New weight classes could be advantage for Panthers
Matt Clark isn't concerned about a new weight system and a new section for the Park Rapids wrestling team.
Minnesota high school teams will now wrestle at 14 different weight classes: 106 pounds, 113, 120, 126, 132, 138, 145, 152, 160, 170, 182, 195, 220 and 285. Last year, the weights were 103, 112, 119, 125, 130, 135, 140, 145, 152, 160, 171, 189, 215 and 285.
That change could benefit the Panthers, who have enough wrestlers to fill the upper weights.
"They took out a middle weight and added an upper weight," said Clark. "The new weights actually help us because we have more big kids."
In addition to that change, the Panthers will return to Section 8AA after wrestling in Section 8A last season. Joining Park Rapids in Section 8AA are Crookston, Detroit Lakes, East Grand Forks, Fergus Falls, Fosston/Bagley, Perham, Pine River-Backus/Pequot Lakes, Roseau, Staples-Motley, Thief River Falls and United Clay-Becker. Thief River Falls is the defending Section 8AA champion.
In the pre-season state poll, Thief River Falls is rated No. 8 while Perham and Staples-Motley are also mentioned among the top Class AA teams.
"Both sections are tough, but 8AA is more deep," said Clark. "Our guys could go anywhere from first to sixth (at the section tournament)."
Looking to lead the Panthers to a successful season are the 14 wrestlers who competed on last year's team that went 10-12 in dual meets.
That list features seniors Zach Steffen, Caleb Abraham, Forrest Drury, Jeff Hemenway, Robert Borger, Cole Tretbar, Brandon Ritter and Rylee Smith; juniors Nick Schulz and Trai Schmidt; sophomore Laine Jensen; freshmen Ben Baumgartner and Zack Tretbar; and eighth grader Noah Schulz.
Ritter qualified for the state Class A tournament by winning a true-second match at heavyweight at the Section 8A tournament last season. Ritter, who lost his only match at state, finished with a 23-8 record and 11 pins at 215 and heavyweight last season. Ritter, who was an at-large Mid-State Conference selection, enters his senior season with a 31-15 career record and 14 pins.
Baumgartner just missed advancing to the state tournament by placing third at 112 pounds at the section meet last season. Baumgartner finished second on the team in wins by going 30-4 with 20 pins at 112 and 119. Baumgartner was the conference champion at 112 and enters the season with a 56-17 career record and 36 pins.
Steffen also just missed a state berth by placing third after losing a true-second match at 140 at the section tournament. Steffen finished with a 26-10 record with 16 pins at 140 and 145 and will carry a 57-71 career record with 27 pins into his senior season.
Drury also contended for a state berth by placing third after dropping a true-second match at 160 at the section meet. Drury finished fourth on the team in wins by going 24-11 with 14 pins at 160 and 171 last season. Drury, who was the runner-up at the conference meet, enters his senior season with a 47-71 career record and 26 pins.
Cole Tretbar returns in the upper weights after placing fourth at the section meet at 189. Tretbar had a 13-15 record with eight pins at 189, 215 and heavyweight last season. Tretbar enters his senior season with a 15-23 career record and nine pins.
Jensen finished sixth at the section meet at 119 and compiled a 15-20 record with eight pins at 119 and 125 last season. Jensen has a 30-53 career record with 16 pins.
Noah Schulz wrestled in the section tournament at 125 and finished the season with a 1-21 record at 125, 130 and 135.
Zack Tretbar finished the season with a 6-18 record at 130, 135 and 140 and competed at the section tournament at 130.
Also seeing varsity action last season were Schmidt (6-12 with one pin at heavyweight), Nick Schulz (3-6 with two pins at 152 and 160), Abraham (1-2 at 145), Borger (1-3 at 171 and 189), Hemenway (0-1 at 171) and Smith (1-3 with one pin at 215).
Senior Logan Schmaus, who competed at the section meet at 215, could miss the season with a knee injury. Schmaus went 4-7 with one pin at 215 last season.
Looking to fill in for the graduating class of Danny Pike (who qualified for two state meets and compiled a 79-32 career record with 50 pins, including a 35-6 record at 171 and 189 last season), Adam Branstrom (who went 12-15 at 140 and 145), Zac Haugland (who went 11-17 at 145 and 152) and Kevin Just (who went 17-19 at 152, 160 and 171) will be senior Brock Fritze; juniors Kyle Ritter and Lucas Weaver; sophomores Devin Fletcher, John Kyllonen and Garrick Scudder; and freshmen Jeff Dickinson and Brandon Johnson. Eighth grader Connor Byer and seventh graders Nolan Booge, Justin Dravis, Logan Johnson, Zachary Nelson, Anthony Ritter and Jared Sunram could also fill varsity spots.
Providing depth will be eighth grader Christopher Baxter and seventh graders Nathaniel Beck, Eric LaFountain, Austin Parker, Logan Veo and Christian Weiss-Borg.
"We're going to be really deep from 152 on up. We have plenty of upper classmen in the upper weights, but we're going to have to rely on some young kids to fill in the lower weights," said Clark. "We're going to have a different dual team than our tournament team. We're still in the process of figuring out where to put everyone. Everyone has a shot at wrestling on varsity at some point. It's going to be an interesting year."