Shawn Albert loves a good challenge.

And that's exactly what he has with the Jim Thorpe wrestling program.

The Olympians don't return anyone with a winning record. In fact, their roster includes many who have never had a record.

Despite that, the team's new mentor is pretty optimistic.

"I'm excited to be part of this program and this district," said Albert. "There was a challenge put in front of the coaching staff to get the numbers up and get energy back into the program. Fortunately everything's going our way right now.

"I really like this group of kids. There's a lot of diversity on this team, a wide range of ability levels. The bottom line, though, is they all work hard."

Albert especially likes having an experienced guy near the top of the lineup. Brian Ohl, a sophomore, went 17-17 last year and is slated to start at 119 pounds.

Other experienced grapplers who will help fill the lineup include seniors Adam Rex (6-20) at 135, James Denny (8-26) at 140, Justin Mazzella (10-26) at 145 and Tyler Mangold (10-12) at 215.

"We should be very strong in the middle," said Albert, who wrestled collegiately at Bloomsburg University. "I also think we'll be good at 215 and heavyweight.

"I think our biggest strength will be the fact that we have a full lineup with guys that are ready to wrestle. I'm very impressed with the work ethic I'm getting out of these kids especially since a majority of the kids are first-time wrestlers."

Roughly half of the 26 students on the Thorpe squad are making their debuts this season. Of those newcomers, though, some are football players and powerlifters.

"We have quite a few kids brand new to the sport," said Albert. "They're athletic kids which will help their transfer."

Some of those include Jon Fritz (160), Phil Schron (171), Shane Edwards (189), Tom Ford (130) and Rich Emery. Others who could crack the starting lineup are Mike Helmer (125), Christian Gavornik (152), and Ryan Roberto (275).

"We have to stay as team, and keep our numbers. To have a successful season these guys just need to get better each week. My goal is to have at least 15-20 guys at the end of the season that love the sport.

"I believe all our returners, if they believe in themselves, could make it to regionals. I also believe there are a few newcomers who could surprise. Phil Schron and Tom Ford work extremely hard and are really picking up the sport. Rich Emery is also brand new to the sport. He's athletic and could be all right."

The Olympians officially open the season by hosting the Jim Thorpe duals on Saturday.