Wrestlers to watch: Dane Kniola, Fr., 120/126; Jack Barnes, Fr., 145; Kamare Dunlap, Sr., 160; Ryan Utpatel, Sr.; Chandler Antrim, Sr., 182/195.
Key loss: John Wilcher (sectional champion), 220
Outlook: New coach Brian Deutscher hopes to resurrect the downtrodden program, but knows it doesn't happen overnight. "It's not an ideal situation," Deutscher said. "You see our utility closet coaches room. You see our shared gym. We finally got some locks for our practice room to keep people out. It's going to take some time. I'm 36 now, hopefully I have the time to invest in it and make an impact in the community and with some of the kids here. (Progress) isn't always going to be a straight line."
Deutscher expects to fill about half of a varsity lineup but if it's better for them to wrestle JV, that's where he'll put them. "There's not much value to putting them out there at a varsity position if they're not ready for it," he said. "It's gauging each individual, putting a game plan together for them and stepping forward from there. The kids at Crown Point, Merrillville, they're not coming in in October, learning a shot and wrestling in December. They're fine-tuning technique, getting in shape. We have to re-establish a work ethic. They've got to believe in the system and understand where they're going. We have to show them that once they buy into the system, put in the work, there are results out there. We've got to show up, establish some traction and build from there."
Antrim, a regional qualifier at 182, is the Wolves' most experienced wrestler. Dunlap, Deutscher said, has put in a lot of work, while Utpatel, out most of last season with a back injury, has been a practice leader, setting the tone in the room, and Kniola has shown strong determination. "He's got the right attitude," Deutscher said. "Every time he gets knocked down, he gets back up. Right now, it's a matter of supporting him, pointing out the little improvements. You make the small adjustments enough times it becomes muscle memory."
Wrestlers to watch: Jacob Abbott, Jr., 120; Christian Szalajko, Jr., 126; Hunter Whitenack, So., 285
Key losses: Brayden Ruiz, 132 (semistate qualifier); Grant Johnson, 195 (state qualifier)
Outlook: The Cougars graduated Johnson and Ruiz among six seniors in their sectional runner-up lineup and 13 on the roster. Whitenack, who took third at the regional as a freshman, is working his way down from his football weight of 330 and is currently at 305. "He'll be ready when he's ready," coach Bobby Whitenack, Hunter's dad, said. "It's his plan. We're not forcing it."
Abbott and Szalajko were regional qualifiers and return at those weights. "We had lots of seniors last year, so we have a bunch of new kids," Whitenack said. "Most of them have wrestled all through elementary school. Now they have their chance and we'll see how they perform." The Cougars have a considerable number of football players vying for spots and competition at several spots will be strong. "You can tell the guys who have been wrestling and the guys who have been playing football."
-- compiled by Jim Peters