The numbers are still down at Bridgeport, but head coach David Nelson is confident that his young Bulldogs can hold their own this weekend.
Bridgeport has five wrestlers entered in the 61st annual Ron Mauck Ohio Valley Athletic Conference wrestling tournament at downtown Wheeling's WesBanco Arena.
Action gets started Thursday at 6 p.m. with Olympic-style opening ceremonies. It concludes with Saturday night's championship finals, which are slated to begin at 6:30.
"As a team, a year ago with three wrestlers we had one placer and won one other match," Nelson said. "This year we should be able to improve on of that, hopefully getting at least two placers if not more and winning more matches."
The aforementioned placer is senior Brad Tomolonis (16-2) who finished seventh last year at 170 pounds, the same weight class he will compete in this weekend.
So far this season, Tomolonis has placed first at Tyler Consolidated, second at the America's Best Value Inn Tournament in St. Clairsville and second at Shadyside's Last Man Standing Tournament.
"I expect Brad to finish in the top 5 this weekend with a chance to win it," Nelson explained. "He has only lost two times all year, the first a close match to the Frazier kid from Philo and he got pinned by Leo Herrmann of Steubenville Central Catholic.
"Brad should get a high seed for the OVAC tournament, and hopes to place even higher than a year ago," Nelson continued. "He has shown the ability to compete with anybody, and if he wrestles well, has a chance to compete for a title."
Other Bulldogs entered are freshmen Jason Miles (106) and Emilio Saldana (138); sophomore Carlos Kusic (182); and senior Ian Hammer (132).
Of those four, Kusic has the best opportunity to reach Saturday night's podium as he is 15-4 so far this season.
He has placed fourth at Tyler Consolidated and third at the America's Best Value Inn Tournament in St. Clairsville. Carlos lost a close 1-0 match to Cole Howes of Harrison Central at St. Clairsville.
"I was unsure of how the weight gain would affect Carlos this season because he wrestled at 152 last season," Nelson said. "Carlos has put on a lot of muscle and really grown into the weight class. He struggled at the beginning of the year against the better kids at this weight, but has made a lot of progress and his last two losses coming by only one point each.
"I think Carlos has a good chance at sneaking into a low place in a weight class that is not loaded. He has to wrestle good against tougher competition, but has not been able to pull out the win. If he can finish of all his matches, I expect big things from him this weekend."
Hammer, 10-6, has been hampered by a couple injuries this season, forcing him to default out of two tournaments. He placed fourth at the America's Best Value Inn Tournament in St. Clairsville.
"Ian will be healthy and should do well at the OVAC tournament," Nelson said. "Ian won one match last year at the OVAC tournament, and I am expecting him to do better this year."
Saldana, 14-5, placed fourth at Tyler Consolidated and sixth at St. Clairsville.
"Emilio has wrestled tough against better wrestlers, but seems to make a lot of mistakes. If he can cut back on the mistakes during his matches and wrestle smart, he has a good chance at placing this weekend," Nelson noted. "I believe that he will catch some people by surprise and could pull off a couple upsets to place at the OVAC tournament.
Miles has had a rough season competing between 106 and 113, running into some tough competition.
"Jason was also sidelined for two weeks in December will an illness. He has shown a lot of growth over the past couple of weeks and we expect big things from him heading forward," Nelson added.
"He is in a tough weight class this year in the OVAC. Jason will really need to work hard to win a couple matches at the tournament."