With only eight wrestlers at the high school level, Matt Clark didn’t know what to expect from the Park Rapids wrestling team this season.
Major contributions from a group of junior high wrestlers helped the Panthers put a competitive team on the mat.
The Panthers finished with an 11-12 record in dual meets and had five wrestlers place at the Section 8AA tournament. Capping off the season was having junior John Kyllonen win the section title at 182 pounds to qualify for the state Class AA tournament.
Park Rapids opened the season by dropping dual meets to United North Central (62-10) and Blackduck/Cass Lake-Bena (42-33).
At the Park Rapids Invitational, the Panthers defeated Deer River (51-18) before dropping matches to Lisbon (51-24) and BCLB (44-30). Losses to New York Mills (54-15) and Perham (60-13), a win over Staples-Motley (48-34) and losses to Pequot Lakes/Pine River-Backus (61-9) and Detroit Lakes (56-6) left the Panthers with a 2-8 record in dual meets. Park Rapids also tied for 20th place out of 35 teams at the Big Bear Tournament at Cass Lake with 63.50 points. Hutchinson won the team title with 213 points.
The Panthers closed the season on a strong note by going 9-3 in their final 12 duals.
Park Rapids defeated Walker-Hackensack-Akeley/Nevis (49-30) and Virginia (59-18) before dropping a dual to Crookston (54-20). Wins over Prairie Valley (48-30), Red Lake County Central (45-30) and Deer River (48-27) followed before the Panthers finished eighth at the Thief River Falls tournament with 83 points. Badger/Greenbush/Middle River took first with 226 points.
After a close loss to West Central (39-38), the Panthers finished fifth at the Mid-State Conference tournament with 77 points as only six wrestlers competed. PLPRB won the conference title with 218 points.
Park Rapids closed out the regular season with conference wins over Wadena-Deer Creek (56-21) and Crosby-Ironton (54-28), a loss to Thief River Falls (60-15), and wins over East Grand Forks (57-18) and Fosston/Bagley (42-33). The Panthers finished seventh at the Parkers Prairie tournament with 108 points. Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa took first with 227.50 points.
For the Section 8AA tournament, the Panthers received the No. 7 seed, but were eliminated in the first round by No. 10 East Grand Forks (47-36).
Six of the Panthers’ opponents were rated in the final state polls. Perham (No. 10), Detroit Lakes (No. 13), PLPRB (No. 15) and Thief River Falls (No. 20) were rated in the Class AA poll while United North Central (No. 16) and New York Mills (No. 24) were rated in the Class A poll.
“At the beginning of the season, I thought if we could get seven wins it would be a good year. We ended up with 11 wins and we could have won a couple more,” said Clark. “The younger kids really stepped up and did a nice job for us.”
The Panthers had 22 different wrestlers compete in a varsity meet this season. In addition to Kyllonen, that group featured seniors Kyle Ritter, Trai Schmidt, Chris Shaw and Luke Weaver; sophomores Ben Baumgartner and Jeff Dickinson; freshman Chris Baxter; eighth graders Nolan Booge, Justin Dravis, Jared Sunram, Zach Nelson, Nathan Beck, Logan Veo, Austin Parker, Logan Johnson and Randall Scott; and seventh graders Zach Hocking, Tanner Lewis, Adrian Ness and Dwayne Johnson.
Baumgartner was named the Panthers’ MVP and Hardest Worker after leading the team in wins by going 33-2 with 14 pins at 132, 138 and 145 pounds to raise his career record to 129-26 with 73 pins. Baumgartner holds the No. 6 spot in career wins behind Tyler Safratowich (146), Colter Uscola (138), Mike Jacobson (137), Joey Meinert (137) and Eric Niemi (132). Baumgartner won titles at the Big Bear, Parkers Prairie and Thief River Falls tournaments and earned Mid-State Conference honors. Baumgartner ended the season by placing third at 132 pounds at the section meet.
Kyllonen was second in wins with a 29-9 record and led the team with 20 pins at 170, 182 and 195 pounds. Kyllonen, who was the runner-up at the Parkers Prairie and Mid-State meets and finished fifth at Thief River Falls, ended the year by qualifying for the state meet as the section champion at 182 pounds. Kyllonen lost his first match at state and was eliminated. Kyllonen, who improved his career record to 59-25 with 32 pins, received the Team Spirit Award.
Dravis tied for third in wins by going 26-12 and was third in pins with 17 to raise his career record to 44-20 with 25 pins. Dravis (who wrestled at 138, 145 and 152) placed fourth at the conference meet and fifth at Thief River Falls before ending the season by placing fifth at 145 at the section meet. Dravis was named the team’s Most Determined.
Booge shared third place on the team in wins by going 26-11 and was second in pins with 18 to raise his career record to 46-24 with 30 pins. Booge wrestled at 120 and 126 and was the runner-up at the Mid-State meet, placed fifth at Thief River Falls and finished sixth at the Big Bear. Booge competed at 120 at the section meet.
Sunram was fifth in wins with a 20-14 record and 10 pins to raise his career record to 33-24 with 16 pins. Sunram, who wrestled at 106 and 113, placed third at the conference meet and just missed a state berth by placing third at 106 at the section meet.
Schmidt capped off his senior season by going 16-8 with five pins at 220. Schmidt took first at Parkers Prairie and second at the Mid-State meet to end his career with a 34-36 overall record.
Dickinson compiled a 12-11 record and five pins at 170, 182 and 195. Dickinson placed third at Parkers Prairie and competed at the section meet at 170. Dickinson was named the Panthers’ Most Improved.
Baxter was the Panthers’ starter at heavyweight and went 11-22 with nine pins. Baxter took fourth at Parkers Prairie and ended the year by placing sixth at the section meet.
Weaver compiled a 10-13 record with six pins at 152, 160 and 170. Weaver finished sixth at Thief River Falls.
Nelson went 5-13 with three pins at 126, 132 and 138. Nelson placed fifth at Parkers Prairie and the conference meets and wrestled at 138 at the section meet. Nelson received the Panthers’ Up and Coming Wrestler honor.
Lewis competed at the section meet at 113 and compiled a 3-6 record with one pin.
Logan Johnson went 2-14 with two pins at 126, 132 and 138. Johnson wrestled at 126 at the section meet. Johnson received the Panthers’ Up and Coming Wrestler honor.
Hocking wrestled at 152 at the section meet and went 0-9 at 152 and 160.
Also seeing some varsity time this season were Parker (5-6 record at 145, 152 and 160), Veo (4-9 record at 195 and 220), Shaw (2-9 record with one pin at 195), Ritter (1-4 record at 182 and 195), Beck (1-2 record at 182 and 195), Ness (1-3 record at 106), Scott (1-2 record at 138) and Dwayne Johnson (0-2 at 160 and 170). Beck (fourth) and Veo (sixth) placed at Parkers Prairie while Scott was named the Panthers’ Rookie of the Year.
“Going in (to the section tournament), I thought we had a good shot at about three kids that could make it to state. I also thought we had a few others that could place,” said Clark. “Most of the team got sick prior to the tournament, so I knew we were going to have a hard time winning the close matches. I thought John had a good chance to make it to state. It’s nice to get that experience to build on for next year.”
Looking ahead to next season, Clark is expecting the Panthers to put another competitive group on the mat and challenge for more state berths as Park Rapids moves from Section 8AA to Section 8A.
“I’m hoping to put a decent squad together and be even more competitive next year,” said Clark. “It was fun to watch the kids’ progress this year. If we can keep the kids spread out and cover all the weights, we should be a lot stronger next year. If everyone stays together, we’re only going to get better and better.”