WOODSTOCK – Certain circumstances led to Greg Stickles assuming an eleventh-hour role as Central’s head wrestling coach last season. Entering his second season, Stickles now finds himself in a more comfortable position as the Falcons prepare to open their season in a tournament at Loudoun County today.

Unlike last winter, Stickles entered the 2018-19 season knowing he would be Central’s head coach and had the chance to familiarize himself with his assistant coach, Jonathan Middleton, who joined the staff this season. Stickles said on Friday that it’s a relationship that began “clicking right away,” a dynamic that could help lay the groundwork for program-wide improvement that the Falcons hope begins this year.

“I’ve been seeing a lot more maturity this year out of my older kids that have been here,” Stickles said, “and I’ve got a bunch of younger kids, eighth-graders, that I have not seen since I’ve been part of the program here. I’m very excited for this year and the future going forward.”

Central, which has long battled low participation numbers, still sports a small roster with only 10 wrestlers — not even enough to fill out a full 14-man starting lineup — on the team this season, including four eighth-graders. But those numbers are up from last season, and Stickles will lead the quest for postseason success for several of his wrestlers while also keeping an eye on the future.

The Falcons have some established grapplers who could make some noise come playoff tournament time in February. Junior Billy Ball was the team’s lone state qualifier a season ago, and Stickles said he expects Ball to make a return trip to the Class 2 tournament at 170 pounds.

Stickles holds similar expectations for senior Jacob Scibelli, a two-state state tournament qualifier who missed out on a trip to Salem last year at 138 pounds. Stickles said Scibelli has bumped up to 145 this year and he sees the senior “maturing and doing what he has to do” to return to the state tournament.

Scibelli’s younger brother, Andrew, missed out on qualifying for the state tournament by one place in the Region 2B championships last season as a 106-pound freshman and could get over the hump this year, Stickles said.

Senior Alec Stickles, who will start the season at 220 pounds before dropping to 195, Greg Stickles said, has a goal of reaching the state championships in his final season, and could get there if he “gets his head in the right mindset,” according to his head coach.

Ball, Jacob Scibelli and Alec Stickles will also serve as the Falcons’ captains this winter.

“They’re all showing maturity and helping the eighth-graders learn,” Greg Stickles said, “plus pushing themselves to do what is best for the team, and pushing themselves to get ready for the season and helping the kids along the way.”

Generating interest in the wrestling program has to start somewhere, and Greg Stickles said he started holding open mats in late September and October that drew the eye of a couple of junior varsity football players. Stickles also enlisted the help of eighth-graders Isaac and Odane Dodd, who recruited classmates Kevin Jenkins III and Lane Stephens to the squad.

“We’ve got more boys, just more of them happen to be eighth-graders,” Stickles said. “But like I said, I’m excited. Because they’re eight-graders, that means I’ve got four more years past this year for them.”

Given the small roster size, it will be tough for Central to contend in team events. Stickles said he’s instead stressing the individualized nature of the sport and preaching progress for each of his wrestlers.

“I tell all the boys, they start off here, all I expect them to do is at the end of the season be up here,” Stickles said, extending his right hand above his left, “improve themselves. As you improve yourselves, that’s what I’m more focused in on.”

Contact Brad Fauber at bfauber@nvdaily.com