GARY | When former Roosevelt wrestler Lance Dillon returned home from college, he was surprised that his alma mater had discontinued his sport.
"I was a little disappointed," said Dillon, a local personal trainer.
Last year, Dillon took the initiative to restart wrestling at Roosevelt while serving as the Panthers' head coach. He immediately attracted interest -- even several girls went out for the team.
For Roosevelt's second year after its rebirth, the Panthers are scheduled to wrestle in enough matches to qualify to participate in sectionals. Dillon expects postseason success for sophomore 112-pounder Shawn Hardy and junior 125-pounder Devon Castro -- both returners from last season's team.
One major contention the Panthers have to deal with this season is practicing without a wrestling room. Last year, a burst water pipe severely damaged the room, which Dillon hopes will be ready by January.
"Right now, we're wrestling in the old band room," Dillon said. "We could only go two mats at a time. You really need at least three mats going for a good practice."
One thing Dillon and the Panthers have this year that they didn't have last is a full-time assistant coach in Sidney Davis, who primarily works with the heavier wrestlers.
Another program hoping to take another step forward is Roosevelt's cross-city rival Lew Wallace. The Hornets, led by seniors Xavier Rogers (119), Ismeal Santiago (130) and Montell Davis (Hwt.), and juniors David Thomas (171) and Kendrick Harris (189) sported a 4-2 record after the first two weeks of the season.
The Hornets will likely win their fourth-consecutive Northwestern Conference title, but coach David Walton expects more this season.
"We had some of our better wrestlers train at the Region Wrestling Academy (at Calumet High School) during the offseason," Walton said. "They've been exposed to the higher-caliber and state champion wrestlers who trained there, so that could only have helped them get better and know what to expect further down the line (during the postseason)."