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Zachary's Ashton Freeman, left, wrestles Holy Cross' Cole Balamonte in the finals of the Division I 220-pound weight class during the LHSAA state wrestling tournament, Feb. 27, 2021, at the Raising Canes River Center in Baton Rouge, La.

Zachary High head coach JP Pierre and assistant Ben McHugh come into the 2021-22 wrestling season with great expectations from several returners and some new faces who are anticipated to contribute immediately.

On the reduction on COVID-19 restrictions and a sense of normalcy, Pierre said, “It was really great to coach at an event this past weekend with people and faces.” Pierre also said COVID made recruiting new wrestlers during 2020 and 2021 problematic but a fresh batch of new wrestlers have come to add depth.

Key returners for the Broncos include 220-pound state champion Ashton Freeman, who will be bumping up to heavyweight. Freeman was undefeated last year and Pierre said, “We look forward to him getting back on the mat.” He will have to wait until after the football season to get Freeman, which hopefully ends after a state championship. Other senior football players Pierre will be waiting on include Cameron Walker, who finished third at state last year, and Riley Howard, who had to sit out last year’s wrestling season with a knee injury.

Voltaire Sanders, who placed sixth at 145 pounds during the state tournament last season, is poised for his senior campaign. “He has worked hard all summer and has shown a great deal of leadership at the start of this season,” Pierre said. The coaching staff is also excited about the other two returning seniors Mason David (120 pounds) and Jason O’Dell (182/195).

“They both had potential to make the podium at the state tournament last year and fell a little short. Their work ethic has been consistent since last season. I feel they will see the rewards of their efforts,” Pierre said.

Junior John Blanchard will likely start the season at 120 pounds and go down to 113 later in the season. Ethan White will split time at 126/132, with fellow junior Chase Rose at 138.

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“The juniors have been steadily improving and it has been good to see them learning from mistakes and fixing them to move forward,” Pierre said.

Pierre also expects newcomer sophomore Kentrell Plain to compete against freshman Gavyn Meadows for the 106 spot.

On the start of the season, Pierre said, “The competitions are local and we try to ease their bodies back into the swing of things. It gives us a chance to focus on development, letting their bodies get back into the grind, and getting to December where we typically get our football players back and work them back in.”

“We are moving forward and taking everything in stride. These are still times when things can change quickly. A semi-normal season is our main goal. Last year was rough on everyone. I think a return to normalcy is what we all want to see. Hopefully, we can stay in a good place with wrestling and thrive throughout the season,” Pierre said.

The Broncos will be in action at the Zachary High gym on Dec. 11 for the Big Horse Open, which traditionally has competitors from multiple states and some of the best talent in Louisiana. The Greater Baton Rouge City Championship will be held Jan. 28-29 at Catholic High School with the state meet at the River Center Feb. 10-12.

Warren Brady covers sports for The Plainsman. He can be contacted at