CONYERS - Salem wrestling coach Tim Owens is excited about the opportunities that lay ahead for his grapplers this season.
And why shouldn't he be?
Owens returns a core of talented grapplers to the mats this season, including two-time state champion Peter Yates.
"One of our strengths is the fact that we do have a solid nucleus returning," Owens said. "Another strength is that they like to work hard. They don't like to fool around much. They like to work and get things done at practice. And when you have a good number of upperclassmen, that work ethic trickles down to the younger wrestlers."
Besides Yates, Salem returns a handful of starters from last season in Sammy Ahonen, Bobby Nance, Stephen Cross and Joe Morovich.
Owens is also looking for solid showings from some of his still unproven wrestlers.
Unfortunately for the team, Owens' biggest problem is that he currently doesn't have anyone to fill the spots at the 103- and 112-pound divisions.
"We're going to have to overcome not having a 103 or a 112," Owens said. "We're going to be giving up 12 points each match."
Owens said he hopes to try and fill the spots with one of his JV wrestlers, but he's still asking for other volunteers that might want to try to help the team.
"I don't know what we're going to do. We haven't had anybody that light," Owens said. "I've had a couple people talk to me (about wrestling), but nobody has stepped up yet. Right now, we flat-out don't have anybody is those two weight classes."
Despite the obstacles that lay ahead for Owens and his team, he feels confident in his team's ability to not only send wrestlers to the state meet but to have those wrestlers place as well.
"Obviously, we feel Peter (Yates) has a good chance of doing something special this year. Off the top of my head, I can't think of anybody in Rockdale County that has won or finished second at state all four years," Owens said. "I also feel that Sammy (Ahonen) would have placed at state last year had he not gotten sick. I'm looking for those two to place. I'm also looking for Bobby Nance and Stephen Cross to have a shot at doing very well this year. Really, our entire nucleus should have a shot to do something this year."
Yates will be gunning for his third state title this year.
He won his first state title as a freshman, wrestling at 112. He finished as the state runner-up his sophomore year at 125 before winning his second state title last year at 140.
Owens said Yates will likely wrestle at 145 or 152 this year.
But one of the biggest advantages of having a wrestler like Yates isn't just that he almost always gives you a win on the mats. It's that he helps others get wins, too.
"Over the years, he's taken on more of a leadership role," Owens said. "He's stepped up more and more every year."
The Seminoles will hit the mats for the first time this season Saturday at Heritage in the East Metro Duals.
Brandon Evans can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
SideBar: At a glance
Team: Salem wrestling team
Coach: Tim Owens
First match: Saturday at Heritage in East Metro Duals