Tim Robb is excited about the future of Panther Valley wrestling.
But the more he's around this year's team, the more he realizes that the future could be now.
The Panthers could have as many as 10 or 11 positions in the lineup occupied by freshmen and sophomores this season.
Normally, relying on that many youngsters would be cause for concern. But Robb, who is in his 21st year as a high school wrestling coach, isn't panicking. As a matter of fact, he's extremely excited about his team's potential.
"Coming into this season, I honestly thought we were probably still a year away," said Robb. "But these kids definitely don't think that. I've been extremely impressed by the improvement I've seen in all of our kids from last year to now.
"They are working and wrestling like they expect to have success this season."
When practice began a couple of weeks ago. Robb was delighted to see the improvement in his wrestlers. But he wasn't surprised.
"Our kids put in a lot of time working out with the Pyramid Wrestling Club in Lehighton during the offseason," said Robb. "They got excellent coaching from [former Oklahoma State All-American] Jeff Ecklof and lots of great competition.
"We had about a dozen of our wrestlers participating and I could see the difference on day one of practice this season. The improvement in our kids was obvious."
Although Robb expects the Panthers to be better than last year's team that compiled an 11-10 dual meet record, it might not be evident in their record. That's because the Panthers are moving from the Schuylkill League Division II to Division I.
"It's a big step up in competition,"said Robb about the switch. "But that competition will help our wrestlers. Our team record might take a bit of a hit, but I expect it to pay benefits by getting our kids ready for the postseason."
Speaking of the postseason, Robb thinks the Panthers could have several wrestlers make some noise this season.
"I'm expecting great things from Len Ogozalek (jr., 113), Richard Nase (jr., 195) and Rian Shubeck (so., 285)," said Robb. "All three of those kids did some nice things last year and were also among our most dedicated kids in the offseason. I think league, district and regional success is possible for all of them and maybe even states."
Robb thinks that sophomores Zach Glassic (132) and Hunter Davidyock (138) could also be in the mix for postseason honors while freshmen Dylan Moyer (170) and Darren Goida (106) are young and talented and could surprise some people.
Rounding out the Panther Valley roster are seniors Jared Eichkoff (152), Elijah Hibbler (145) and Richie Smith (195); juniors Pat Iezzoni (160), Troy Margerum (285) and Terry Stephen (195); and sophomores Matt Buss (182), Czar Founds (152), Mike Lazar (119), Grant Lorkowski (138), Anthony Yeager (145) and Seth Oriel (125).
"We should be able to have a full line-up," said Robb. "We have close to 20 kids and I anticipate being able to move some of them around in order to fill all our spots."
With numerous area teams struggling to put out a full lineup in recent years, the Panthers program seems to be on solid ground.
"Our elementary program is doing a great job of generating interest and preparing kids," said Robb. "We will have about 35 kids between our high school and junior high teams this year and we have a lot of talented young kids in our program. I like where Panther Valley wrestling is headed."