Call the Jackson wrestling team a new-look squad, but don't call them inexperienced.
The Polar Bears enter the 2013-14 season with a roster bearing little resemblance to the one that ended last season, but fifth-year head coach Rocky Laughlin has a talented group of young wrestlers getting their first shot at the varsity level after waiting behind last year's senior class.
"We graduated eight seniors last year, so we have some new faces, but I don't think it makes us young," Laughlin said. "We have a lot of kids who have been waiting for their turn and now they're ready to step up. These guys are anxious to get in the lineup and as a group, they have really successful in middle school and youth."
State qualifier Justin Bostic is back for Jackson, moving up to 132 pounds after reaching Columbus at 113 pounds last season. Laughlin believes Bostic will move down one weight class to 126 pounds by the end of the season, but the junior is expected to make another push for the state level regardless of his weight class.
"A lot kids in that weight class (113 pounds) moved up, but he had big growth spurt over the summer and spent the summer adjusting," Laughlin said. "Justin wrestles a ton and he just at the Super 32 (tournament) in North Carolina, so he's really battle-tested."
Justin Bostic's older brother Josh Bostic is the team's senior leader and starter in the 145-pound division. The Polar Bears will look to the brothers, both of whom have significant amateur wrestling experience, as team leaders.
"Both of the Bostics are our captains. Josh Bostic is a tremedous leader and he does a great job in that capacity," Laughlin said.
PLENTY OF DEPTH
Although the lineup has changed significantly, the Polar Bears still have plenty of depth. With 33 wrestlers on the roster, they have enough competitors to withstand the injuries that inevitably arise over the course of a long season.
The schedule will provide several extremely tough tests for the young wrestlers in the starting lineup, with two perennial national powers on the horizon. Blair Academy, which has reached the No. 1 ranking in several national publications in the past decade, and state power Perry loom large on the schedule. Jackson will also wrestle in Medina's annual holiday tournament and in the Top Gun tournament at Alliance High School.
Both tournaments attract some of the best teams in the state and Laughlin knows they will reveal much about his team.
"Our biggest thing that I'm looking for our kids have to do is for those new to team or varisty lineup have to adjust to our schedule because there's a huge difference between a junior varsity and varsity schedule," Laughlin said. "For the young guys, the challenge with the schedule is the level of competition."
Page 2 of 2 - Along with Justin and Josh Bostic, the top returning wrestlers for Jackson will be Evan Snow, Chris Head and Will Kanters.
With that quintet as a building block, the Polar Bears begin their season with a dual meet tournament at Canton South on Nov. 30. The event will offer a chance to wrestle five meets in one day, which will push Jackson both physically and mentally and give the team a good idea of where it stands as the year begins.
The goal for the program remains the same as it has been for each of Laughlin's first four seasons leading the program.
"My goal since I got there was for us to get kids to state tournament and long-term that is our goal to be on the big board there," Laughlin said. "We were up there last year for one day, but we want to be there and stay."
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