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West Liberty’s Joe Kelly (in blue) is one of several returners back for the Comets after reaching the state tournament as a freshman last winter.

WEST LIBERTY — Even with the amount of familiar faces in the West Liberty wrestling room this season, Comets coach Jeff Wiele wants his grapplers to live in the moment.

"As long as we continue to take it day by day and not get too far ahead of ourselves or even not look too far in the past, I think we have a chance to do really good things," Wiele said.

The Comets return many of the parts from the team that won the River Valley Conference tournament last season. Two West Liberty wrestlers made it to the state tournament — then-freshmen Bryce Esmoil and Joe Kelly — and both ended their season on the podium with seventh- and eighth-place finishes at Wells Fargo Arena, respectively.

Kelly and Esmoil will likely be moving up weights for their sophomore seasons, and despite their underclassmen status, they've already been big motivators based on how they kept themselves busy in the offseason.

"We've got the board in [the wrestling room] with their names already on it," Wiele said of the board featuring every Comet state qualifier. "Even with all the returners, we approach it the same way as we did a year ago. The difference is the competition in the room."

Wiele noted that even if every wrestler wasn't on the same level at this point, the Comets are competing for spots on the roster at such a level that it's the most impressive competition he's seen in his eight seasons coaching at West Liberty.

Coy Ruess and Austin Beaver are two newcomers that could try and compete for spots on the varsity lineup.

"I had one of the assistants ... say to me, 'Man, we've got some battles going on in here,'" Wiele said. "We haven't had that for a few years. It started last year, but it's been really nice."

YOUNGER WILTON TEAM WANTS TO SURPRISE OPPOSITION: The Wilton wrestling team's roster is not loaded with upperclassmen, but the lack of experience hasn't changed recently positive results for Wilton.

After a third-place finish in the individual team standings at the state tournament last season with only five state qualifiers, Wilton and coach Gabe Boorn are very familiar with making the most of the numbers they have grappling in the wrestling room on a daily basis.

In addition to returning state runners-up Tanner Greenwald (152 pounds) and Trey Brisker (145 pounds), junior Bryce Oveson is back from a state appearance along with district qualifiers Kolton Armey (195 pounds) and Reid Johnson (113 pounds).

"It'll be a challenging month of December with a couple of boys having ineligibility and injuries," Boorn said. "We won't really fill out a lineup until after the new year. ... The underclassmen coming in are a great asset to the team but they have to learn quick some pressures and responsibilities."

After leading Wilton football's defense in the fall, Oveson returns to Wilton wrestling admitting that he's a little rusty but getting into wrestling shape while making the jump to the 182-pound weight class.

"I'm getting back into the groove of things," Oveson said. "I should be fine when it comes to state time.

"A lot of the young guys on varsity will have to step up and they'll be motivated to do what they have to do to get the win and do what's right for the team."

DURANT'S EXPERIENCE HAMPERED BY LOW NUMBERS: The Wildcats only have eight on the varsity roster thus far this season.

Seven of the eight are returning varsity wrestlers from last season, led by seniors Jacob Mangels (140 pounds), Noah Cawiezell (132 pounds) and Brandon Dykes (195 pounds).

Second-year coach Casey Strub notes it's a hard-working group that emphasizes quality over quantity, and they hope to have individuals return to state after being shut out last season.

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