Steve Ayers has guided the Walnut Ridge High School wrestling team to three consecutive City League dual and tournament championships since taking over as coach before the 2014-15 season.
The Scots will try to continue that run despite having just one senior and missing several 2017 graduates who helped lead the way last season.
"We've got one senior and a couple others back, but everybody else is a first-year wrestler," Ayers said. "Once again, I've got a group of guys that haven't wrestled before, but it's not how we start, it's how we finish. We'll find our identity after Christmas break. It's always a work in progress when you don't have a feeder program."
Walnut Ridge opened Dec. 2 by finishing last (20 points) in the 12-team Lee Spitzer Golden Bear Invitational at Upper Arlington, behind champion Vandalia Butler (272).
Sophomore Mohamadou Diouf (170 pounds) earned a pair of victories to lead the way at UA.
Senior Deric Luther (132), junior Angel Sambois (126 or 120) and sophomore Sihlas Padmore (145) are other key wrestlers for the Scots.
Walnut Ridge scored 202.5 points in last season's City tournament to finish ahead of Whetstone (191), West (189), Mifflin (149), South (98.5), Marion-Franklin (98), Northland (87), Linden-McKinley (86), Centennial (53), Beechcroft (50.5), East (45) and Independence (40).
All three of the Scots' City champions, Duane Greer (138), Michael Ayers (182) and Matias Fuller (195), were lost to graduation.
Michael Ayers, the coach's son, was one of just three City wrestlers to compete in the state tournament last season.
Ayers and Mifflin senior Doug Patterson (106) both competed in Division I, while 2017 Beechcroft graduate Aarin Smoot-Baker (heavyweight) competed in Division II.
All three went 0-2 at state, with Ayers finishing the season 37-6, Smoot-Baker finishing 23-8 and Patterson finishing 37-6.
Patterson, who will compete at 106 or 113 this season, figures to be one of the City's top wrestlers again for Mifflin, which is hoping to battle Walnut Ridge, Whetstone and West for league supremacy.
The City dual tournament will hold dual matches at four sites Jan. 25, with the top team at each site advancing to the dual championships Feb. 1 at Walnut Ridge.
The City individual tournament will be held Feb. 17 at Mifflin.
On Dec. 2 in the Bad Apple Brawl at Mount Vernon, the Punchers placed sixth (223) of 13 teams, behind champion Gahanna (391), as Patterson won the title at 113 and junior Eric Shaw was runner-up at 182.
Senior Namar Tucker, a district qualifier last season, placed sixth at 160 in the Bad Apple Brawl.
Seniors Shawn Mayo (113) and Mountago Sy (145), sophomore Dewon Ellison (120) and freshman Ajoure Lawrence (132) are other top wrestlers for Mifflin.
Patterson was a district qualifier as a sophomore and won a league title at 113 last season.
"I'm really solid from 106 to 182," Punchers coach Caska Thompson said.
With 38 wrestlers, West should be one of the deepest teams in the City.
The Cowboys are strongest in the upper weights. In the Golden Bear Invitational, West scored 100 points to finish fifth as seniors Dawson Shaw (heavyweight) and Matthew Shaw (220) won titles and senior Phillip Thompson (182) and junior Hector Barron (195) both placed third.
Seniors Michael Cruz (126) and Liffny Marroquin (132), junior Todd Barrett (170) and sophomore Nick Cook (152) are other key wrestlers for West.
"I got a good turnout from our football team," Cowboys coach Felix Catheline said. "We've kind of challenged all of our junior varsity guys to get ready. We've got 12 returnees and another 12 that have never wrestled before.
"We should be in the top four in the City again. Walnut Ridge, Mifflin and Whetstone will also be tough. Winning the City would be great, but I really want to see us do well in the postseason."
Cougars, Vikings rebuilding programs
The Beechcroft and Northland wrestling teams have new coaches.
Mac Conkling, a 2012 Whetstone graduate, is the new coach for Beechcroft.
Last season, the Cougars fielded a team for the first time since 2011-12 and produced a state qualifier in Smoot-Baker.
Returnees for Beechcroft are seniors Dakota Mendoza (195/182) and Jaylon Moye (195/182) and sophomores Aloysious Kamara (120/113/106) and Micah Newell (145/138).
Sophomore John Cole-Momoh (heavyweight/220) is a move-in from Maryland who has previous experience in the sport.
"Last year, they started with 10 (wrestlers) and finished with about six or seven," Conkling said. "Our goal this year is to have a full lineup. Wrestling's a very tough sport and I'm a very conditioning-focused coach. I ran cross country in high school to stay in shape, so I wanted to instill that focus in these guys."
Joe Murray, who served as an assistant last season under former coach Nathan Wylder, is heading Northland's program.
A 1989 Massillon Perry graduate, Murray attended the United States Air Force Academy and continued to wrestle in open tournaments. He has been the school resource officer at Northland the last two years.
"I'm hoping that we'll be able to finish in the top three as a team in the City tournament," Murray said.
"We have a few young wrestlers with a lot of potential."
Yousif Samoor (106) is a freshman with significant potential, according to Murray.
Sophomores De'Arien Cochran (126/132), Cole Greenland (145) and Jamal Mohamud (113) and freshman Olman Namath-Ayala (138/145) are other top wrestlers for the Vikings.
"Hopefully, all of these young wrestlers can tap into their potential and stick out the season," Murray said.
McKinney reaches coaching milestone
Africentric girls basketball coach Will McKinney earned his 300th career victory with his team's 101-22 win over South on Dec. 5.
McKinney has headed the program since its inception in 2003-04 and had guided the Nubians to a 301-60 record as of Dec. 11 as well as to state championships in 2007 and '09 in Division IV and 2012, '14 and '16 in Division III.
The Nubians also have won nine City championships, 11 district championships and eight regional titles under McKinney.
Last season, Africentric went 25-4 and lost in a Division III state semifinal.
The Nubians defeated Briggs 120-30 on Dec. 8 and were 3-0 overall and 2-0 in the City-South Division before playing Marion-Franklin on Dec. 12.
"It's been a lot of hard work," McKinney said of reaching the 300-win milestone.
"We've won five state titles and had a large amount of kids go on to play at the next level, so I'm definitely proud of that."