ahead of where I wanted us to be at this point, and I'm very pleased at the progression," said Allen, whose team returns 10 of last year's 12 district qualifiers -- including senior Aaron Yarger, who was sixth at 152 pounds in the Division I state tournament. "Stuff we're doing now, that's usually what we're doing around the end of December. By then, we'll really hone in on the conditioning phase to get guys peaking at the right time."
Central starts its season Dec. 14 in Worthington Kilbourne's Wolfpack Duals.
Yarger, who went 40-14 last year, returns at 152. Other returning district qualifiers are seniors Tyler Hogue (126), Jordan Maynard (195), Dylan McDowell (182) and Jordan Pieczynski (145), juniors Dalton Dunnette (138), Devin Johnson (106), Ryan McElwee (120) and Arron Morefield (heavyweight) and sophomore Joseph Terry (132).
"As a team, top to bottom, we're very solid," Yarger said. "We don't have a whole lot of holes."
The rest of the roster consists of seniors Billy Edmonds (195/220) and Eric White (195/220), juniors Andrew Cockerham (195/220), Ron Lawrence (120), Chandler Mullen (170), Darius Pearson (160) and C.C. Walls (170), sophomores Thino Chandera (106/113), Chris Cockerham (heavyweight), Jared Jenkins (120), Zach Kelly (113), Nick Mahl (160), Vu Nguyen (106/113) and Patrick Randall (heavyweight) and freshman Tony Huynh (106/113).
Kelly is a transfer from Westerville North.
The Tigers will begin defense of their OCC-Ohio Division championship Dec. 19 at home against Gahanna. Central was 6-1 in league duals last year, sharing the title with Pickerington North.
"With the way the schedule laid out and when Thanksgiving fell (Nov. 28), I want my boys to have a Thanksgiving with their families and not be focused on competition at that time," Allen said, referring to Nov. 29 being the first official day of the season. "We just changed up the schedule. Based on last year and the schedule we had with the state duals, we backed it off."
Central hopes its late-season schedule is crowded this year. The Tigers made a run to the inaugural state team tournament, in which they lost a quarterfinal 66-4 to eventual champion Lakewood St. Edward. That took place two days after Central tied North for the OCC-Ohio title in both teams' final league dual, and three days after the team tournament regional finals.
"Really, everything is all about getting to the postseason and wrestling well there," McDowell said. "Everyone is working at a faster pace compared to last year. It took people time to get the moves down (last year). Now, we're an older team this year and we're more developed."