PUNXSUTAWNEY — As losses due to way too many forfeits continue to be something of the past, the Punxsy junior-high wrestling team is focused on improving and finishing above .500 after an 8-9 season last year.
The Chucks were known for having a small roster, but benefited from hard-working wrestlers while managing a combined record of 22-16 from 2006 to 2009. Now, with 28 wrestlers on the roster after having 26 at the outset of last season, the Chucks are ready to return to their winning ways.
"Last year, we were 8-9, and I'd like to at least get a winning record this year," Punxsy head coach Bill Burke said. "The biggest thing is improving every day and every match. Little by little, we just have to go one day at a time."
Gone from last year are some of the team's best grapplers — ninth-graders Josh Schuckers (18-2) and Joel Bowers (18-3). Both advanced to the varsity level and will compete there as freshmen.
Many quality grapplers remain from last year, including Perry Arrington (16-0), Matt Burke (16-4), Andrew Bullers (12-8), Darin James (9-6) and Stephanie Smith (12-7). With the exception of Arrington, those grapplers are all ninth-graders.
Still, all five competitors have experience at the junior-high level.
Arrington blew through his seventh-grade year with an undefeated record in 2009-2010, and Kaleb Young is expected to have just as much success. Young, a seventh-grader, has twice finished second at the Pennsylvania Junior Wrestling tournament.
Considering how well Arrington did last year and what Young has done so far in his elementary career, the Chucks are expecting those two to be successful.
"We expect big things for them, definitely Kaleb," Burke said. "Perry might have his hands full since he's a lot bigger than he was last year, but he's definitely a kid that can win some matches for us, no doubt."
Arrington, who wrestled around 95 pounds last year, has had a growth spurt that has bumped him up to about 130 pounds. Young, meanwhile, is expected to compete at 100 or 105 pounds.
The Chucks begin the season at 3:45 p.m. Friday in Indiana. They'll quickly return to the mats for a tournament in Clarion that will begin Saturday morning.
The following is the rest of Punxsy's season: Dec. 14 at Marion Center (6:30 p.m.); Dec. 20 vs. Altoona (4 p.m.); Dec. 22 at Clearfield (5 p.m.); Jan. 4 at Hollidaysburg (5 p.m.); Jan. 6 vs. Curwensville (6 p.m.); Dec. 7-8 at the Brookville tournament (4:30 p.m. and 8:30 a.m.); Jan. 13 vs. Ridgway (6 p.m.); Jan. 15 at the Cranberry tournament (TBD); Jan. 19 vs. Redbank Valley (6 p.m.); Jan. 25 at Clarion (6 p.m.); Feb. 3 vs. Brookville (6 p.m.); Feb. 9 at St. Marys (6 p.m.); Feb. 15 at Bradford (5:30 p.m.); and Feb. 17 at DuBois (5:30 p.m.).