WHEELING - Last year, the Steubenville wrestling team won its first OVAC tournament in 18 years.
This year, Big Red coach Mike Blackburn is hoping to repeat as champion.
"We're coming in as the champs and we want to defend it," Blackburn said at Monday's tournament press conference at WesBanco Arena..
"It's a little bit of a different team now. We graduated nine of those placers from a year ago. We have a pretty young team, but even though we are young we're still pretty experienced."
Steubenville boasts nine seeded wrestlers in the 61st-annual OVAC tournament, which begins Thursday with a 4 p.m. weigh-in.
Tariq Wilson, a 113-pound sophomore is a No. 1 seed, as is 170-pound junior Brandon Jones.
Wilson, the 2013 OVAC champion at 106 pounds, has a 24-1 record thus far in his second year of high school wrestling. The lone loss came at the hands of Jake Donahue of Massillon Perry, the fifth-ranked wrestler in Ohio's Division I.
"He's definitely grown a lot over the year," Blackburn said of Wilson. "He's worked hard for his record and he's focused for the tournament. Hopefully, we'll run into Logan again."
Wilson knocked off Logan Ball of Parkersburg South, the three-time overall team champion going into last year's tournament, in the 106-pound championship round.
This year, South has 12 seeded wrestlers, the most in the field.
Mitchell Wells, a 182-pounder from Edison, is the only other local No. 1 individual seed. The junior has a season record of 22-2.
Wheeling Park has five top-seeded individuals, the most for the tournament. On Jan. 8, Big Red fell to the Patriots in a dual match.
"It was a battle to the end and they just edged us out," Blackburn said. "They have a lot of firepower and they're going to score a lot of points."
Some local grapplers are slated to open the tournament against each other.
In the 106-pound class, Oak Glen's Ryan Debee and Edison's Josh Kleiner will square off, as will Cole Harris of Toronto and Brandon Kaiser of Steubenville.
In 120 pounds, Edison's Brandon Logan goes against Catholic Central's Luke Coniker, while Indian Creek's Tyler Gaydosh faces Oak Glen's Josh Cornell in 126 pounds.
In 132 pounds, Miles Mazik of Indian Creek wrestles Big Red's Jesse Hubbard and Jerry Savage of Toronto goes against Hunter Pizzino of Harrison Central.
Tyler McAfee of Indian Creek and Jon Ekey of Madonna square off against each other at 145 pounds, as will Patrick Arneault of Oak Glen and Toronto's Max Tice.
In 170 pounds, Buckeye Local's Josh Sokolowski and Indian Creek's Jacob Wounaris face each other.
Tristan Jones of Buckeye Local and Patrick McCoy of Weir square off at 182 pounds, as will Lucas Borden of Catholic Central and Matthew Doll of Brooke.
In 220 pounds, there is a city rivalry as Catholic Central's Harold Rogers goes against Big Red's Drone Moore.
At the heavyweight class, Toronto's Tim West faces Catholic Central's Mark Deltorre.
OVAC rules clinician Bill Welker clarified some disparities between Ohio and West Virginia.
The minimum weight for heavyweight wrestlers (285 pounds) in West Virginia is 197.1 pounds, while in Ohio it is 210.
"If a guy weighs in at 198 after qualifying at 197.1 on weigh-in day, he's fine," Welker said.
Also, it is illegal for wrestlers to tape their shoes in Ohio, according to Welker, but in West Virginia it is permitted.
Stickers may be added to headgear, too, "unless it would be intimidating," Welker said.
Ron Mauck, who has been the tournament director since 1979, shared words of wisdom with the coaches in attendance.
"When kids are out there, they represent their school, their coaches, themselves and their families," he said. "You want to make sure they have their spoke tight. That's so, so important.
"It may sound stupid, you may think I'm nuts, but I believe it. That's one of my philosophies."
The other seeded wrestlers for Big Red are Dakota Goff (three in 120), Jesse Hubbard (four in 132), Shawn Livingston (three in 145), Nico Moray (seven in 152), Austin Deffenbaugh (six in 160), Tim Albertson (four in 195) and William Poplowski (six in 285).
Seeded wrestlers for Catholic Central include Blake Kiedrowski (six in 132), Mike Crosby (six in 152) and Leo Hermann (two in 170).
Oak Glen's seeded wrestlers are Ryan Debee (five in 106), Danny Wyke (three in 113), Josh Cornell (four in 126), Avery Flowers (eight in 132), Nick Tice (seven in 138) and Noah Mills (eight in 285).
Harrison Central's seeded wrestlers include David Forrester (three in 126), Hunter Pizzino (two in 182) and Brenton Stull (seven in 285).
Josh Sokolowski (three in 170) and Tristan Jones (two in 182) are seeded for Buckeye Local.
Indian Creek's Daniel Hague is seeded fifth at 113 pounds, Toronto's Donald Starkey is fifth at 120 pounds and Brooke's Preston Wise is second at 285 pounds.
Coaches have until 8 p.m. on Wednesday to announce any scratches to their lineup.