SKOWHEGAN — It was a tough offseason for the Skowhegan wrestling team. And the list of players moving on was daunting enough to make any coach wince.

Tenney Noyes, though, barely blinked.

“Every year you graduate a great group of seniors,” he said. “Each year we know we’ve got a brand-new team. You pull out one or two individuals, insert one or two individuals, dynamics are completely different every year.”

If Noyes, who’s in his 14th year coaching along with Brooks Thompson, sounds confident, he has reason to be. Few teams in the state have been as consistent as the Indians, who haven’t finished outside the top three in the Class A North region since 2010 and haven’t finished outside of the top four in the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference or the top six in the state since 2011.

Wrestlers come and go. But year after year, Skowhegan turns the ones it has into conference, regional or state champions. Or close to it.

“We’ve got a great young group of kids who work hard, want to learn, they’re here every day, they put in the effort,” Noyes said, “and come the end of the year, people will be learning their names for next year.”

That task has rarely been tougher than it will be this winter. Skowhegan had five A North finalists and three champions (Jake Craig, Samson Sirois and Jon Bell), with two of them (Craig and Sirois) winning state titles. All are gone. The Indians had seven wrestlers altogether make the top four of their weight classes in either the KVAC or A North tournament. Only one — Dakota Melvin, who was fourth in the region at 220 pounds — is back.

Skowhegan’s Jack Melvin gets pinned by Travis Doucette as CJ Lightboy taps Melvin out during practice Tuesday in Skowhegan. Staff photo by Michael G. Seamans

One loss in particular stung. Craig, the defending state champion at 106 pounds, would have only been a sophomore and a heavy favorite to bring another title to Skowhegan, but chose instead to attend The Hill School in Pennsylvania.

“For selfish reasons, we’re disappointed to lose Jake,” Noyes said. “But that opportunity that he has down there at The Hill School, you can’t pass that up. It’d be selfish of me to say ‘Don’t take that great opportunity, come back to Skowhegan and wrestle.’ He’s in a hotbed of wrestling down there in Pennsylvania.”

Still, bring the focus back to the wrestlers who are back for the Indians, and the confidence returns.

“When you work with a kid that much and you grow close to them and their family, you miss seeing them day in and day out,” Noyes said. “But once the season gets going, you get a grasp of the new team, everybody bonds and it’s off to the races.”

The core coming back is inexperienced, but Noyes likes the potential, and his enthusiasm has rubbed off on the veteran wrestlers — a group including Melvin, junior Robert Davies (who reached the third round of the consolation bracket at 126 pounds in the KVACs) and senior Brennen Boulette (third round of the KVAC consolation bracket at 220).

“I feel like this season is going to turn out really well,” Melvin, a senior, said. “Overall, I think we’re a great team.”

Melvin said the veterans coming back shouldn’t just try to fill the void of the champions and finalists that moved on.

“They were their own people,” he said. “We have new people coming in that should make their own name for themselves. We’re trying to help create that this season.”

Historically, Skowhegan has had little trouble doing that. The Indians’ results don’t vary too much, and Noyes said the annual success is a product of a community effort, from a stable feeder program to supportive parents to a helpful athletic administration.

“It’s a lot of hard work by a lot of individuals,” Noyes said. “We have a feeder program, we have great roots down there. Our parents in this community, the community help that we get is huge. Our athletic director, Jon Christopher, does great things for everybody here. … The kids’ parents instill a good work ethic, the kids show up with a good work ethic.”

Noyes has been seeing that already with the newest wave of talent. It’s a group that ranges throughout the spectrum in terms of experience, from freshman heavyweight Braden Doucette, who’s been wrestling since the pee-wee level, to freshman 106-pounder Emma Shaw, former wrestler Chandler Shaw’s sister, who is brand-new to the sport.

“On a good day, she weighs 90 pounds if she’s holding some stuff in her hands,” Noyes said. “(But) she’s going to be a hammer. Her work ethic is awesome.”

It’s a mix that Noyes and his wrestlers are excited about, and that they’re confident that, with a little bit of veteran experience to guide them, can become yet another contender by the end of the season.

“I’m seeing a great wave of talent,” Melvin said. “As a senior, I want to be able to have a great team and work with all of them. … From what I see, this team is already growing so well.”

Drew Bonifant — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @dbonifantMTM

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