East Peoria has a robust wrestling roster as it seeks a fulfilling season.
After finishing as the runner-up to Washington the last two seasons, the Raiders again are targeting a Mid-Illini Conference championship.
Nearly 60 grapplers were in the Phil Johns-led program as of last week.
"This is definitely the best team I've been a part of in my four years here," senior Lucas Joseph said.
Joseph was the Illinois High School Association Class 2A state runner-up in 220 pounds last year — the best finish ever for an East Peoria wrestler.
He also won Washington Regional and Sterling Sectional crowns in a 44-1 season.
Joseph achieved his second consecutive conference title.
Joseph returns to the same weight class, excited and nervous about trying to take the next step and win a gold medal.
"There are good wrestlers every year. You still have to perform," he said.
In the 195 division, senior Kade McDonald is back after earning first-team all-league honors and a regional championship in a 28-16 campaign.
"I feel like we'll have pretty good success this year," he said. "We'll carry momentum from football right over."
McDonald said he would like to repeat his M-I and regional championships and add a sectional crown and state place to his resumé.
Senior Austin Harper and junior Casey McWhirter are two of the lightweights making that section of the East Peoria line-up strong.
"My goal is to make it out of the sectional this year," said Harper, who was 30-13 in 2011-12. "There's not as much pressure. I feel like I can handle everything a lot better."
After a second-team all-conference season, his second in a row, Harper was the regional runner-up.
Harper, who projects to move up to 120 from 113, gave a nod to the "great coaches" at East Peoria who are preparing the wrestlers.
McWhirter was a league champion at 120 pounds as a sophomore after making the second team in his first season.
He also was a sectional qualifier, capping a 33-10 year. McWhirter was the third Raider regional title winner.
"I'm really excited about this year," said McWhirter, who steps up to 126. "I worked real hard over the summer and I think I'm ready for this year."
A goal is to place at the state tournament.
McWhirter said he would like to see the team make the dual team sectional, which would happen with an East Peoria regional championship.
Drew Foster, a junior, was a 26-match winner last season and reached the sectional level in 145.
Like many of his teammates, Foster thinks the Raiders have the weapons to contend with Washington.
"I hope we get that conference title this year," said Foster, who will be at 152.
Page 2 of 2 - Individually, he would like to obtain a conference title and qualify for state.
Other members of the East Peoria Class of 2013 listed are: Calvin Bristol, Kyle Goodman and James Linsey.
At this point, the Raiders seem strongest in the upper and lower weight classes and they are looking for people to solidify roles in the middle.
The Raiders, Washington and Canton all were 5-1 in M-I duals in '11-12.
The Panthers won the conference tournament to take the overall championship, while East Peoria edged the Little Giants for second.
Except for some minor tweaks with opponents, this year's Raider schedule is the same.
They will host the varsity league tournament Jan. 26.
The East Peoria season begins Tuesday with a home dual vs. Normal West.
The Raiders open conference action Nov. 30 with Canton at Pekin.