In athletics, ?going green? is never a trendy strategy?at least in the sense of competitive experience. Having lost seven seniors from last year?s team, numbers and experience are both down at Hillsboro this season.
But coach Scott O?Hare said his relatively ?green? team of 19 wrestlers may be as determined as any he?s had in his seven years as head coach?based on the first two weeks of practice, at least.
?The biggest thing we lack is experience,? O?Hare said. ?But there?s some cautious optimism because we have a roomful of guys who, overall, are just very physically and mentally tough. They?re just a hard-nosed group of kids.?
If that trend continues, and his younger wrestlers mature, O?Hare sees the possibility for a memorable year.
?We have a long way to go, but we feel we have a group of kids who can take us that way if their coachability and work ethic continue,? he said. ?It could be a pretty exciting group to watch.?
Two state qualifiers
Individually, Hillsboro returns two state qualifiers, senior Matt Yoder, who qualified at 135 pounds in his first season of wrestling, and junior Aaron Bina, who qualified at 140.
As a team, the Trojans will find it harder to maintain the high level of success they?ve enjoyed in dual matches simply because of open spots at both ends of the weight-class lineup?109 at the light end and 250 and 285 at the heavy end.
?In most duals we?re probably giving up as many as 18 points even before we start,? O?Hare said. ?But with what we have through the middle classes, as we progress technique-wise to go along with our toughness, I think we?ll be able to win a lot of matches?potentially.?
O?Hare?s other lineup challenge is finding a spot for each of his experienced wrestlers in the middle weight classes.
?We?re going to have a real logjam around 152 to 171,? he said. ?We have a number of kids in that area who could all make varsity spots. But there?s only three spots available for maybe four or five kids, just because some guys got bigger.?
Bina is a case in point, having jumped from 140 pounds last year to 165 at the start of this year.
?He?s working on going down a weight class, but at the same time he?s going to have to adjust to wrestling bigger guys,? O?Hare said.
With other wrestlers in a similar state of flux, O?Hare?s lineup is tenuous at this point.
n 112 pounds. Freshman Mitchell Day is the likely candidate, but needs to lose a few pounds to get there.
?He?s a kid who has some amazing athleticism,? O?Hare said. ?He?s very quick, very explosive, but a little bit green in terms of wrestling technique. As he starts to come around, he could open some eyes at 112.?
n 119 pounds. Bret Mueller wrestled varsity at 112 last year as a freshman.
?He really started to come into his own late last year and has looked really good in practice so far,? O?Hare said. ?He?s one of the few with a lot of wrestling experience, coming up in the kids wrestling program and middle school.?
n 125 pounds. Lucas Sinclair is an athletic freshman who has a work ethic ?second to none,? according to his coach.
?He just works so hard,? O?Hare said. ?He doesn?t have a lot of experience, but he?s a good student and very coachable. He wants to learn as much as he can.?
n 130 pounds. Junior Darren Mueller competed at 125 a year ago and has several years of wrestling experience.
?He did a lot of work this fall to improve his strength and his quickness,? O?Hare said. ?He seems to have made some really good strides from a year ago.?
n 135 pounds. Matt Yoder, a senior, is one of the few veterans wrestling in the same weight class this season.
?He has athleticism, but he?s so physically and mentally tough,? O?Hare said. ?The kid doesn?t know what it means to give up. That?s really what carried him last year. Now, his technique is well above what it was a year ago. He?s doing a lot of good things.?
n 140 pounds. Dimitri McClelland is the early-season favorite. He wrestled JV last season but was a late addition to the lineup at regionals and came within one match of qualifying for state.
?He?s only been wrestling for a couple of years, but he?s got a motor?he keeps going,? O?Hare said. ?His technique is little bit green, but he?s coachable. He could surprise some people, this being his first full year in the varsity lineup.?
McClelland could be pushed for his spot when junior Tanner Johnson becomes eligible after the Christmas break.
?Tanner?s just so tough and has such explosiveness,? O?Hare said. ?I am anxious to see how those two match up.?
n 145 pounds. The leading candidate at the start is Justin King, another successful JV wrestler last year.
?He didn?t have much experience, but like Dimitri he goes 100 miles an hour,? O?Hare said ?We?ll see what happens.?
King could be pushed by another talented freshman, Tanner Jones.
?Tanner?s got a lot of potential,? O?Hare said. ?I don?t know as a freshman whether he?s able to step in (at the varsity level) or not. He just needs to mature a little bit more physically and mentally. But I think he?ll push Justin and make him better.?
n 152, 160, 171, 189 and 215 pounds. This where the lineup gets complicated. Matt Wiebe, a junior with some experience will likely open the season at 152, but eventually will be challenged by a cadre of veterans who need to drop weight to get there.
That group includes: Jared King, a senior who currently weighs 160; Bina, who weighs 165; and junior Dylan Delk, a veteran at 140-145 last season but has grown to 160.
?It?s frustrating to have those three, with so much experience, all weigh about exactly the same,? O?Hare said.
?Jared?s one I?d really like to see get down there,? he added. ?In his senior year, he?s been in the program so long. Last year he had to spend most of the year wrestling up a weight class because he was behind Tyler Jones. He?s looked really good in practice so far; his technique has really come along.?
If Jared King can drop to 152, Bina likely would wrestle at 160, leaving Delk to compete at 171.
?Dylan would have a lot more trouble getting down to 152?he?s just gotten so big and tall,? O?Hare said. ?Right now, Dylan is probably the biggest of the three, and I would suspect he would be the one to stay at 171?but we have a lot to figure out before we know for sure.?
The ambiguity doesn?t end there. Two other wrestlers, junior Colby Meier and freshman Kevin Dies, could be candidates at 171 but each lacks varsity experience. Another potential candidate is veteran senior Evan Just, who is currently slotted for the 189 class but could compete at 171 if he loses eight pounds.
?Depending on what happens in that whole mess, from 160 to 171, someone?s going to get bumped out and, just because of the experience factor, will probably wrestle at 189,? O?Hare said.
Once there, that person would face competition from three inexperienced wrestlers: two seniors?Max Bertin?champ, an exchange student, and A.J. Litch?field, whose work in the weight room has helped him lose some 60 pounds since moving here two years ago?plus freshman Kevin Dies.
?A.J. has caught on to things a lot better than he I thought he might,? O?Hare said. ?Just because of his height (6-foot-5) and his size, he might be able to wrestle some matches at 215.
?Because he lacks experience, I wouldn?t throw him out there against the better kids in the area. But if I know somebody?s not extremely strong, or if that class is open, we?re going to have the opportunity to take one of those guys and move him into 215 to help team scores.?
Though Dies shows promise, O?Hare said it would be difficult for him to compete in a heavy weight class as a freshman.
?But Kevin is really going to push all those guys through there? (in practice),? he added.
O?Hare said his lineup has the potential to be tough, but he also wants to be realistic.
?I don?t know that we can continue (to win duals) at the level we?ve been at,? he said. ?We?ve had a run of four years now where we?ve been as solid as we?d like to be.
?It?s going to be a different form of success this year, I think. If we can bring some people along with some good, sound wrestling technique, this could be a really tough team, especially in tournaments.?
In its last season, the Mid-Central Activities Association will compete again as a duals league rather than run a single tournament. O?Hare looks for Hoisington, Smoky Valley and Marion to be at the top again.
?I think we can compete with any one of those teams in terms of matches on the mat, especially since we?re not meeting them until late in the season,? O?Hare said.
When those four teams do meet in Hillsboro on Feb. 11, O?Hare and assistant coach Jim Bowman hope to develop the evening into a ?wrestling homecoming.?
The middle school also will be wrestling that night, and the coaches hope to invite alumni wrestlers back for recognition and a family social.
Hillsboro opens its season Thursday with a double dual with Marion and Lyons. Matches begin at 5:30 p.m. in Lyons.