Although he realizes it will be difficult to match last season's success, Whitehall-Yearling High School wrestling coach Steve Pennington is looking forward to the challenge.
The Rams opened Dec. 7 by playing host to the Dan Gartner Duals and finished second (261) behind Buckeye Valley (262).
"I like what I see, but we are super young this year," Pennington said.
"We knew that was going to happen. We graduated eight seniors who were starters last year. There's going to be a couple of weight classes where we're going to be a little soft, but we are going to fill a whole lineup, which is huge. There's no reason why we can't have a lot of success this year."
Last season, Whitehall won its first league title since 1968, finishing first in the MSL-Ohio Division tournament with 396 points, ahead of runner-up Licking Valley (275).
The Rams won a Division II sectional and were third at district before tying Clyde, Lewistown Indian Lake and Wapakoneta for 14th (32) at state behind champion St. Paris Graham (155.5), which won its 13th consecutive state title.
Whitehall also lost in a regional final of the first state team tournament.
Among those lost to graduation was heavyweight Alex Farrow, who placed second at state and finished 51-2 on the season. He finished his career 156-32.
The Rams return one state qualifier in sophomore Ana Abduljelil, who finished seventh at 113 pounds. He went 3-3 at state to finish the season 48-5.
Senior Noah Jay missed a state-qualifying berth by one spot when he placed fifth at 106 at district. He finished the season 37-5.
"We have two really good kids coming back in Noah Jay and Ana Abduljelil," Pennington said.
"Every time we start off we know we're going to have two weight classes that are going to dominate, and momentum is everything."
Also back are seniors A.J. Drake (170) and Matt McGarran (106), junior Travis Bailey (160) and sophomores Elijah McGowan (138) and Manny King (195).
Abduljelil, Drake, Jay and McGarran are captains.
Seniors Chance James-McDuffie (132) and Josh Pace (182) are in their first seasons.
Other wrestlers are junior Tyler Thomas (182), sophomores Shawn Barnes (heavyweight), Mateo Miranda (152), Parker Riley (120), Brian Quillen (132), Michael Thompson (120) and Skylar Wilichowski (145) and freshmen Nateel Dessa (126), Branham Kipruto (113), Daveon Jemmott (106), Johnny Miller (138), Grant Munoz (heavyweight), Austin Nichols (152), Tamagne Shiferaw (126), Tyliq Stewart (113), Phillip Wagner (132), Angosom Weldu (126) and Sami Williams (170).
In the Dan Gartner Duals, Abduljelil and Wagner won titles.
"We have 11 freshmen on the roster who I like," Pennington said.
"They're good kids and there's a lot of talent in the freshman class. I'm probably looking at three to four freshmen that are going to start for us -- a big difference from last year. This is a good freshman class. There's some talent there."
The Rams will compete in the realigned MSL-Ohio with Bexley, Columbus Academy, Grandview, Harvest Prep, London, Madison Plains and West Jefferson.
Licking Valley, which had won four consecutive league titles before finishing second behind Whitehall last season, has moved to the Licking County League.
"Last year we dominated a lot of teams," Pennington said. "This year we can still get the win, but it's just not going to be dominating. I'm excited. It's going to test us as coaches to see how good we are."
Boys bowlers seek return trip to state
With two competitors back from last season, the boys bowling team is seeking a return trip to the state tournament.
The OHSAA has expanded bowling into two divisions, and the Rams will compete in Division I.
"The biggest thing is they have to stay focused and they have to be consistent," coach Tavi Netotian said. "That's what I'm striving for more this year."
Last season, the Rams qualified for state for the second consecutive season and finished 15th in the 16-team qualifying round as the top eight teams advanced to the finals.
Senior Noah Wiley led the Rams last season at state with a 554 series to finish 40th among 100 competitors. Also back is senior Andrew Sturgill, who had a 487 series (67th) at state.
Senior Paul Gress competed for the Rams as a freshman and sophomore.
Other key bowlers should be sophomores Austin Wilson, Matt Ebbesen and Seth Kegler.
The Rams opened the season by defeating Columbus West 1,807-1,345 on Dec. 4 at Columbus Western Bowl. Gress led the Rams with a 341, followed by Wiley (331), Sturgill (306), Ebbesen (286) and Wilson (247).
"I'm looking forward to this season," Netotian said. "We have three seniors and two sophomores starting. We have experience and ... we have high expectations."
Last season, Whitehall won the Central Ohio High School Bowling Conference-South Division at 12-1, ahead of Teays Valley (10-1).
The Rams lost to Granville 3-2 in the MSL tournament final. Wiley (623) was first-team all-league and Sturgill (567) was second-team all-league.
Girls bowling team opens with win
The girls bowling team opened by defeating West 1,630-1,530.
Senior Taylor-Jo Morton and freshman Kaleigh Straits each had a 273 series. Sophomore Erin Brown had a 253, senior Taylor Deskins had a 252 and sophomore Ashley Ford had a 223.
"The two Taylors are the strength of the team and we have really good chemistry with all the girls," coach Jess Biller said.
"I'm really excited about Kaleigh Straits. She's a freshman, but she has been bowling since we was a little kid. I expect her to just get better and better as the year goes."
Deskins, Ford and Morton return from a team that finished third (11-2) in the COHSBC-South last season behind Briggs (14-0) and Reynoldsburg (11-1).
"I'd love to win that," Biller said of the league. "I'd love to go undefeated in our division. Our toughest opponent is going to be Briggs. Those girls are really tough."
Whitehall defeated Granville 3-1 in a best-of-five match to win the MSL tournament, as Morton was named league Bowler of the Year and Deskins and Ford also were first-team all-league.
"Our biggest focus this year is winning the Mid-State League tournament again," Biller said.
"We won that last year and Taylor-Jo was Player of the Year in the league, so we have to defend our title. That's weighing heavily on us."
Morton had a 191.1 average to finish fourth among area bowlers last season. Deskins had a 134.2 average and Ford finished at 133.8.
At district, Whitehall was eighth (3,058) as champion Cardington (3,682), Briggs (3,614) and Lancaster (3,318) advanced to state.
This season, the Rams will compete in Division I.