A change in strategy is underway with the Newcomerstown High wrestling program this season, as second-year head coach Jack Lenhoff has decided to shake things up in an attempt to improve his Trojan grapplers success at sectional tournament time.
"I sat down with my assistant coach Jericoe Jones and we decided we needed to beef up our schedule to get our wrestlers better prepared for sectionals," Lenhoff said. "Last year we had success at several of our invitationals, with second or third place showings but then we get to get to sectionals and finish 12th so we decided to get into tougher tournaments against stronger teams to better prepare our kids. We may not do as well in those tournaments, but I think our kids will get more out of it in the long run by facing better competition."
The Trojans' schedule this season includes appearances in the Smithville Invitational, Barnesville Invitational, Coshocton Stitcho Classsic, Fairless Invitational and Heath Invitational in an attempt to face some top-notch competition.
"We are in one of the toughest sectionals in the whole state," Lenhoff said, "so I really feel this will be a big benefit for our wrestlers to get them prepared."
Last year, the Trojans finished with a 10-11 record in dual meets and were third in the Inter-Valley Conference with a league mark of 3-2.
Lenhoff welcomes back a total of nine wrestlers from last season, led by senior Cole McVey (132) and junior Mitchell Meeks (182). McVey turned in a sixth place showing at the Division III Sectional and was first in the IVC in the 132-pound weight class while Meeks took fourth at the sectional and was the IVC champion at 195.
"I really feel Cole has a shot at getting to the state meet this year," Lenhoff said. "If he continues to really work hard and push himself, he has the skill set to reach the state tournament."
"Mitchell is just a top notch kid on and off the mat," Lenhoff continued. "He to could end up at the state meet with a real good season."
Lenhoff also feels he has several wrestlers who could advance to the district and be in position to advance on to state.
"I feel we are really deep this year," Lenhoff said. "We have about at least five kids that I feel should be able to reach districts and then who knows."
Among that group are Zack McKibben (113/junior), Alan Hayhurst (126/junior), Austin Stringer (145/sophomore), Chase Eggleston (160/sophomore), and Jason Garlando (160/junior).
McKibben was second in the IVC last year at 113, Stringer finished third at 126, Eggleston was fourth in the 152-pound division and Hayhurst was sixth at the D-III sectional.
Other returning lettermen for the Orange and Black include Jarred Weaver (152/sophomore) who was fourth in the IVC last season, Erik Hayhurst (170/junior), and Kyle Pritchard (145/sophomore) who turned in a fifth place showing at the sectionals and was third in the IVC at 145.
Rounding out the Trojans' roster will be Dylan Little (120/freshman), Jason Garland (138/freshman), Sarnell Crider-Harris (220/sophomore), Tristan Durr (285/junior), Cody Hall (152/junior), Dale Bundy (152/sophomore) and Cody Rothacher (106/freshman).
Not quite being able to fill out the line-up is a concern for Lenhoff entering the season.
"Not having anyone at the 195 weight class hurts us," Lenhoff explained. "Especially when it comes to the IVC, because I'm sure Garaway and Sandy Valley will fill their line-up and will cost us in penalty points."
In sizing up the race in the IVC, Lenhoff would love to see his Trojans bring home their first IVC title since the 2001 season, but knows it will be tough.
"I think we have a realistic shot at the IVC this year," Lenhoff said. "It won't be easy as both Sandy Valley and Garaway will be strong as usual because they both have great programs, but I really feel this could be our year to come out on top. We're going to give it our best effort, that's for sure."
In addition to Jones, Lenhoff's coaching staff this season includes Lionel Woods and Clayton McAfee at the junior high level.
"We have some quality kids who have been wrestling for years," Lenhoff said. "I've been with a lot of these kids since youth wrestling and they are a hard working group. I'm confident they will do their best and continue to strive to improve each and every day on the mat."
Newcomerstown opens the season on Thursday, Dec. 6 hosting Garaway.