Upper Arlington wrestling coach Matt Stout might have put in longer days throughout November than he could remember from any of his previous eight seasons in charge of the Golden Bears, and he didn't mind at all.
Five Division I state qualifiers and 13 seniors return to lead the team, whose turnout of more than 50 wrestlers pushed Stout to split preseason practices into two sessions, one for less experienced competitors and the other for veterans.
"This is a situation we've never been in. The program has never had five state qualifiers back. I've never had this kind of senior participation. Maybe the most I've had before now is six," Stout said. "We (went with) two groups because we have so many kids. But because we have so many experienced guys back, we move quicker. We're into hard practices right away. It helps them get prepared, though. It certainly allows you to get ahead with the kids you expect to wrestle varsity."
State qualifiers Daniel Beam (113/120 pounds), Jesse Bowers (138), Mason McHugh (145) and David Soghomonyan (170) -- all of whom are seniors -- and junior Jake Thomas (113/120) return for UA, which opens Friday, Dec. 6, with a quad match against Centerville, Dublin Scioto and Lancaster at Hastings Middle School and will play host to the annual Lee Spitzer Golden Bear Invitational the next day.
None of the five won a match at state last year.
The only state qualifier from a year ago to graduate was Mitch Herren, who finished third at 120 and now wrestles at Ohio University. He was the seventh two-time state placer in program history, having finished eighth at 113 as a junior.
Last year's six state qualifiers tied the program record set in 1985.
"We have a lot of competition in the room. We're always trying to make each other better," said Bowers, a two-time state qualifier who advanced at 132 last year. "There's a lot of scrambling and trying to overpower each other on the mat. It's awesome to have great teammates."
Given the team's lofty expectations, many wrestlers dedicated themselves to fine-tuning their skills during the offseason.
"The biggest thing for me has been strength and just trying to get bigger," Beam said. "Last year and years before, I've been pretty small compared to the other kids in my weight class. I have been working really hard in the weight room trying to get stronger and bigger."
According to Stout, other contributors will include seniors Will Brewer (145), Connor McClure (126), Miles Pearson (152/160), Jacob Shanklin (126/132) and Quentin Zimmer (152/160), junior Rafe Lynd (heavyweight) and sophomores Jake Badgeley (220) and Frankie Mulligan (106).
Stout said senior Cam LaTorre (152), junior George Orlando (126/132) and sophomores Ayden Boothby (126), George Sauters (138) and Larry Stelzer (138) also could see action.
"You want all the seniors to crack the lineup, but that's certainly the sign of a good program to have depth," Stout said. "It's a pretty solid lineup. It will be hard for underclassmen to get into the lineup."
UA begins OCC-Central Division competition Jan. 9 at home against Hilliard Davidson.
The Bears went 3-2 in the league last season to finish third behind Dublin Coffman (5-0) and Marysville (4-1).
Below are the coming schedules for the Upper Arlington boys basketball, girls basketball, gymnastics, hockey, swimming & diving and wrestling teams:
*Dec. 6 -- At Central Crossing
Dec. 10 -- Home vs. Westerville Central
*Dec. 3 -- At Dublin Coffman
*Dec. 6 -- Home vs. Central Crossing
Dec. 10 -- At Westerville Central
Dec. 11 -- At Worthington Kilbourne with *Central Crossing, *Franklin Heights and *Westland
*Dec. 6 -- Cincinnati Moeller at OhioHealth Ice Haus
*Dec. 7 -- St. Charles at OhioHealth Ice Haus
*Dec. 8 -- Olentangy at OhioHealth Ice Haus
SWIMMING & DIVING
Dec. 6 -- Home vs. Olentangy Orange
Dec. 7 -- Home vs. Olentangy Liberty
Dec. 6 -- Centerville, Dublin Scioto and Lancaster at Hastings Middle School
Dec. 7 -- Lee Spitzer Golden Bear Invitational at home