ROYAL OAK — It was a common rallying call for the Royal Oak High wrestling team as it recruited new members this offseason.
“When I put the announcements up in the school, it was, ‘Defending district champions are looking for more wrestlers. Come on out,’” said Royal Oak coach Scott Welborn. “It’s really celebrating our success from a season ago, and using it as a springboard for the future.”
“That was my pickup line, ‘Come out for the district champ wrestling team,’” senior Zeke Burns added. “A lot of guys bit.”
The Ravens won their first Class A district crown since 2007 last year.
With a mix of veterans and new talent, Royal Oak is aiming to repeat.
“I think with this group of guys, if we keep working hard, we got it,” Burns said.
“The key is staying healthy, filling out a lineup and how quickly can the new wrestlers adapt.
“We have a core group of guys that are used to the hard work we put in. The younger guys see it and learn from it. They get better faster than when we first started here,” Welborn said, “which, I think, will really turn into something good for us as we progress through the season. That’s the nice thing; we know we have some guys that we can work with.”
Welborn believes he can fill most of the weights, but there are still some open spots they may have to void or bump wrestlers in the middle and heavier weights. If anyone gets injured, then all bets are off.
“One injury, and suddenly you have two or three spots you need to fill,” he said.
The Ravens return two individual regional qualifiers in sophomores Lee Hewson (112 pounds) and Cullen Conway (215 or heavyweight).
“Each year is a new step, and we try to progress a little bit further. We had five guys to regional last year; none of them made it through,” Welborn said. “We’d like to get some guys to states this year.”
Burns qualified for the regional as a sophomore, but missed out last season — something that sticks with him and drives him each time he takes to the mat.
“I knew I could have gone to states (last year), so I’m not going to let anything stop me this year,” he said.