CHARLOTTESVILLE — Entering his fourth season at the helm, Eastern Hancock High School wrestling coach Keith Oliver admits he has seen glimpses of progress within the program.
After all, the Royals sent Jared Waterman, Mitch Guinn and Josh Robinson to semistate last year.
“I do believe last year with sending three, it shows that good progress is being made. We have several seniors in the lineup this year and have had a taste of success that I believe will have them working even harder this year,” Oliver said.
When it comes to Robinson, Oliver doesn’t mince words on how big the season could be for his senior, who will wrestle at 285.
“He is a returning sectional champ and semistate qualifier, and we are hoping to take him to Bankers Life Fieldhouse,” Oliver said, alluding to the state finals.
Should Robinson or any wrestler advance to semistate it would be the fourth consecutive year an Eastern Hancock wrestler has done so.
Last year, three of the six who qualified for the regional tournament advanced to semistate.
“The goal has been to get people to state,” Oliver said.
While Robinson is back, Oliver will have his hands full trying to replace Waterman, who graduated, and Guinn, who would have wrestled at 220 pounds but is out for the season with an injury.
“Mitch tore his ACL over the summer and will have to sit out this season. Replacing Jared is tough. He did the right things in the offseason to get himself where he was,” Oliver said. “He will be in the room this winter wrestling with our guys (as a volunteer) and helping to keep the program moving forward. Last year, there was a great group of young men who are now in college working to become successful in other areas of their lives.”
With that said, the Royals do bring back some talented wrestlers, according to Oliver, who admits he is expecting “big things from several of our guys.”
Junior Jack Smith will wrestle at 120 pounds, while Austin Henderson is a senior and will wrestle at 126.
“Jack should have a much improved season. We are hoping this year will be a breakout season for Austin,” Oliver said.
The 132-pound weight class will be filled by junior Caleb Giddings, while Jordyn Willis, a junior, will wrestle at 138.
“Caleb seems very focused on becoming a better wrestler this season. When Jordyn steps on the mat, he always gives it 110 percent all the time,” Oliver said.
At 145, the Royals will lean on senior Gabe Blake, who Oliver said has shown “flashes of becoming a very good wrestler.” Also in the mix will be Colby Hunt, a senior, who is expected at 195.
“Colby has a very hard work ethic and we expect to see big things from him,” Oliver said.
The Royals will bring approximately 27 wrestlers out this season.
“Numbers are so important to getting a program running forward. We have a couple freshmen this year who will step in and be in our starting lineup,” Oliver said.
In each season, the Royals have notched at least 20 wins, and Oliver expects nothing less this season. But being great exists beyond the mat as well, according to Oliver.
“Our first goal, as coaches, is to develop these guys to be great, hard working young men. School and grades must come first. Next is making sure they treat everyone professionally. Then we teach them how to wrestle and use this to build character and work ethic,” he said.
2016-17 Projected Lineup
106: Chase Sweet, Fr.
120: Jack Smith, Jr.
126: Austin Henderson, Sr.
132: Caleb Giddings, Jr./Jackson Hargrove, Fr.
138: Jordyn Wills, Jr./Logan Francis, Jr.
145: Gabe Blake, Sr./Jacob Harris, So.
152: Garrett Friesen, Fr.
160: Riley Settergren
170: Brandon Francis, Sr./170 Ben Furlani, So.
182: Clayton Cochard, Jr./Colton Ellison, So./Gabe Lawler, So./Chandler Anderson, Fr.
195: Colby Hunt, Sr./Alexander Burton, So./Chris Watson, Fr./Josh Hammons, Jr.
220: Avery Spurling, So./Caleb Maynard, Jr.
285: Josh Robinson, Sr.