Four state qualifiers, a state medalist and a two-time state champion will lead the Syracuse-Dunbar-Avoca wrestling program for the 2016-17 season.
Seniors who qualified for state last year include Mitch McWilliams, Cody Pester, Keegan Pope, and Jeff Burr.
Max Hughes, a junior, is the top returner for the Rockets. He won the state championship in both his freshman and sophomore campaigns.
Also of significant note from the junior class is Caleb Lefferdink, who scored a sixth place medal at the 2016 individual state tourney.
With those kinds of returners, any coach would be excited for the new year.
“Going forward this year, we know we have a great nucleus to build on,” said Coach Jeremy Goebel. “These kids as a whole are going to help us with our younger kids and with our newcomers.”
Coach Goebel said the Rockets had a solid offseason this year. Some of the wrestlers competed in freestyle and the Rockets attended team camps and had open wrestling room time.
The Rocket coach said his goal was to keep the kids out the mat but also said some allowances have to be made for the wrestlers to pursue their other interests and summer sports.
By giving the kids work in the wrestling room and striking a balance with other activities, Goebel said the hope is that the wrestlers will stay fresh and be ready to compete through the rigors of a season.
And the season will definitely have its challenges.
S-D-A, by virtue of being on the enrollment line between Class B and Class C, had ended up building a tough schedule over the years.
Some of the teams that the Rockets will face this year include Nebraska City, Bennington, Norris, Crete, Gretna and Platteview.
So even though the Rockets will compete at the Class C level come district time, the teams they face represent some of the top squads in Class B.
“We are dualing some of the best teams in the state,” said Goebel. “Towards the end of the year, I think that helps us.
“Going into districts, we might not have as good of a record as other kids at our weight, but we are battle tested.”
In addition to engaging in tough battles, the Rockets will be road warriors in 2016-17.
After a season that was filled with home dates including conference and districts, the Rockets will host just a few meets this year. The annual Pin Tourney and a dual against Nebraska City are the major varsity events.
Rather than dwell on the road schedule or the opponents, the Rocket team will focus its energy on getting better.
“Our kids will get better as the season goes on and hopefully we will peak at the end,” said Goebel.
The end of the season will be a bit different this year due to a change in district format.
The Rockets’ district assignment  was based on a new serpentine method in which teams are placed based on returning state points and returning state qualifiers.
Under the new rules, the Rockets will be facing different teams and wrestling in St. Paul for districts.
Coach Goebel said the new district assignment arrangement is an effort to make the selection process more fair for the state dual tourney.
Under the format of previous years, districts became loaded with top teams. That made it so that deserving dual teams were left at home for that last state tourney on the calendar.
“The nice thing about serpentine is that it’s trying to get the best teams to dual state,” said Coach Goebel.