Going into the season with a roster 21 wrestlers deep, Brown County High School Head Coach Josh Sparks had a lot of expectations.

A team win against Indian Creek on Dec. 5 did not look likely before anyone even set foot on the mat.

Multiple wrestlers were unable to compete due to either illness or temporary injury. Several Eagles had to face opponents outside their regular weight class. The team also had to take three forfeits.

Still, Sparks was hoping for a stronger individual showing than what he saw. Junior Bryce Denton’s drawn-out match was the only Brown County win for the night. The Eagles lost 56-6.

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Sparks said Indian Creek is a good team and their wrestlers deserve credit for their performance.

“I just don’t think we looked good — no one looked ready to wrestle out there,” Sparks said. “We looked sloppy, slow.”

“All-in-all, this is not the same team that wrestled last week over at Jennings County,” he said.

At the Nov. 29 meet, the Eagles lost 51-22 while winning five individual matches. Even in their losses, the Eagles had done noticeably better in their meets leading up to the Indian Creek dual, Sparks said.

“I think people, mentally, have the capacity to beat themselves before they even wrestle,” he said.

Brown County has done very well against Indian Creek in the past, and Sparks doesn’t see any reason for his team to treat the rival school as anything to be afraid of.

“Trying to keep a big picture, hopefully this is just a minor wrinkle,” he said. “Just one win is not an acceptable thing.”

The Eagles have the potential for more team wins this year than last, when they only had two, Sparks said. Not only do they have a deeper roster to pull from, but the team has also been talking about an improved mentality.

Sparks hadn’t noticed the more positive attitude before wrestlers spoke about it, but he said he has seen the improvement in how the team performs on meet days.

“I felt like last year, we got outclassed at a lot of meets,” he said.

Outside of the loss to Indian Creek, even when the Eagles haven’t seen a team win this season, they are putting up more of a fight. Individuals aren’t getting pinned early, and if they lose, it more often is a point battle down to the end, Sparks said.

Against Indian Creek, senior Katelyn Butcher kept her opponent fighting to take any kind of control through the end of the third period.

Butcher is on the small side, even for the 106 weight class in which she wrestles. Yet, the senior — who wrestled briefly with the team in her sophomore year — can surprise her opponents and the crowd with escapes that are almost acrobatic.

“Yeah, they’ve got muscle on me sometimes, but you can catch them where they’re not really knowing what’s going to happen,” she said.

Butcher said it’s good to be back home in Brown County, but she’s still adjusting to the season. Two knee surgeries slowed her down in her time away from the area.

With a new split for boys and girls at the state level, Butcher has a good chance to go far in the postseason, Sparks said.

Senior Levi Mullins — a team captain — didn’t take a win away from the Indian Creek meet, but he is still having the best season of his career with an 8-4 record.

The improvement in his technique since last season is noticeable, and that was already a much better season than his sophomore year, Sparks said. Mullins has been competitive in even the majority of his losses.

Some athletes who have had seasons like some of his simply don’t come back for another one, Mullins said.

When asked why he sticks with it, his answer each season is the one thing that has never changed. “Just determination and not wanting to quit; just keep on going, because eventually, it will get better,” he said.

Meet the Eagles

Seniors: Katelyn Butcher, Justin Burns, Matthew Duncan, Cody Hobson, Levi Mullins, Ben Rygiel, Tristen Strunk

Juniors: Bryce Denton, Jacob Frist, Christian Fouts, Josh Parry, Jason Stratton

Sophomores: Kenny Eason, David Tucker

Freshmen: Reid Davis, Ben Gold, Jarrod Greiner, Jackson Kelp, Joey Romick, Nick Ponzo, Staley Turner

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Ben Kibbey is a Brown County transplant from the cornfields of central Ohio. He covers county government, business, outdoors, sports and general news.