GNADENHUTTEN -- Injuries struck the Indian Valley wrestling team last year as some key competitors went down and were unable to lead the team to reach their goals.
The IVHS wrestlers finished 2-15 in duals a season ago and they expect to greatly improve that record in the upcoming campaign.
Fortunately, the Braves had no seniors last year and all of the juniors and underclassmen who missed due to injury a year ago are coming back with a vengeance.
"We had tough injuries to our upperclassmen and we struggled without that leadership," Indian Valley coach Nick Swaldo stated. "We didn't make the gains that we anticipated that we could make."
Swaldo has been the wrestling head coach of the Braves for three years now, but has been part of the program for 13 years and his main focus is keeping his grapplers healthy by getting them in shape.
"We need to try to stay healthy in the weight room," Swaldo offered. "We have to stay healthy through the first part of the season so we can wrestle late in the year."
Two players who were hit hard with injuries were senior Mitchell Giffen (126) and junior Caden Rostad (145/152).
Giffen qualified for the district tournament two-years ago but due to injury, he was unable to build off of that momentum.
"Mitchell is hungry," Swaldo related. "He didn't reach his goal last year and has been working hard in the offseason to get back and I am excited to see what he does on the mat."
Rostad found himself in the same situation and is also geared up for a strong comeback season.
"Caden suffered a knee injury last year to keep him from wrestling and he is also hungry this year," Swaldo shared. "He went to offseason camps with Giffin and even turned in a good football season so he is ready to go."
Another IV grappler who is locked in for the upcoming campaign is junior John Pankuch (195), who finished fifth last year at the sectional in the 220-pound weight class.
"We are calling Pankuch the incredibly shrinking heavyweight," Swaldo revealed. "The little monster wrestled in the 220 class last year and is now down to 195 pounds."
Joining Rostad and Pankuch in the junior class is Allen Quillin (145/152), who turned in a sixth place finish at the sectional a year ago in the 145 class.
"Our goals this year are to become a team unit," Swaldo noted. "We look to fill all 13 weight classes for every match, go out there and compete.
"Last year we got blown off the mat at times and this year we want to keep it competitive," he added.
Including those four returning lettermen, the IVHS wrestling team consists of four seniors, four juniors, five sophomores and nine freshmen.
Aside from Giffen, the senior class is made up of returning letterman Colin Border, who plans to wrestle between the 160 to 170-pound weight classes, Alec Love, who looks to battle between the 195 and 220 range, and exchange student Luis Esperon, who should take on opponents in the 160 through 170-pound weight divisions.
Filling out the very strong junior class another returning letterwinner Hunter Baker, who returns to the mat in the 182-pound class.
Sophomores anticipating more action after a year under their belts are returning lettermen Therron Stocker (132), Matt Love (138), and Ty Pompey (170), while Jarrett Swinderman (145) and Tanner Quillin (220) round out the sophomore group.
Leading a large freshman class are Dalton Burcher (106) and Brady O'Connor (113), who coach Swaldo believes to be talented lower weights.
Burcher and O'Connor are followed by fellow freshmen Adam Lenhoff (120), Zach Diebel (126/132), Devin Stinard (132/138), Kole Rhodes (132), Brodey Parsons (152/160), Cedric Rummell (195/220) and Kerion O'Connor (220).
"This is a young team and they have been working hard in practice," said Swaldo. "There is definitely some talent in here and we are excited for them to grow, but they have to put the work in if they want to do that."
As always, look for the Principals Athletic Conference to have some great competition with some very skillful grapplers.
"Tuslaw is always tough," Swaldo noted. "I also expect the likes of Manchester, Tuscarawas Valley and Tri-Valley to be at the top as well.
"The coaching staff feels that the league tournament is going to be a good test for us before the postseason gets underway," Swaldo continued.
Nick Swaldo is assisted by his brother and third-year coach, Dan Swaldo, junior high head coach Jerry Quillin and junior high assistant Dave Bell.
Indian Valley hits the mat on Dec. 5 at the Union Local Tournament, where they look to begin their quest to re-establish themselves.