An influx of freshmen at both Lincoln and North Knox has the coaches excited as the high school wrestling season gets in full swing Saturday with the Thanksgiving-weekend tradition of the Lincoln Invitational at Alice Arena.

The eight-team meet begins at 10 a.m. Saturday with weigh-ins at 9 a.m. The Alices and Warriors are in the same pool, and Lincoln coach Matt Collins guessed the Knox County squads would face sometime between 11 a.m. and noon.

Ten of the Alices' roster of 18 are freshmen, with at least six expected to fill out the lineup Saturday. North Knox boasts six freshmen on a roster of 17 and has at least three wrestling for the varsity this weekend.

Both squads have their mainstays as well. North Knox senior Beau Noland and Lincoln senior Jed Barnett qualified for the semistate last year at 220 pounds. The pair likely won't meet this year, as Noland has moved up to heavyweight, while Collins is hopeful Barnett can eventually drop to 195, though he's likely at 220 this weekend.

“Jed's our team leader. He's a great athlete, and he does a great job leading the younger kids in the right direction,” Collins said. “It's great having a full roster. It feels like it's been a long time coming. We had some success a few years back, but there were definitely some lows the last few years, which we knew were coming. But we also knew this day was coming, and this is just the beginning of it.

"We like what we've seen so far, and this is by far the best freshman group I've had in my 15 years. The coaching staff is excited about the things to come.”

Others returning for the Alices with postseason success a year ago are regional qualifiers senior Nate Harris (126) and junior Daxx Weist (138). Weist won't wrestle this weekend, as he lost his wrestle-off to senior newcomer Elijah Hovland (138), who's coming off an impressive football season.

Lincoln doesn't have anyone at 120 pounds this weekend, and Collins said the plan is for Harris and Weist to join Barnett in dropping weight classes so the team can fill out its optimal lineup.

The rest of the expected lineup this weekend is senior Jacob Heuby (heavyweight), freshman Aidan Lindauer (195), junior Darius Williams (182), senior Javy Sanchez (170), senior David Sanchez (160), freshman Ry Catt (152), freshman Cayden Wanke (145), freshman B.B. McCrary (132), freshman Jackson Vieck (113) and freshman Ty Henderson (106).

Rounding out the roster are freshmen Blake Racey (132), Eric Adcox (138), Mason Pietrzak (170) and Phoenix McCrary (heavyweight).

The coach pointed to Henderson and B.B. McCrary as two freshmen he expected to make an immediate impact.

“Ty Henderson has a lot of potential,” Collins said. “He wrestles year-round, and he puts a lot of time in. We're going to get him a lot of matches too. We're not just going to take forfeits at 106. He's a guy people will want to come watch. B.B. is talented, athletic, and we look for big things from him.”

“Our team goals are to get to 20 dual wins, be top three in the conference and top three in the sectional. Those are pretty high goals, but we want to set them high. If we accomplish all three, it'll be a special season. I definitely think we can get going in the right direction at our Invite. It's been a while since we've won it. Hopefully we can take care of business in our pool and get the season started out right.”

For the Warriors, Noland leads a largely inexperienced group, but coach Tim Kirk is optimistic about his squad's potential. The biggest hindrance for the Warriors is having to take forfeits at 182 and 220.

“We're young with not much experience,” he said. “The big goal for this year is to finish with a winning record. North Knox is used to having the upper-weights filled and lacking the lower weights. Being heavy on the lower weights is a nice change for the future, but not filling every weight class is a big hamper to winning meets.

“Most people around know about Beau. He's strong, fast, and has the technical knowledge to do well. Now that he's not having to maintain his weight, he's allowed to pursue his strength to the fullest. He's on the lighter side (at heavyweight), which is a disadvantage, but he makes up for it in other areas.”

Others that Kirk has postseason hopes for are senior Declan Alchin (195), junior Logan Foster (170) and sophomore Ethyn Riker (120). An injury kept Alchin out last year, and Riker narrowly missed on advancing to the regional. Foster is new to the sport at the varsity level, but his past experience was on display last Saturday with a 4-0 showing in the Boonville Pioneer duals.

North Knox had nearly a dozen girls on the team last year. That number is down to four this year, but they're all experienced. Returning seniors Briley Cliver (113) and Aubrey Smith (132) and junior Madison Dolkey (120) welcome Castle transfer senior Abby Burnside to the squad.

“Girls numbers are down this year, but all four are good wrestlers,” Kirk said. “I think at least two of them will go to the girls' state. We'll also go to a few girls tournaments this year.”

Rounding out the North Knox roster are sophomores Blake Goodwin (heavyweight), Grayson Conrad (160) and Gabe Robarge (113); and freshmen Garrett Fuller (160), Ethan Sandifer (152), Zach Mulkey (145), Jake Phipps (145), D.J. Wampler (145) and Brendon Clark (106).

“(The freshmen) are progressing fast, and it will be great to watch them grow and improve. Brendon is in his first year, and he's smart, picking up the technical side quickly. Abby wrestled at her previous school. She works hard and listens with good understanding of the basics.

“These kids are a dream to coach. As a whole, they are the hardest working group I've had. On top of that, they do not complain.”

Lincoln and North Knox are in a pool Saturday with Washington and Corydon Central. The other pool features three-time reigning champ Terre Haute South, South Spencer, and Illinois schools Olney and Mount Carmel.

Kirk added that going 2-2 at the Lincoln Invitational, which the Warriors also did at Boonville last Saturday, would be a satisfying result for his young squad.

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