It doesn't matter the year or the coach, the Ron Mauck OVAC Wrestling Tournament is always extremely high on the Martins Ferry priority list.
And it's always a tournament where the Purple Riders seem to fare quite well.
First-year head coach Chas Yoder certainly has continued to make the conference tournament a high priority. And he's certainly hopeful that the trend of doing well continues as the three-day mat extravaganza opens Thursday night at WesBanco Arena in downtown Wheeling.
"We always say there are two tournaments and two times a year we want to peak," Yoder said. "We train through the rest of the season to prepare for the OVAC and the postseason. If we place well in the other tournaments, that's great, but our top two priorities are OVAC and postseason. All of the rest is preparation."
Yoder was hired at his alma mater a few weeks before the start of practice after Scott Roth stepped down.
While the wrestling aspect of things hasn't changed for Yoder, the other commitments and requirements that fall on the head coach have caused the biggest adjustment.
"It's gone well so far, but I am still learning," Yoder said. "There are a lot of things involved that I really didn't realize in terms of scheduling and conflicts and all that."
On the mats, the approach hasn't changed too much. Yoder's approach is similar to those who have come before him at the helm of the Riders' program.
"Practices are ran the same way since I was in high school," Yoder confirmed. "We've kept the same routine and the kids are really comfortable with that."
As the work leads up to Thursday's opening round, Yoder likes the direction his young squad is headed.
"Our kids are wrestling well and improving little by little every day," Yoder said. "We've got a few guys out on the mats for the first time and it's always a tough transition to go from junior high to high school. But, our guys are gaining confidence."
The Riders have prepared and gained experience in the first portion of the season by competing at the Barnesville Invitational, the America's Best Value Inn Tournament at St. Clairsville and the Conns Duals at Meadowbrook. All told, the Riders own a 2-5 dual record.
"We have seven freshmen in our lineup, so they're learning and improving each time they go on the mat," Yoder confessed. "They're still getting nervous before they go on the mat, but we're confident that once it clicks, it'll click for these guys."
As for what lies ahead, Yoder can forsee a handful of his grapplers being on the awards' stand come Saturday night.
"I expect our upperclassmen to do well," Yoder said. "We're hoping our younger guys can win as many matches as possible. We're just going to go over and compete as best we can. Obviously, the 4A division is tough with Steubenville, Oak Glen and the other teams."
The Purple Riders have 13 on the roster and will fill all but 126 and 132 pounds this weekend.
"We don't have many guys, but we got lucky with how their weights fell," Yoder said.
"We're getting a lot of kids a lot of experience and we've got some good kids coming in our junior high program."
A pair of juniors will the way for the Riders this weekend.
Jonathan Bodkin, who didn't take part in last year's conference tournament, will be one to watch at 285 pounds. He's currently 16-1 on the season and his only loss was in a tie-breaker at St. C.
"Jonathan will be ready to go," Yoder said. "He's tough, in shape and strong. He actually only weighs about 225 pounds, so he's a lot quicker than he's been. I think he has a good chance at placing high."
Bryce Coleman is a returning OVAC placer and hopes to improve on that at 152 pounds this season. Coleman comes to the tournament with a 16-3 mark. He was second at Barnesville and third at St. Clairsville.
"Bryce is a really good wrestler on his feet, but we want him to get to his offense a little bit more," Yoder said. "We expect him to place high. He's wrestling well."
Another junior to keep an eye on is Thomas Campbell at 106 pounds. He's currently 12-3 on the season and has a second-place finish at Barnesville and third-place award at St. C. on his resume.
"He didn't wrestle after our first tri last season, but he came back out and is wrestling well," Yoder said. "Thomas is competing with the top-level guys, even after taking a year off."
Junior Theodore Zoumpolidis, who qualified to the Division III state tournament last season, is the entrant at 120 pounds. He's off to an 8-7 start after jumping up two weight classes from a season ago.
"Theo's off to a slow start, similar to last season," Yoder said. "He seems to wrestle his best at the bigger tournaments. He had a good OVAC Tournament last year, finishing eighth, so we expect a lot from him."
Senior James Wise is 14-6 on the season at 145 pounds. Two of his losses have been by one point. He was fifth place at St. Clairsville.
Senior Ja'Vaughn Wade is new to the Riders' program after transferring from Wheeling Park. He's currently 7-7 on the season and Yoder has been impressed by the steady progress he's made.
Freshman Anthony Blankenship is entered at 113 pounds. Sophomore Trevor Neavin will be called upon this weekend at 138. Sophomore Andrew Hython and freshman Drake Rice are entered at 160 and 170 pounds, respectively.
Freshmen - Nick Cummings and Jerry Jarman - are entered at 195 and 220, respectively. Both have four wins.
Freshman Dom Wallace is Bodkin's backup at 285.
After the OVAC Tournament, the Riders will take part in the OHSAA Dual Tournament, the OVAC Duals, if they qualify, New Lexington Invitational and Buckeye Local Invitational.
Yoder's coaching staff is comprised of Chad Ware and Taylor Yoder