The Walpole High wrestling team may be the defending Bay State Conference Herget Division champions, but the team that takes the mat this winter for the Rebels won’t bear much resemblance to the one that took home the program’s first league crown in 21 years.

Not only have graduation and other defections left Walpole plugging in new starters into 12 of the 14 spots in the ladder, but the Rebels also have a new head coach after Sean Petrosino left to take the same position at Bridgewater-Raynham.

Taking over is Steve Hile, who brings an impeccable resume as a former competitor, finishing as NCAA Division III runner-up at 167 pounds as senior at Ithaca College in 1986, and has plenty of familiarity with the program. Hile worked with many of the current Rebels while directing Walpole Youth Wrestling for the last six years and is the father of sophomore Colin Hile, as well.

“I thought long and hard about it,” said Hile of making the jump to the high school level. “I’ve been doing the Walpole youth program for six years and 11 total with youth, and you get to a point where you get pretty comfortable. With my son being a sophomore and being in the wrestling room last year helping out, I figured this is the opportunity. If I am going to be a head coach, this is my time.”

Hile joked that the coaching as been the easy part so far as compared to the paperwork, and that his transition has been made much smoother with 2009 Walpole High graduate John McKeon staying on staff as an assistant.

Walpole got its season underway on Saturday at Sharon by splitting a pair of matches, opening with a 46-15 win over Pembroke before falling 45-27 to the host Eagles. The trip was supposed to be a quad, but Plymouth North backed out.

A trio of Rebels won both of their matches as junior A.J. Servello at 220 and sophomore Tim Sullivan at 138 recorded a pair of pins, while junior Don Muho was 2-0 at 152.

“They looked very strong,” said Hile of the double winners.

The reconstructed lineup is comprised primarily of juniors and sophomore as Walpole does not have a senior on the squad. The Rebels graduated nine seniors from last year’s champs, including all-time wins leader Tyler Splaine, New England qualifier Luke Wassel, and Division 2 state runner-up Paul Kauranen.

“The program was built for four years with those wrestlers for last year,” said Hile. “We are starting from scratch a little bit here, but I like our team and I like our heart and determination. The kids are out there every day scrapping, which is what you have to do in wrestling, and that alone will win us some matches.”

With three more key contributors from last year either transferring or not coming out, most notably sectional champion Alex Takacs, Walpole has just two wrestlers that were full-time starters a year ago, Servello and 113-pound junior Anthony Borelli, who won a sectional title as a freshman.

Muho is the other Rebel with significant mat experience, stepping in to a prominent role due to injury late last year and shining, qualifying for states.

But the rest of the lineup is being thrown into the fire this year – sophomores Henry Morris (106), Pranav Sudhir (120), Connor Hope (126), Sullivan (138), Jake Valle (170), Sam Grant (182) and Hile (195), and juniors Kevin DeMuth (132) and John Shea (145) and Ryan Piersak (160).

As of now, the 285-pound heavyweight spot has not been filled, but Hile expects to send out a full lineup regularly.

Hile believes his team can compete for a .500 record this winter and have success individually, with the veterans Borelli, Muho and Servello the top candidates to make runs in the postseason, while also laying the groundwork for what could be a bright future.

“This is the learning year,” said Hile. “That’s the difference between this year and next, when we will have everyone in the lineup back.”