Every season, Olentangy Orange wrestling coach Scott Tressler sets the goal of having at least one Division I state qualifier.
That didn't happen this year for the first time since 2017, but it wasn't for a lack of effort.
"We're an individual sport, and our goal every year is to get guys to the state tournament," said Tressler, who completed his fifth season leading the program. "I think if you asked every single one of them about the fact that they got to where they were at, they would say they were disappointed with their performance but not necessarily their efforts.
"I think the biggest thing is that they understand that there is still work to be done. Obviously, you would like the seniors to get their shot at state, but (the district is) a tough tournament. (The expected returnees) know they have to work harder to get there."
The state tournament was to be held March 13-15 at Ohio State, but was indefinitely postponed March 12 and ultimately canceled March 26 by the OHSAA because of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.
The Pioneers had a state alternate in sophomore Keegan Knapp (132 pounds), who went 3-2 and placed fifth in the district tournament held March 6 and 7 at Hilliard Darby, one spot shy of a state berth. Knapp finished the season 30-8.
Despite falling short of state, Knapp knows how much he improved in his first full season of varsity competition. Among his season highlights was a third-place finish in the Medina Invitational Tournament held Dec. 27 and 28.
"I got a lot of work in during the offseason and I guess it paid off," said Knapp, who also made first-team all-OCC-Buckeye Division. "I finished third at Medina this year. I feel like I did really well, though it would have been nice to qualify for state."
The Pioneers are losing seven seniors, including three district qualifiers in Tristan Bluntschly (170, 29-12), Ian Krider (145, 28-13) and Cardan Mutai (220, 21-11). Bluntschly went 3-3 and placed sixth at district.
Mutai earned first-team all-league honors and Krider was second-team all-league.
"The seniors were great to me," Knapp said. "They always worked with me whenever I needed to get some work in and they helped to make me better."
The Pioneers expect to return five district qualifiers, including Knapp. The others are juniors Dylan Dempsey (182, 20-9), Geoffrey Kaminski (195, 21-9) and Zack Miller (138, 27-13) and sophomore Connor Svantner (152, 21-14).
Kaminski went 3-3 and placed sixth at district.
Other expected returnees include freshmen Luke Behre (113), Diego Noria (106) and Nathan Westinghouse (120).
Dempsey was first-team all-league and Miller and Behre were second-team all-league.
"We have a lot of freshmen coming back, including at 106, 113 and 120," said Tressler, whose team finished third (3-2) in the OCC-Buckeye behind Westerville North (5-0) and Liberty (4-1). "Then you have Keegan coming back and some talented j.v. wrestlers coming back because they couldn't beat Keegan or Zach Miller this year. Connor Svantner, Dylan Dempsey and Geoffrey Kaminski are coming back.
"We have some good upper-weights coming back. I think we're trending in the right direction, but at some point you need to punch through the ceiling (qualify for state) if you want to get to that elite status."