INDEPENDENCE — The Central Panthers wrestling team, like others throughout the state, is settling back into a more typical routine as the season approaches.

A familiar start time — the first week of December — is back after a one-year, COVID-condensed season in late spring 2021.

The Panthers will be on the mat for real on Thursday, Dec. 2. It’s a home dual meet against Silverton, starting at 6 p.m.

Three of Central’s first four competitions this season will be dual meets. The second one is Dec. 8 at Dallas, and then South Albany pays a visit to Central on Dec. 15.

Central also has a trip to Cascade planned for Dec. 4 for a tournament that includes Dallas, Lebanon, Newport and Siuslaw.

Central wrestling coach Arnold Garcia was hoping to have a larger squad than last season, when 14 boys were on the team. And, as of last week, the coach had 25 to 27 wrestlers at his disposal.

“It’s really nice to double last year’s number,” he said.

One girl is out for wrestling, “and I think she’ll do good,” Garcia said of Issabell Branske, a junior.

She is in her first year of wrestling, but is “smart, strong and a quick learner,” Garcia said. She can aim high, he added, with a run at a state meet spot a decent bet for her at 103 pounds.

The squad welcomes back Nathan Garcia, the coach’s son, a former Central wrestler and state placer who will be an assistant coach. And new as a full-time, paid assistant coach is Nicholas Kunkle.

Arnold Garcia has been at Central on and off since 1983, serving as an assistant for 20 years. He’s also a Central grad and twice placed in the state meet.

Top returning boys on this year’s squad include junior Ethan Dunigan, senior Manuel Vela, junior Jose Lugo and senior Joey Pearson.

Last season, Dunigan made it to the Oregon Wrestling Association Class 5A final at 145 points. He placed second, after marching through the bracket with two wins by fall and then a 14-4 major decision in the semifinals.

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