Wilton wrestling coach Gabe Boorn noticed the Beavers' practices becoming more challenging leading up to the team’s first dual meet.

One of the reasons is a growing roster that added 12 new wrestlers this season to push the total to 30.

Now it’s difficult to walk into the wrestling room without having to carefully maneuver around all the bodies just to find the person you’re looking for.

The increased interest and numbers on the team have allowed Boorn to find ideal matchups for all of his wrestlers throughout practices.

“… We got 30 kids in the room and we were able to change up some of our partnerships and really get some of our wrestlers matched up well with one another that can push each other and help each other get better as the season goes on,” Boorn said.

Not only does the team feature a large group of fresh faces, but it also has two district champions and state qualifiers back in Trey Brisker and Cory Anderson.

Brisker is a three-time state place winner, third each of the past two seasons.

Anderson and Brisker provide a strong nucleus to build around and will be some of the key pieces in trying to help Wilton return to the state duals for the first time since 2014.

“We’ve got some great leadership in the room coming back,” Boorn said. “We only lost two starters last year, two varsity wrestlers that graduated. And then bringing back all that experience into the room and those who have had success with Trey Brisker and Cory Anderson and several guys who are nipping at the heels within districts that are coming in here eager and hungry to get back on the mat and take that next step further this year.”

The Beavers kick off competition Thursday at North Cedar, where they will wrestle against North Cedar, Camanche and Iowa City Regina.

So far, Boorn has been pleased with what he’s seen during practices.

“The first week it’s getting our bodies and minds back refocused on what we’re going into this year,” Boorn said. “We’re going through some more challenging practices and trying to get some of our cardio built up so our conditioning’s ready to rock ‘n’ roll for the first competition of the year.”

West Liberty returns strong core: The Comets have seven of their eight district qualifiers back from last season.

That includes defending state champion Bryce Esmoil and third-place finisher Joe Kelly. They also return Justis Dengler, Talon Dengler, Austin Beaver, Coy Ruess and Will Esmoil.

Regardless, West Liberty coach Jeff Wiele still believes his team is trying to play catch-up in preparation for a new season after getting only two weeks to practice before the first meet.

“You got to get a little bit of everything, but I think technique’s been our main focus, trying to get things down and some timing down,” Wiele said about the focus throughout practices. “But you feel like you’re not getting it fast enough.

“The turnaround with Thanksgiving in there and only two weeks of practice, and you have to take out Thanksgiving. And then you got to wrestle a dual right away, especially with No. 1-ranked Lisbon, that makes things a little tougher.”

Durant looks to take next step: The Wildcats had just two wrestlers – Jacob Prunchak and D.J. Stewart – compete at last winter’s Class 1A sectional tournament at Lisbon.

Prunchak finished third at 182 pounds and Stewart fifth at 132, but neither advanced to the district tournament.

The bad news is Prunchak graduated. The good news is he was the only wrestler the Wildcats lost to graduation.