When 10 sophomores and a freshman that dominate the roster, most coaches would claim that a rebuilding year is in order.
Not so for Jim Thorpe's wrestling coach, Shawn Albert.
"I fully expect us to compete with the young talent that we have and win our fair share of matches this season," says Albert.
Two losses from last year's ten win team, however, can't be overstated. Graduating were Brian Ohl, a 30 match winner, who was one victory away from regionals and Ryan Ruberto, the team's heavyweight, a 21 match winner who placed in all of last season's tournaments.
When Albert, in his fourth season as head coach of the Olympians, took over the program, he inherited only six wrestlers. Now he has 20 on his roster and is very excited about the skills of his young team.
In the 106 pound weight class, sophomore Kevan Gentile returns from a 20 win freshman season and is expected to do even better as experience transforms his talents into improved skills.
"Then we have another sophomore, Ali Capobianco who was one win away from regionals last year and placed in every tournament," says Albert. "Ali is a real mat rat. He wrestles all year long."
The Olympians will also feature freshman Antonio Madera in the 145 pound class. Last year, Madera was the first wrestler in 10 years to place second in the District Junior High School Tournament, which included wrestlers from 60 schools.
"He just might be our best overall athlete on our team," says Albert.
The roster also includes freshman Prince Simmonds (113), sophomores James Donahue, Kyleem Johnson along with freshman Dalton Freer (120), sophomores Tylor Day and James O'Toole (126), senior Kyle Morales (138), freshman Cameron Condly (145), sophomores Robbie Geisinger and Pollux Fisher (152), senior Ryan Saunders II (160), sophomore Greg Palmer (182), senior Sabir Johnson (195), sophomores Justice Batts and Kevin Coke (220), and senior Mason Winner along with freshman Ryan O'Rourke (285).
Albert, who calls himself a relentless recruiter and walks the halls in all the district's schools to find potential wrestlers, makes no excuses about the youth and inexperience on his squad.
"Even though our league has great wrestling schools like Williams Valley, Tri-Valley, and Blue Mountain, I believe we can compete for the league title and qualify for the districts," he says.
Practice at JT is two hours of intense, "hands-on" wrestling in which Albert reinforces his "attack" approach to each individual.
"We don't stay back and feel out our opponents," explains Albert. "We go right after it and look for a single leg or double leg takedown and then we try for a headlock."
He wants his wrestlers' motors to run as fast as they can throughout each match. This philosophy has apparently worked as the team improved from zero wins when Albert took over to five in his first year to nearly qualifying for districts last season.
"It's not just on the mat that we have gotten better," he says. "We have good character kids, too. That is the most important quality these kids bring to the sport."