When Jim Benson took over the Cuyahoga Falls wrestling program last season, he knew here was facing a multi-year rebuilding project, especially in the Suburban League National Conference.
"I’m not really surprised by the level of competition," Benson said. "There are a lot of good quality teams here. I had a good feel for what our level was by the end of the season. There weren’t any surprises."
Falls took its lumps last winter, going 3-12 in dual meets, including 0-7 in the National Conference. In the Suburban League Tournament, Falls finished 15th our of 15 with eight team points.
With nowhere to go but up, Benson believes Falls can start rising this winter.
"This year, I feel a little bit better. We should be able to close the gap on the league," Benson said. "We’re not going to have a whole lot of depth this year. We’ve got a lot of youth. We know it’s not going to be a quick fix."
One positive for Falls is that the numbers are up in the program, as Falls has 15 wrestlers in the room and all of them are committed to the sport.
"The ones we have all want to be here," Benson said. "We have a solid core returning from last year. We have a lot of youth that we can build on."
"I think we’ll win a lot more dual meets this year," he added. "The key thing for us is that we stay healthy. We’ve already lost one due to injury."
Falls’ assistant coaches are Frank Simon and Mark Salzwimmer.
At 106 pounds, freshman D.J. McVicker will start after wrestling in Falls’ middle school program.
The hard part for Falls is the injury bug hit its most proven wrestler. Senior 113-pounder Billie Ferrell, a returning district qualifier, has been sidelined with a high ankle sprain he suffered during the preseason.
"We want to get him to Columbus and we’ll work from there," Benson said. "It starts with getting healthy for him."
It’s an open battle for the start at 120 pounds between freshmen Joe Spanks, Shrijan Kamar and Roshan Pradhan.
Benson notes one of those three wrestlers will probably bump up to 126 pounds, where freshman Alex Solorzano will provide depth.
Falls has a returning starter at 132 pounds in sophomore Carson Montgomery.
"He will be able to take a step forward last year," Benson said. ‘He got locked up to 132 at the alpha weight, so he should be good to go."
After lettering as a sophomore with Falls, senior Noah McClendon is back and will get the start at 138 pounds.
"He’s got some experience, He’s going to be in there," Benson said. "He should be competitive."
After an open slot at 145 pounds, Benson is expecting a big year from junior Zevon Simon at 152 pounds after injuries derailed Simon’s season last year.
"I think he’s let that be a motivator for him," Benson said. "He’s put in a lot of time in the weight room ands open mats."
Another returning starter for Falls will be junior Isaac Puchajda at 160 pounds.
"Unfortunately, with Zevon going 152, Isaac is going to be up a weight class from his natural weight," Benson said. "He’ll be wrestling people bigger than him. I do look for him to have a good season."
After an open slot at 170 pounds, Falls will have sophomore Aaron Aidela at 182 pounds, who’s returning to the program after wrestling in middle school.
Freshman Yousif Jabar will get the start at 195 pounds, while junior Gabe Hardman, who transferred in from Stow-Munroe Falls, will start at 220 pounds. At the moment, Falls has no heavyweight.
"We’re going to measure success by wins and losses, but we have to be realistic," Benson said. "We’re going to have individual goals and team goals."
Falls was set to open the season with a pair of tri-meets on the road. The Black Tigers travel to Akron Kenmore-Garfield Thursday to take on the Rams and Firestone at 6 p.m. followed by a trip to Hudson Friday to take on the Explorers and New Concord John Glenn at 6 p.m.
Falls next competes at the Redkin Tournament at Cuyahoga Heights. Dec. 14 at 10 a.m.
Reporter Michael Leonard can be reached at 330-541-9442, firstname.lastname@example.org or @MLeonard_GHO