There's excitement in the air and down on the green mat for the rebuilding Wood River High School wrestling program as the prep season begins.
Wood River sent 19 wrestlers to the mat when it hosted defending State 2A/1A champion Challis and Oakley/Raft River Tuesday night in the first of six home dates at the Hailey gym. Next home meet is Wednesday, Dec. 17 with Jerome.
Head coach Tyson Young, assisted by Kim Orchard and Matt Nightingale, said, "We have a great group this year who will be led by juniors Tanner Orchard and Nick Chase and sophomore Andrew Orr.
"Our numbers are up and the attitudes of the guys are awesome. Experience wise we are still very young, but we seem to be spread out in weights more this year. It is a slow process in getting to where we want to be, but things are happening and, as coaches, we are very excited.
"We have a lot to make up in terms of individual and team goals, but every guy is up for the challenge. That shows dedication and commitment."
Having the six home dates is a luxury for Wood River.
The Wolverines spent most of last season traveling with only three home dates, including the host role for the Great Basin Conference tournament won by Minico of Rupert over Pocatello.
Wood River ended up qualifying three wrestlers for the 2008 State 4A wrestling meet—and two of them have returned, junior Tanner Orchard (7-9, 5 pins) and sophomore Andrew Orr (11-21, a team-high 7 pins). Orr was "Freshman of the Year" and Orchard won the "Devil Bear" award for WRHS.
Young penciled in Orchard for the 145-pound class Tuesday night and Orr was set for wrestle at 160.
Three other Wolverines narrowly missed state trips last February by placing sixth at the seven-team conference meet, and all are returning.
They are senior Alex Jones (12-12, 5 pins) at 160 pounds, sophomore Willie Dugger (5-14) in the tough Hailey group at 160 and sophomore Tyler Bartlett (7-18) at 103. Bartlett was the "Most Improved Wrestler."
Along with Alex Jones, 189-pounder J.J. Thomson (2-11) is Wood River's other senior. Other juniors besides Orchard are 135-pounder Nick Chase, 140-pounder Tyler Jaramillo (5-17) and 171-pounder Juve Ruiz (4-9, 4 pins).
Rounding out the squad of varsity and JV wrestlers are sophomore Kasey Barker (2-11) at 171 plus these freshmen—Zach Brown at 112, Andrew Beck at 119, Robbie Trautwein at 125, Conner Bennett at 135, J.R. Hill and Zach Ezell at 140, Teague Ruhter at 145, Haiden Aitken 189 and Auden Ruhter at 215.
Wood River travels to Idaho Falls for a triangular meet with Rigby and Bonneville Friday, Dec. 12 at 4 p.m.