It took strong leadership for the Northern Lehigh wrestling team to get back to the District Duals last season.
Two seasons ago, the Bulldogs missed out on the event for the first time ever during head coach Todd Herzog's tenure.
But last year, the Bulldogs relied on the guidance of seniors Kyle Greenawald, Dylan Hofmann, Kyle Schomp and Kyle Baumann to get the program back on track.
Now, Herzog, who enters his 18th season with the program, will have to depend on his new players to step up and fill the void left by graduation.
Herzog said he won't have to look far as he feels he has a strong core of leaders on his current Bulldog roster, which include four-year starter Ty Herzog (sr., 145), who returns with 89 career wins under his belt; and two-year starters Cody Bowman (sr., 170), who racked up a 10-8 record last season; and Marcus Hardiman (sr., 170), returning from a knee injury.
With those three in the driver's seat; as well as the rest of the team, Herzog feels confident that they will be able to match or even surpass the 11-9 overall mark that the team attained last season.
"They want to continue that circle of success here with the Northern Lehigh tradition," Herzog said. "No body wants to be that generation gap, so that definitely fuels their fire and the other kids respond well to that."
Junior Zach Leiby (120) also brings back some varsity mat time with a 12-16 record last season, while sophomores Nate Farber (145, 13-14) and Ryan Rubio (126, 15-9) saw plenty of matches in their first season.
With those individuals bringing back the most experience, Herzog said, "we're kind of just like everyone else" getting things together for the up-and-coming season.
"Now, it comes down to small school, fill the holes, stay healthy and see how fast your younger guys develop and handle the riggers of the varsity schedule," Herzog said. "That's the huge difference in making us a better team.
"We have kids that were successful in middle school. You want to have them make that transition quickly as possible from middle school wrestling to varsity wrestling. Big jump. Big jump for kids."
While there are several others looking for mat time among the junior and sophomore classes, Herzog is looking for a quick and smooth transition for freshmen Colton Rex (106), Matt Schmall (113) and CJ Young (126) to bulk up a hurting lighter weight class.
The head coach feels that the success of the Bulldogs will start in the middle weights and expand out to the lighter and heavy weights.
"We got a good core in the middle and that's kind of going to be our strength," he said, highlighting the skills that Rubio, Leiby, Farber, Ty Herzog, Hardiman, Bowman and Austin Arnold will bring to the team. "We start off young, but at least they all have good wrestling skills. Our young guys, and our lighter weights, don't have the varsity experience, but they have wrestling experience, which is a great basis to start on."
And, once again, regardless of the inexperience that may float around the Bulldog lineup, Herzog still sets high expectations because he has faith in his wrestlers.
"We have to set the bar high," Herzog said. "I know this isn't the pinnacle team and the bar has been set high for future wrestlers with the 2005 State championship team we had. That's always the reach point for us. I get kids to strive and get to that next level again. "