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Senior Kahok Wrestlers
Collinsville High School senior wrestlers front row Craig Bush (119), Andrew Nyland (152). Back row Zach Haneline (130), Josh Hannon (135), and Luke Huster (140). | (JOHN SWISTAK JR. / JOURNAL)

While having every starter back in your lineup would be ideal for a wrestling coach, venerable Collinsville wrestling coach Tom Blaha has more than naught to work with this season.

That's because eight grapplers return to the lineup this season with one more year of experience under their belts.

"We have 14 starters, so having eight guys back in your lineup from last year definitely is better than none," Blaha said. "We only lost two seniors and this is a good number to start with. We hope that our younger kids can step up and be ready for the varsity level."

As Blaha may need some younger grapplers to step in for the team to be successful on an overall level, they will have plenty of guidance they can look to on the mat.

Leading the way for the Kahoks will be an impressive group of seniors in Craig Bush at 119 pounds, Zachary Haneline at 130, Josh Hannon at 135 and a pair of returning sectional qualifiers are back in Luke Huster at 140 and Andrew Nyland at 152.

Also, a pair of juniors will step in right away as Ramon DeAvila will wrestle at 125 and Andrew Altenberger at 160.

The rest of the Kahoks' lineup figures to be: sophomore Devonte Smith at 103, junior John Bailey at 112, sophomore Charlie Hunter at 145, junior Jacob Dowdy at 171, junior Grant Clauch at 189, sophomore Drew Pikey at 215 and sophomore Mick Straub at heavyweight.

"Craig is a three-year letterman," Blaha said. "Plus, we've got a couple of great coaches at the junior high level that believe in the system and they're helping bring wrestlers along. They're doing well feeding me kids. I have 18 freshmen this year and some of the sophomores that cracked the lineup came from them. We've got a good mix."

Those 18 freshmen are something of a vanguard for the growth of his program.

It is, after all a program that is reaching new heights in terms of numbers.

"I've got 70 kids out and that is my highest number ever," Blaha said. "The program is going in the right direction right now and, I would say, that if I could keep all 70 of those kids and only lose the seniors, we're going to have a good crop of freshmen in and the sky's the limit."

Keeping an eye to the immediate future, though, Blaha has taken aim on further success for guys like Huster and Nyland and a better overall team success this season, even though he knows that second part won't be easy.

"Our goal is to get kids to the state tournament and place at state," Blaha said. "We don't have an easy road with the three-class system in wrestling. Our conference basically makes up our regional, along with Quincy. It's a barnburner of a regional and the sectional only gets tougher from there. We had a rough year last year as far as conference standing. I would like to think that we can be in the top three in the conference and compete with anyone. There are a lot of great programs here, though, and a lot of great tradition."

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