With 11 seniors and five returning district qualifiers on the roster, members of the Thomas Worthington High School wrestling team aren't afraid to talk about their aspirations.
"We want to win OCC, sectional and district championships and we think we have the potential to do that," said senior Andrew Shackleford, who returns at 182 pounds after being a Division I state alternate last season. "We had some good wrestlers here last year, but that didn't help with our OCC record. This year, we have everyone back and we have no real gaps in the lineup. That should make the difference."
The other returning district qualifiers are seniors Kasey Ackley (120) and Brooks Gilmore (heavyweight) and juniors Will Coleman (126) and Noah Messerall (132). Coleman, who competed at 113 last season, is the only one in that group who has changed weight classes.
Among the other returnees are two district alternates in senior Alex Good (145) and sophomore Nate Good (160).
Also in the early-season lineup are seniors Ben Hoyt (152), Max King (170) and Phil McKinney (195), sophomores James Ford (220) and Ben Hooff (138) and freshmen Martice Johnson (113) and Tyler Norris (106).
Others vying for a spot in the lineup include seniors Juan Cardenas, Tyler Clark, Raymundo Guzman and Nick Harvard and juniors Nick Gaston, Connor Glasgow, Scott Goffin, Wyatt Jarrell and Ben Truesdale.
"We've got 42 wrestlers and (11) seniors who have been in the program throughout (high school) and they're well-seasoned," third-year coach Mark Gundling said. "We are solid from top to bottom, so we should be a real good dual team as well."
The Cardinals opened Dec. 1, winning the 13-team Franklin Heights Invitational by scoring 297 points and finishing well ahead of runner-up Lakewood St. Edward B (176). Hooff, McKinney, Norris and Shackleford won their weight classes, and Ford, Johnson, King and Messerall were runners-up.
Thomas finished 11th (141) in the 18-team Sparta Highland Invitational on Dec. 8 behind champion Medina (336).
Last season, the Cardinals went 1-6 in the OCC-Central Division to tie Central Crossing and Westland for sixth, behind Hilliard Davidson (7-0), Dublin Coffman (6-1), Hilliard Darby (5-2), Worthington Kilbourne (4-3) and Upper Arlington (3-4).
As part of OCC realignment, Kilbourne and Darby moved in the OCC-Cardinal and were replaced by Marysville and Olentangy Liberty. Last season, Marysville won the OCC-Cardinal title and Liberty was second. Marysville also won the Division I sectional and district titles and finished 13th in the state tournament at Ohio State.
Thomas opens its league schedule Thursday, Dec. 20, at home against Westland.
The Cardinals placed sixth (85.5) in the 10-team sectional at Marysville last season behind champion Marysville (257) and finished 29th (12) in the district tournament at Darby behind champion Marysville (174).
Last season, Shackleford won six regular-season tournaments and made first-team all-league. He was sectional runner-up and went 3-2 at district to place fifth, as the top four finishers in each weight class advanced to state. He finished 31-7 last season.
"He put in a ton of effort in the offseason and he's definitely one of the guys we think can advance to state," Gundling said. "I think he can go toe-to-toe with anybody in the state."
Coleman went 1-2 at district a year ago and finished 7-12. Messerall (23-14), Gilmore (17-16) and Ackley (15-18) each went 0-2.
"Messerall has the ability to get to state as well, and Gilmore is in extremely good shape and has really improved," Gundling said. "He's moved to the next level, as has Phil McKinney at 195. McKinney hit the weight room and worked extremely hard in the offseason.
"A lot of our kids really put their work in, got to camps, wrestled in club and some got with personal trainers. I really like what they've done and I think it will pay dividends."
Last season, McKinney went 18-14, Alex Good finished 19-12 and King went 16-11.
Wolves return four district qualifiers
Kilbourne has returned four district qualifiers, but with just two seniors in the lineup, second-year coach Brett Shaut still considers his team to be inexperienced.
"We've got four-to-six good wrestlers who could become great wrestlers if they stay healthy and keep working at it," he said. "But overall, we're young and not very deep."
The seniors in the early-season lineup are Kyle Wahl (145) and Josh Jenkins (182). Last season, Wahl finished 20-11 at 132 and qualified for district, where he went 1-2. Jenkins was a district alternate at 170.
"Kyle Wahl is very talented, but he battles injuries," Shaut said. "I think if he can stay healthy, he's going to make a deep run in the district."
The other three returning district qualifiers are juniors Alex Meehan (220), Austin Oberly (106) and Lucky Shaut (132), the coach's son. Meehan went 2-2 at district a year ago and finished 27-8. Shaut, who competed at 113 a year ago and is a two-time district qualifier, and Oberly both went 0-2 at district
"I'm very optimistic about Austin Oberly's chances of reaching state," coach Shaut said. "He put in a tremendous amount of work in the offseason and he has high expectations for himself, which is important.
"Alex Meehan has gotten a lot stronger and his technique is much improved. He's added some things to his repertoire and he also is more confident in his abilities. I think Alex and Lucky also have the capability of making deep runs into the district, just like Kyle and Austin."
Others in the early-season lineup include juniors Danny Darby (138), Gavin Elifritz (195) and Vincent Wallace (heavyweight), sophomores Grant Chesser (160), Collin Pierce (120), Darius Turner (152) and David Turner (170) and freshmen Andrew Cook (126) and Charlie Osborn (113).
The Turners are twins.
Also vying for a spot in the lineup are seniors Garrett Pauley and Stewart Seely, juniors Kaleb Meloon, Wyatt Robey, Kerry Speed and Daniel Stricker, sophomores Jacob Rastok and Tyler Silverthorn and freshmen Mason Hoover, Trent Plantz, Cameron Wallace, Trey Wallace and Sam Zeid.
Kilbourne opened Dec. 1 in the Lee Spitzer Golden Bear Invitational at UA, finishing third (138.5) behind Olentangy Orange (197) and UA (161).
The Wolves then won the 10-team Xenia Invitational on Dec. 8 with 262 points, finishing well ahead of runner-up Greenfield McClain (168). Winning titles were Darby, Jenkins, Meehanm Oberly, Osborn and Wahl.
In their eight-team, dual-format Wolfpack Classic on Dec. 15, the Wolves defeated Coffman 37-35 to finish third. Pickerington Central beat Fremont Ross 46-30 in the championship match to win the event.
Last season, Kilbourne placed third (174) in the 10-team sectional at Central Crossing behind champion Coffman (196.5) and finished 16th (35) at district.
Mike Mayberry, a 2012 graduate, won one match at state at 195 to give the Wolves two points and tie eight teams for 66th behind champion Lakewood St. Edward (223.5). Mayberry won sectional and district titles a year ago and finished 40-3.
Kilbourne is competing in the OCC-Cardinal this season with Darby, Dublin Jerome, Dublin Scioto, Hilliard Bradley, Westerville Central, Westerville North and Westerville South. Its first league dual is Thursday, Dec. 20, at home against South.