The Fort Mill High School Yellow Jackets wrestling team is coming off a 22-4 record, a Region III championship and an appearance in the semifinals of the state tournament.
This year's edition, minus several seniors who graduated last spring, is markedly more inexperienced and will rely on freshmen to contribute from the opening whistle. Even so, head coach Christopher Brock is optimistic about Fort Mill's chances this season. In other words, a lack of upperclassmen is no excuse for not winning.
"This year's team will be the youngest and most inexperienced that I've had in 19 years of coaching," Brock said. "However, although we lost a lot of talent and are replacing it with young guys, the expectation of the team and program has not changed."
The team has plenty of talent to lean on, starting with seniors Brandon Felix, a 125-pound former state champion, and 160-pound Thomas Mockridge, a 2008 state placer. Also returning from last year are two former freshmen All-Americans: sophomore Jonathon Miskelly and junior Max Simons, who was a 2008 state qualifier.
Juniors Colby Hice and Garrett Passatore are also returning starters from last year.
"The biggest difference between this year's group and last is that we don't have the veteran athletes like we have had in years past. The six seniors that we lost had all been part of the program for at least four to six years beginning in seventh grade," Brock said.
Alan Parks, Zach Doran and Ryan Dugas saw time on the varsity squad last year and will have increased roles this season.
The key for the Yellow Jackets could be its freshmen and how quickly they can adapt and contribute. Michael Mockridge, Austin King, Drew Cunningham and Brandon Medema are expected to have immediate impacts and should help anchor Fort Mill this year and beyond.
"We have a lot of new guys in the program and attendance, attitude and willingness to learn has been outstanding," Brock said. "I have been impressed by this new group as any I have had in my coaching career. I expect to see big things from them in the years to come."
As a veteran coach, Brock knows how to evaluate the more raw members of his squad and what he has to do to help them develop. If the younger wrestlers new to varsity roles can mange to improve in each match, it could be interesting to watch Fort Mill build momentum as the season progresses.
"It is our intent to again be in the playoff picture and contend for a state title," Brock said.