With the 2019-20 high school wrestling season heating up, several local teams are gauging their chances at winning regional championships and sending individuals to the KHSAA state tournament.
Owensboro and Daviess County are expected to field competitive teams in the 2nd Region, Apollo has a pair of grapplers who will push for state tournament bids, and Ohio County features an experienced group that will contend for 2nd Region titles.
Whitesville Trinity will look to rebuild after losing all three of last season's state qualifiers to graduation.
The Eagles will be led by juniors Cameron Baker and David Gerkin.
Baker advanced to state last season at the 152-pound weight class, winning his opening match before falling in the second round. Gerkin, meanwhile, will vie for a state tournament appearance after placing fifth in the 2nd Region Tournament at 132 pounds.
According to Eagles first-year coach Courtney Johns, the bar is set high for the pair.
"The expectations for these two is state," Johns said, "and for Baker to medal."
Johns also expects a competitive season from sophomore Blaze Cart (285 pounds), who fell in the second round of last year's 2nd Region Tournament.
As a team, Apollo will look to build on its third-place finish in the regional tournament a season ago.
With a mixture of veteran leaders and younger wrestlers who already have experience, the Panthers have lofty goals in 2019-20.
"Expectations are much higher this year than in years past, but we still have to be realistic," coach Curtis Martinson said. "With more than half of our starting lineup being underclassmen, we are still pretty young."
DC will be led by three seniors -- Landen Boone, Brayden Davis and Reese Haight -- and junior Say Moe, with a starting lineup that also includes one sophomore, four freshmen, two eighth-graders and one seventh-grader.
Boone (138), Moe (285) and sophomore Conner Tolson (160) were all state qualifiers last year, and Haight (145) was ranked No. 11 in the state before breaking his arm. Martinson also expects additional contributions from freshmen Chance Carmon (106), a three-year starter. and Caleb Tolson, among others.
"The biggest difference this season is experience," Martinson said. "We returned most of our kids from the past couple seasons, and our leadership with the seniors who have been around and starters for the last four years is huge."
Now, the Panthers are eyeing a City-County title for the first time in about seven years, Martinson noted, along with a strong region showing.
"This year, if everyone stays healthy, we should make a good run (at regionals) to hopefully crack the top five out of 15 teams," he said.
After sending six individuals to the state tournament last season, the Eagles expect another strong showing in 2019-20.
"We have a solid core of wrestlers and should put forth, when fully healthy and all guys can go to their appropriate weight class, a pretty strong dual team," Ohio County coach Kevin Kretz said. "We have several wrestlers who should be competing for state qualification, and a few who should be in the conversation for state placement."
The Eagles will be led by senior Klemmer Nicodemus, who placed at state last season at 160 pounds, along with senior Jack Probus (126), freshman Gunnar Arnold (113) and sophomore Caige Clark (120).
All four were qualifiers or alternates at the state tournament a year ago and had strong performances at the recent King of the Bluegrass competition.
Kretz also expects contributions from a group of returners that includes junior Stephen Everly, sophomore Zander Bunch, senior Easton Givens, junior Andrew Pottle and junior Gavin English. Middle schoolers Gill Nicodemus and Petey Graham have shown early promise, as well.
According to Red Devils coach Kenny Stone, he'll field the strongest team he's had since restarting the OHS program nine years ago.
"I think we could potentially have as many as six to eight to qualify for the state tournament this year," Stone said. "The most we've had in the past was four, and we could potentially double that if everything goes right."
Senior Noah Kirkman will lead OHS at 126 pounds, but Stone expects him to drop to 120 by the time the 2nd Region Tournament rolls around. Now in his sixth year wrestling, Kirkman is expected to challenge for a region title and qualify for the state tournament after missing it last season because of injury.
Other top contributors will include senior Jordan Neal (220), who qualified for state last year, along with sophomore Jalenn Neal (132), senior Garrett Ogle (182), junior Logan Palmer (220), junior Gabriel Quintana (145) and sophomore Andres Quintana (113). Freshman Devon Carr, who enters with a mixed martial arts background, will be in his first year wrestling.
Though Stone expects tough competition from Apollo, LaRue County and Meade County, he wouldn't be surprised to see the Red Devils push for a 2nd Region title.
"Everything we do all year ultimately comes down to what we do in February," he said. "We've got a better chance at having our first regional championship this year than we've ever had, and possibly three or four regional champs."
The Raiders will feature two wrestlers this year -- a pair of sophomores in Kristopher Howard and Mason Mattingly.
Last year, Howard earned a bye in the 2nd Region Tournament before falling in the second round of the competition.