The numbers are up for the Eastbrook wrestling team, way up from the beginning of last season when the Panthers started with only four.
When the Panthers take the mats today at the Western Invitational, 11 kids will don singlets and begin their seasons, albeit late because of Eastbrook football team’s success. Eastbrook’s first two matches were cancelled.
What’s been different this year for coach Cody Younce is his best numbers are in the lower weight classes and Eastbrook won’t be able to fill all the classes early in the early part of the season.
“We’re definitely fuller than we were last year,” Younce said prior to practice Wednesday. “We’re still young. We’ve got some kids that have wrestled before, just not a lot of varsity experience.”
Young might be an understatement for Younce, has only one senior, Jackson Ailstock, and two juniors – Michael Friedrichsen and Todd Clayman – who will start the season for Eastbrook.
Ailstock is returning after sitting out last season with an injury, and along with freshman Logen Roush, will pull double-duty this winter for both the Panthers’ wrestling and boys basketball teams.
“Ailstock is coming back from an injury last year and wasn’t able to wrestle for us, but he ought to do well. Great leadership,” Younce said. “He’s playing basketball too … I’ve never had two people doing double duty. Luckily they can wrestle together.”
Ailstock, Roush and sophomore Benjamin Smithers are all around the same weight and will like fill 145, 152 and 160-pound classes for the Panthers, although Younce hasn’t yet to determine who will wrestle where.
Roush is son of former state medalist wrestler Tony Roush and may have raised expectations because of his bloodline.
“Logen Roush, he’s kind of taking on a big load, he’s playing basketball this year. He did really well (wrestling) last year in junior high,” Younce said. “I’m excited to see how it translates with him doing the basketball and wrestling. Coming in as freshman people are going to look at him like a big name. I think he’s got the talent so we’ll see how he does.”
Smithers returns as Eastbrook’s most accomplished wrestler, having finished second in the Oak Hill Sectional last season and earning his way to the Fort Wayne Semistate with a fourth-place finish at the Peru Regional. Smithers kept alive a 12-year streak for Eastbrook wrestling of having at least one athlete advance to the semistate round.
Keeping that streak alive is a source of pride and primary goal entering the 2019-20 season.
“A goal that we come out with every year is keep making it to semistate with at least one person, this would be our 13th season in a row,” Younce said. “It’s not always been like that for Eastbrook. Thirteen years in a row at least one person has made it to semistate so that’s goal every year, just to see how far we can make it. Once you get into that postseason you’re always a few matches away from making it to state.
“Ben Smithers last year was a prime example of that,” he added. “He didn’t have the greatest record coming into sectional, but he won some key matches and next thing you know he makes it to semistate as a freshman at 160 pounds.”
Younce believes that his trio of middle weight wrestlers all have that potential simply because they’ll be training and competing with each other daily in practice.
“I think (Smithers), Ailstock and Roush all being the same weight … they’re going to be able to push each other and excel greatly,” Younce said. “With our lower numbers, typically we don’t have a bunch of good kids that are in the same area, so they’re going to be able to push each other.
“We’ve got a couple freshman along with (sophomore) Abigail Turner that are all about the same weight so they’ll be able to do the same thing,” he added.
Eastbrook finished ninth in sectional last season and could be hard pressed to improve on that number without filling all the classes. Younce said the Panthers likely won’t be able to fill the 170, 182, 195 and 220 classes today and maybe not at all.
With a limited number of practice days, Younce said his team has worked primarily on basic things leading up to today’s meet at Western.
“We haven’t had a lot of time to go over a lot of stuff, so were kind of counting on what they’ve done in the past,” he said. “We’re going ahead and getting a little sharper on our take downs and stuff, but we haven’t had a lot of time to work. (Today is) Just getting their feet wet.”
Eastbrook will next compete in the Wapahani Invite on Dec. 21 before hosting the Grant Four on Dec. 23.