VALE — The West Lincoln Rebels wrestling team starts the 2012-2013 season on Tuesday with a home match against strong opponents in 2A Newton-Conover and 3A Freedom.
The team and head coach Butch Ross see that match, and the rest of a difficult nonconference season that follows, as a tune-up for a conference and state championship run in February and March.
“Our first goal every year is to win a state championship,” Ross said. “That’s our goal. Our second goal is to win the regional, and our third goal is to win the conference. All of our nonconference people finish consistently in the top 10 of their division. We go to where we think we’ll get the best competition. I would rather lose and wrestle well against a good person than to beat a team that’s not very good.”
Newton-Conover was the Western Regional runner-up in the 2A state team tournament in both 2011 and 2012 and finished fifth in the 2012 individual tournament. The Rebels finished 10th in the 2012 individual tournament.
West Lincoln finishes the month with a trip to North Henderson, who placed seventh in last season’s individual tournament, on November 28.
“We’re a top 10 team, because we have some good people,” Ross said. “But they’ll lose some matches. I tell them that I hope they go undefeated, but they’re not. There’s no way they can maintain the level of that schedule.”
Senior Clay Alguire said he sees the benefit of the Rebels’ difficult nonconference schedule.
“It gets you prepared for the conference and then the regionals and states,” he said.
Ross said the team has focused on fundamentals and conditioning in the weeks leading up to the season. The West Lincoln roster for this season, which Ross estimated at around 60 athletes, has allowed the team to fill every weight class.
“Our strength comes a lot in numbers,” he said. “If you get to start, you’ve paid a price.”
That price includes a weekly mini-tournament in which the previous week’s starters in each weight class can be challenged for their position by other members of the team.
“We line up here every Wednesday and the last man standing starts the next week,” Ross said. “The next Wednesday we line up and do it again.”
Alguire, who went two rounds into the individual state tournament last season in the 132-lb. division, said the weekly challenges help keep the team “competitive.”
“It keeps us on our toes,” he said. “Anyone can beat you. Last year I was challenged by the same guy every week, again and again. It gives you a promise that you could be on the starting squad at any time.”
The Rebels’ large roster means the team is three or four athletes deep in some weight classes. That means a starting position may be rare for some of the younger wrestlers, but Ross said that doesn’t discourage them.
“They know their time will come,” he said. “I’ve always stressed to them that their time will come. We have a lot of kids who never get to start until they’re juniors and seniors and they still come. The success of the program helps; they like that they’re part of a team.”
West Lincoln’s match at home against Newton-Conover and Freedom on Tuesday begins at 5 p.m.