Considering the Franklin County High School wrestling program had a pair of strikes against it to open the 2019-20 campaign, the season turned out to be a net positive, with a 14-7 dual mark and one wrestler on the brink of a state finals appearance.

First, only 14 boys came out in the fall, technically one wrestler per weight class. Half of those had never wrestled a high school match. Second, Cody Phillips left after one season as head coach, leaving the athletic department to piece together a coaching staff at the eleventh hour.

The second dilemma was remedied when longtime coach Doug Deters – art teacher in the school system - joined with Franklin County Middle School/youth coach Kris Crouch and FCHS principal Keith Isaacs to form a trio of mat mentors.

“Two of us are in the schools and able to see the kids, maybe get some of those kids who were on the fence about wrestling to come out,” said Deters. “The big thing is building relationships with kids. It's not about winning or losing; it's about getting them out (for the team).”

By the time the Wildcats hosted the sectional Feb. 1, the team was consistently filling 12 of the IHSAA's 14 weight divisions – the lightest weights of 106 pounds and 113 were left idle all season.

Though certainly a disadvantage, it still left a workable number.

“Two years ago, we had two forfeits, and we were winning the sectional going into the final match,” Deters recalled.

That wasn't the case this time, as the Wildcats placed sixth with 88 points. However, coach's son and junior Adam Crouch scored two pins, and a major decision over East Central's Charlie Euson to win the 138-lb. class. Also qualifying for regional were senior Austin Bohman (4th at 170), junior Evan Seal (4th; 126), sophomore Andrew Merritt (4th; 120) and freshman Clayton Bolser (4th; 285).

At Richmond a week later, Crouch was runner-up to advance to semistate. Seal and Bolser came up short while Bohman and Merritt were unable to wrestle. Crouch was on the cusp of qualifying for state, falling to Greenfield-Central's Dylan Dorman at New Castle; Dorman went on to place eighth at Indianapolis.

“Adam should take a little time off to readjust mentally and evaluate himself,” Deters said, looking ahead to Crouch's senior year. “Probably the two things he can do to propel him to that next level are going to a training center to work with other guys and getting in the weight room three days a week. He's right there.”

At the Eastern Indiana Athletic Conference meet in Aurora, Crouch claimed the 138 title for the fifth-place Wildcats. Merritt was runner-up and Bolser third. East Central ran away with the team title, later adding sectional and regional wins.

The Trojans, according to Deters, were the only team to soundly defeat his squad this winter.

“We wrestled well in winning our home invitational (Dec. 21) and went 7-2 at the two-day Wayne County Tournament (Jan. 10-11), losing only to New Castle in a tiebreak and Centerville,” said the coach.

Crouch and Seal went unbeaten in the Wayne invitational.

Crouch finished with a 31-8 ledger overall. Seal ended at 29-11 and Merritt at 23-10. Bohman and fellow senior Jacob Lee (132) closed out their careers with 19-16 and 19-15 marks, respectively. Sophomore Ben Maze (145) was 19-13, Bolser 17-19, sophomore Levi Sanders (220) 17-16, freshman Hayden Newell (182) 15-9, junior Jordan Eversole (160) 14-15, junior Eric Schwab (152) 8-22, and freshman Lendon Sizemore (195) 6-18.

Filling out the squad were junior Morgan Browning and freshman Andrew Harnishfeger.

Deters noted there are plenty of summer options for the youngsters to improve.

“There are a lot of opportunities like travel teams and camps that specifically focus on competing,” he said. “They're still learning technique but also competing; they can get a whole season of wrestling in one week.”

The coach added that the future looks bright, with the middle school turning in a successful season. He cautions against making predictions, however.

“One thing I've learned in 25 years of coaching, if you start making predictions, you're going to be totally wrong,” said Deters. “We have young guys who have all kinds of potential, but this sport changes by the week. Kids can grow and mature, but they can also get hurt. You just don't know.”