Being moved to Section 8A this season proved to be a good fit for the Park Rapids wrestling team.
The Panthers took advantage of being moved from Section 8AA by qualifying four wrestlers for the state Class A tournament and having nine other wrestlers place at the Section 8A meet.
Seniors Jared Nash, John Drury and Kenny Weaver and junior Danny Pike qualified for the state meet with runner-up finishes at the section meet. Nash was the runner-up at 171 pounds, Drury took second at 189, Weaver was the runner-up at heavyweight and Pike finished second at 160 as all four earned their first state trips.
At state, the Panthers brought home two medals when Nash ended up placing fourth and Drury finished sixth to cap off a successful season for the Panthers. Nash and Drury shared the team's Most Valuable Wrestler award.
"We had one of our better post seasons in recent years," said Park Rapids head coach Matt Clark. "We had 13 wrestlers place at the section tournament and we sent four to state and two of those placed. You want to be wrestling your best at the end of the year and that's what we did."
The Panthers had a successful dual-meet season by going 10-13. That was an improvement over last year's 9-16 record and could have been even better since four of those losses were by three points or less.
Park Rapids opened the season by defeating United North Central 63-18 and Blackduck/Cass Lake-Bena 71-12 and dropping a 34-31 decision to Lisbon, N.D.
At the Park Rapids Invitational, the Panthers were defeated by Apple Valley 48-12 and Wadena-Deer Creek 43-34 before defeating BCLB 58-21 for fifth place.
The Panthers ended the 2009 portion of the schedule with a 39-36 loss to New York Mills and a 14th-place finish at the 31-team Big Bear Tournament in Cass Lake. Fergus Falls won that title with 204.50 points while the Panthers tallied 98.50 points.
Clark's team then lost to Perham (50-21) and Thief River Falls (54-15) to open 2010 before defeating East Grand Forks (60-10).
The Mid-State Conference season opened with a 45-30 victory over Pequot Lakes/Pine River-Backus, a pair of 38-27 losses to Staples-Motley and Detroit Lakes, and a 51-23 win over Crosby-Ironton.
A 55-19 win over Walker-Hackensack-Akeley/Nevis was followed with a 44-30 loss to Crookston and a 44-24 win over Roseau. The Panthers then competed in a tournament at Thief River Falls where no team scores were kept.
After losses to West Central Area (38-35) and Wadena-Deer Creek (31-30 in the conference finale), the Panthers placed sixth at the 10-team Northwest Invitational at Fertile with 101 points. Badger-Greenbush-Middle River took first with 211 points.
Park Rapids then closed out the regular season with a 58-10 loss to Frazee, a 66-18 win over Red Lake County Central and a 40-28 victory over Fosston/Bagley.
The Panthers received the No. 6 seed for the Section 8A tournament and were eliminated with a 42-28 loss to No. 3 Crookston in the quarterfinals. Frazee defeated Crookston 39-19 in the section finals.
Seven teams that the Panthers wrestled this year were ranked in the final state polls. Apple Valley was No. 1 in the state Class AAA poll and won the state title. Thief River Falls (No. 10), Perham (No. 15) and Staples-Motley (No. 21) were rated in the state Class AA poll while Frazee (No. 1), Crookston (No. 12) and New York Mills (No. 26) were rated in the state Class A poll. Frazee finished second at state while Thief River Falls qualified for state.
"We were so close to being a really good team in dual meets," said Clark. "We had another tough schedule, but we could have had one of our best dual records if we could have turned half of our losses around."
Leading the Panthers this season were the four state qualifiers.
Nash went 34-7 with 12 pins and took first at Thief River Falls and Fertile and finished second at the Big Bear. Nash ended his career at Park Rapids with a 95-31 record with 30 pins. Nash also had seven varsity wins while wrestling in West Virginia for 102 career wins.
Drury compiled a 26-8 record with 20 pins to push his career record to 62-26 with 40 pins. Drury took first at the Big Bear and Thief River Falls tournaments.
Weaver went 24-7 with 18 pins this season to raise his career record to 51-43 with 36 pins. Weaver was the runner-up at Thief River Falls and went 1-2 in his state debut. Weaver shared the team's Most Improved Wrestler award.
Pike finished with a 30-8 record with 24 pins and lost his only match at state. Pike, who received the team's Hardest Worker award, took first at Thief River Falls and was the runner-up at Fertile.
Also helping the Panthers to a successful season were seniors Caleb Atkins, Cameron Free, Dylan Holmer and Michael Sandretzky; juniors Adam Branstrom, Zac Haugland and Kevin Just; sophomores Forrest Drury, Luke Hartig, Brandon Ritter, Zachary Steffen and Cole Tretbar; freshman Nick Schulz; eighth grader Laine Jensen; and seventh graders Ben Baumgartner and Zack Tretbar.
Baumgartner had a 26-13 record with 16 pins at 103 and 112 in his varsity debut. Baumgartner just missed qualifying for state by losing a true-second match at 103 in placing third at the section meet. Baumgartner also took fifth at the Big Bear, second at Thief River Falls and third at Fertile. Baumgartner received the team's Most Determined Wrestler award.
Hartig shared the team's Most Improved Wrestler award after going 11-21 with six pins in his varsity debut. Hartig finished fourth at the section meet at 130 and took second at Thief River Falls.
Forrest Drury missed most of the season with an injury, but returned to go 8-8 with three pins at 152. Drury finished fourth at that weight at the section meet and raised his career record to 23-60 with 12 pins.
Branstrom wrestled at 135 and posted a 13-19 record with seven pins to raise his career mark to 39-73 with 20 pins. Branstrom finished fifth at the section meet and was third at Thief River Falls.
Steffen wrestled at 140-152 and compiled an 18-17 record with five pins. Steffen finished fifth at 140 at the section meet, was the champion at Thief River Falls and placed second at Fertile. Steffen has a career record of 31-61 with 11 pins.
Holmer capped his senior season with a 14-12 record and 10 pins to end his varsity career with a 34-41 record and 17 pins. Holmer finished sixth at 125 at the section meet.
Free finished sixth at 119 at the section meet to cap off a 6-15 record with three pins. Free went 14-37 with six pins during his varsity career.
Just received the team's Spirit Award after going 9-23 with seven pins. Just placed sixth at 145 at the section meet, was the runner-up at Thief River Falls and took fifth at Fertile. Just has a 21-55 career record with 13 pins.
Jensen was a section competitor at 112 and compiled an 8-13 record with seven pins at 103 and 112. Jensen has a career record of 15-33 with eight pins.
Haugland wrestled at 140 and 145 and went 6-11 with four pins.
Cole Tretbar filled in at 189 and 215 and took sixth at 215 at the section meet. Tretbar had a 2-8 record with one pin in his first varsity season.
Sandretzky went 3-16 with one pin at 112 and 119 this season. Sandretzky took second at Thief River Falls and finished fifth at Fertile to end his varsity career with a 10-34 record.
Ritter wrestled at 215 and went 8-7 with three pins in his first varsity season at Park Rapids. Ritter was the runner-up at Thief River Falls.
Also seeing some varsity action this season were Schulz (1-9 at 145), Zack Tretbar (1-1 at 125) and Atkins (1-3 at 215).
Looking ahead to next season, the Panthers have five starting spots to replace. However, the return of 13 wrestlers who saw varsity action has Clark anticipating another successful season next year.
"It's going to be hard to fill those holes. The seniors gave us a lot of wins and a lot of pins," said Clark. "We have eight kids back who placed at the section tournament. We'll need those kids and some of the younger kids to step up."