A young group seeking to improve, the Thomas Worthington wrestling team returns five district qualifiers from last season among its 16 competitors.
Leading the way is a two-time district qualifier in junior Mason Gates (220 pounds). Also competing in the Division I district tournament last season were junior Majed Ahmad (160) and sophomores Michael Blain (126), Charlie Erickson (132) and Channing Thornton (120).
Sixth-year coach Brad Todd also has high expectations for senior Nick Harris (138) and his sophomore class, which also includes Chris Earliwine (152) and 182-pounders Brayden Jamison and Gael Cruz.
Todd said the experience the sophomores gained last year will enable them to better prepare mentally for matches as well as understand what their expectations are for the season. It also should boost their confidence.
"We have a really strong sophomore class and a really good nucleus there who all wrestled tough as freshmen," Todd said. "It's tough to (wrestle as a freshman) on the varsity level, coming in as a freshman and getting that experience. With that experience we expect a lot out of them this year."
Rounding out the roster are junior Noah Madrazo Segovia (170) and six freshmen: Ben Boley (120), Jaden Fields (160), Abu Keita (113), Sam Lacher (145), Sam Patchen (220) and Eli Semel (145).
"They're doing well," Todd said of his freshman athletes. "They're taking their lead and following, seeing the hard work it takes and how different it is from the middle school to the high school level. They're taking it in stride, still working and following that upperclassmen and sophomore leadership."
Harris said the upperclassmen encourage the freshmen "to stay focused and keep going."
The Cardinals did not win a dual match in the OCC-Cardinal Division last year, which Todd attributed to a lack of depth.
"We challenge these guys to win more matches, the ones we actually wrestle, and not worry about the forfeits -- things we can't control," he said.
The Cardinals open their league schedule Thursday, Dec. 12, at Hilliard Bradley.
Gates said the team has taken a proactive approach to improving and building its confidence. Among other factors, this means more endurance training and more time spent in the weight room.
"We really fell off on that last season," he said. "This year we've done a lot more lifting, making sure we stay in the weight room. We've done a lot more conditioning and running, too, a lot more offseason stuff this season compared to last season."
In the wrestling room, Gates said there's a renewed sense of focus and intensity.
"A lot of people are taking it a lot more serious than last year," he said. "Last year we were getting a workout in, but it wasn't like a serious grind every day, which is what we've been doing more of this year."
Wolves' seniors 'have a big task'
Second-year Kilbourne coach Jose Martinez is looking for his younger wrestlers to "close the gap" and build on the foundation being set by his eight upperclassmen and three sophomores.
Martinez said the team will be led by a three-senior core of state-qualifier Jay Thompson (220), district-alternate Shawn Hoffman (138) and Andrew Rice (170).
He has high expectations for his seniors, not only in terms of making an impact but also serving as role models for freshmen such as Connor Asbury (152), James Culver (160) and Zane Swackhammer (195).
"My seniors have a big task this year," Martinez said. "In one year, they have to make sure they pass our routine in this program and their leadership abilities to these young guys. And there's high expectations for them to make their mark on the program being their senior year."
So far, he said they've held up their end of the bargain.
"We've been talking about attitude and effort a lot," Martinez said. "Our seniors have been doing a good job when we're busting their chops in the wrestling room with conditioning and practice, setting the example for these younger guys."
Hoffman said maintaining intensity in the wrestling room goes a long way toward developing the team and mentoring the freshmen.
"Everything in the room translates to the mat, so always stay on top of your game in the room and it'll translate," he said.
"We have a young team with a lot of hard workers, and that's good," Thompson said. "The effort is great out here."
Thompson, a University of Indianapolis commit, is looking to make his mark on the program and set the tone for the freshmen by going for a state title. He finished 0-2 in the Division I state tournament last season.
"I want a state title," he said. "It's been my dream since sixth grade."
Thompson said he believes his technique is nearly there. But to push himself over the top, he said he needs to "develop an attitude."
"Last year I had pretty good technique and pretty good defense, but I didn't go out there like a jerk. I went out there and just kind of patty caked with the dude," he said. "So (this year) I'm (at practice) getting the tar beat out of me in the room ... and it's been great."
Other key contributors are expected to be seniors Alex Rader (145) and Mason Smith (152) and sophomore Iain Rojas (160).
The Wolves open OCC-Cardinal action Thursday, Dec. 12, at Dublin Scioto.