To say the Columbus East wrestlers are entering the 2016-17 season with high expectations would be an understatement.

The Olympians won a sectional title last season and return six wrestlers who qualified for the semistate, including three regional champions. They begin the season ranked No. 10 in the state by IndianaMat.com.

“Our goal is to be the best team in the state,” East coach Chris Cooper said. “We have several kids who have goals of winning an individual state title, so we really think that we can compete with any team in the state.”

The Olympians, who finished second in the Hoosier Hills Conference and the Jeffersonville Regional last winter, wrestled more than 50 duals meets over summer, from the Disney Duals in Kissimmee, Florida, to Virginia Beach to Michigan. They entered the All-Star division in most of those tournaments.

Junior Graham Rooks is a two-time state place-winner. Rooks, who finished third at 106 pounds as a freshman and fourth at 120 last season, will move up to 126.

Junior Dawson Combest, who placed eighth at state at 126, moves to 132. Sophomore Cayden Rooks, who was ranked No. 1 in the state at 106, but lost in the ticket round at semistate, moves to 120.

Sophomore Jake Schoenegge, who moves from 113 to 138; junior Corban Pollitt, who moves from 132 to 145; and senior Austin Wilson, who stays at 160, were semistate qualfiers a year ago. Junior Lane Goode, who stays at 182, was a regional qualifier.

Junior Andy Davidson moves from 145 to 152. Looking to steo into the lineup are freshmen Braeden Berger at 106 and Joey Gordon at 113, sophomores Hunter Dickmeyer at 170 and Jacob Bolte at 195, senior Austin Sheckles at 220 and either senior Harry Crider or sophomore Dalton Anderson at 285.

“It’s a good group,” Cooper said. “They’re pretty dedicated. Our kids have worked really hard to prepare in the offseason. We spend a lot of  time wrestling, so they’re pretty excited.”

Columbus North

The Bull Dogs have a new coach in Whiteland native Justin Cooper (no relation to Chris Cooper).

Justin Cooper, who wrestled one year at University of Indianapolis before finishing at Lindsey Wilson, spent a year at Lindsey Wilson as an assistant coach. He takes over a team that went only 9-19 and finished sixth in Conference Indiana and fifth in the sectional.

“I would like to improve on last year’s record,” Justin Cooper said. “They’ve been working hard and learning some technique. It’s a learning process for the kids. It’s a different coach and a different atmosphere.”

Only 14 wrestlers are out for this year’s team. Six of those are freshmen.

“We want to gain a ton of experience with all these young guys and build toward the future,” Justin Cooper said. “We’re definitely rebuilding right now.”

Junior Andrew Chapman, lost in the ticket round at 160 in last year’s semistate. Chapman likely will start the season at 170, with hopes of working his way back down to 160.

Senior Josh Larson, a was regional qualifier at 182, moves up to 195. Senior Patrick Sheehan, was regional qualifier as a sophomore before sitting out last year and likely will be at 145 or 152 when he gains eligibility in January.

Sophomore Morgan Smith returns at 106. Another returner, senior Will Russell, will be at 145 or 152.

Looking to fill the other spots are junior Nick Miller at 113, freshmen Keandre Watson and Nate Woods at 120 and 138, junior Antonio Garcia at 145, freshmen Nick Holt and Rashan Wells at 160 and 182, freshman Zach Lobring or sophomore Bradley Guttirez at 220 and freshman Dalton Kirk at 285. North will begin the season without wrestlers at 126 and 132.

“I expect Chapman to have a great year and Larson to have a great year,” Cooper said. “Morgan Smith was giving up a ton of weight last year, and he’s put on some weight and is looking solid in the room.”

Jennings County

Graduation took its toll on the Panthers following HHC and regional titles.

Of the 61 wrestlers in the program this year, 27 are freshman. Those freshmen, however, come from a middle school team that was undefeated the past two years.

“A lot of the kids coming from the middle school have wrestled quite a bit over the summer,” Jennings coach Howard Jones said. “It’s going to be a struggle, especially at the beginning. We have a long way to go and a really young group. We could be competitive, but we’ll have to wait and see.”

The Panthers return a pair of state qualifiers in junior Dalton Craig, who moves from 113 to 126, and sophomore brooks Wathen, who moves from 138 to 145. Senior Brendan Sutton was a state qualifier at 285 as a sophomore and a semistate qualifier last season.

Junior Victor Antunez, who lost in ticket round in the semistate at 106, is now at 120, but plans to get down to 113. Junior Zane Beineke, a semistate qualifier at 145, is now at 160 with hopes of getting down to 152.

Junior Xavier Barberis, a regional qualifier at 120, moves to 132. Sam Wolff, a regional qualifier at 170, is now at 182 with hopes of getting back down to 170.

Freshmen Teagen Johnson and Dathan Malone are battling at 106, freshmen Michael Pemberton and Rusty Vaughn will start the season at 113 and 138 and senior Jacoby Trotter will begin at 152. Seniors Alex Skelton and Josh Rayburn and sophomore Paul Alba are battling at 170.

Senior Jaylan Kirchner, who was at 182 last year, could challenge Wolff at 170. Senior James Jump steps in at 195, and senior Dakota Pearson returns at 220.

Junior Brady Shepherd, who was a regional champion at 220 as a freshman before sitting out last year, could challenge at 220 or 285. Also battling for a spot at those two weight classes is senior Duncan Toppe, who wrestled first two years, but was injured last season.

“The great thing that has happened with us is, most of those kids are multiple-sport athletes,” Jones said. “They don’t just wrestle. I’m not a real good coach, but if I have an athlete, a lot of times I can lead them to success.”

Brown County

Josh Sparks, who was an assistant at East last year, takes over the Eagles program. The former Edgewood and Wabash College wrestler, also was an assistant for a year at Edgewood.

Senior Evan Bullock won a sectional title at 132 last season, but did not make weight at the regional. He will start the year at 152.

“Evan is looking really good,” Sparks said. “I talked to him over the summer and told him ‘Your legacy was, you won the sectional, but couldn’t make weight at regional.’ But he’s worked hard and has been a great senior leader.”

Sparks will look to freshmen David Tucker and Kenny Eason at 106 and 113, senior Job Lawson at 120, sophomores Bryce Denton and Chad Warren at 126 and 132, junior Ben Rygiel at 145, sophomore newcomerx Christian Fouts and Cameron King at 160 and 170, junior Levi Mullins at 182, senior Baylee Mosier at 220 and junior Thomas Duncan or senior Dylan Hazelgrove at 285.

Hazelgrove is coming back from an injury. Cameron Flescher who is currently injured, could challenge at 145.

Brown County will begin the season without wrestlers at 138 and 195.

“I would say the energy is high,” Sparks said. “We have a wide variety of skill level and experience. The people that are here are highly motivated and have a lot of high expectations for the team and themselves this season.”

At a glance

The 2016-17 Columbus East and Columbus North wrestling schedules:

Columbus East

Dec. 1;Seymour;6:30 p.m.

Dec. 3;HHC Duals at Jeffersonville;9 a.m.

Dec. 8;Franklin;6:30 p.m.

Dec. 10;at Perry Meridian Tournament;9 a.m.

Dec. 14;at Martinsville;6 p.m.

Dec. 17;East 8-way meet;9 a.m.

Dec. 23;IWCA State Duals at Fort Wayne, 9 a.m.

Dec. 29;at Mishawaka Tournament;10 a.m.

Dec. 30;at Mishawaka Tournament;9:30 a.m.

Jan. 7;East 6-way meet;9 a.m.

Jan. 11;Columbus North;6:30 p.m.

Jan. 14;HHC at Jeffersonville;9 a.m.

Jan. 17;at Mooresville;6:30 p.m.

Jan. 19;at Bloomington North;6:30 p.m.

Columbus North

Nov. 26;at Triton Central Tournament;10 a.m.

Dec. 1;Franklin;7 p.m.

Dec. 3;at Bloomington North Invitational;9 a.m.

Dec. 10;Columbus North Invitational;9 a.m.

Dec. 13;Jennings County;7 p.m.

Dec. 17;at East Central Super 8;9 a.m.

Dec. 27;at North Montgomery Holiday Duals;9 a.m.

Dec. 28;at North Montgomery Holiday Duals;8:30 a.m.

Jan. 5;at Seymour;7 p.m.

Jan. 7;at Corydon Tournament;8:30 a.m.

Jan. 11;at Columbus East;7 p.m.

Jan. 14;Conference Indiana at Perry Meridian;9 a.m.

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Ted Schultz is sports editor for The Republic. He can be reached at tschultz@therepublic.com or 812-379-5628.