Change at the top will be in store for the Newcomerstown High wrestling program this season with first-year coach Jericoe Jones taking over the Trojans grapplers as they embark on a new season on the mat.
Jones, a graduate of Claymont High, served as an assistant coach last year for Jack Lenhoff and will be beginning his first season as a varsity head coach.
"This will be my first year as a head varsity coach and it's very exciting," Jones said. "Last year, I was an assistant to Coach Lenhoff, and I was also an assistant wrestling coach at Garaway High for a couple of years and have been involved with the biddy league wrestling program at Claymont for the last 15 years or so."
Newcomerstown returns a total of nine lettermen from last year to help Jones make a smooth transition into head coach this season.
Last year, the Trojans complied a dual record of 7-3 and finished in third place in the Inter-Valley Conference.
"It's a new era and new attitude at Newcomerstown this year," Jones explained. "The kids are very excited about the new season and are working very hard. In the past our goals at Newcomerstown was to finish strong in the IVC and this year along with that we are setting our goals even higher."
Leading that group of veterans will be senior Mitchell Meeks (182), a two-time district qualifier who turned in an outstanding season a year ago for the Orange and Black. Meeks finished with a stellar 34-6 record last year and was a Division III Sectional champion, along with being the IVC champion in the 170-pound weight class.
"Our team will be lead by senior captain Mitchell Meeks," Jones said. "He will be our leader on the mat and has very high expectations this year with a goal of making it to the state tournament."
Another experienced NHS wrestler who was a district qualifier last year is sophomore Dylan Little (120), who also placed third in the IVC last season.
"Dylan got a little taste of the postseason last year and returns hungry for more," Jones said. "I fully expect him to continue to improve and look for a big year from him."
Other returning lettermen for the Trojans include senior Alan Hayhurst (126) and junior Darnell Crider-Harris (220), who each earned third place IVC finishes a year ago, along with seniors Erik Hayhurst (170), Alan Bowser (126) and juniors Jared Wearver (145), Kyle Pritchard (152), Chase Eggleston (160) and sophomore Codi Rothacher (112).
Jones also likes the leadership his veteran group has been providing and has tabbed Meeks, Bowser and Weaver as captains for the upcoming season.
"These kids have all set high goals for the team this year," Jones added, "and I'm very confident that if they continue to work hard, we can reach all of those goals."
Newcomers who Jones feel could make solid contribution this season include freshmen Michael Elliott (106), Daniel Meeks (170) and Dale Lyons (285).
"We have a real hard working freshman class led by Michael, Daniel and Dale," Jones said. "I look for all three of them to be earning a starting spot and getting some varsity mat time this year."
Rounding out the Trojans' roster will be seniors David Billings (132) and Anthony Tracy (145); juniors Hunter Stringer (132), Austin Stringer (138), Julian Balajadia (195) and Marcus McVey (285); and freshmen Braden Russell (126) and Jeremiah Beamer (138).
With the numbers up this year with 24 wrestlers on hand, Jones feels that is a real positive for the Trojans' fortunes.
"We lack some experience in some of our weight classes," Jones continued, "but this year our numbers are up and we now have some depth in the wrestling room which is an added plus for us."
In sizing up the race in the IVC, Jones points to Garaway and Sandy Valley as the odds-on favorites entering the new season.
"In the past few years, Sandy Valley and Garaway have dominated the IVC in wrestling," Jones said. "Garaway is very well-coached and has a strong class returning and Sandy Valley might have a new coach this year, but the Groff legacy still runs strong in that program."
"I think this year you will start to see the benefits of some of the schools' biddy programs like Ridgewood," Jones said. "They have has a very successful biddy program and it has funneled up into their junior high program and now into their varsity level. I look for a very competitive year in the IVC. I feel it's going to be a true four horse race for the IVC championship."
Mike Trimmer will serve as Jones' assistant coach while at the junior high level, it will be Sean Collins and Jack Lenhoff leading the young Trojan grapplers.
Newcomerstown opens the season on Wednesday, Dec. 4 with a tri-match at Garaway which also includes Danville.