Wrestlers focus on individual successes
With only four high school wrestlers who saw extensive varsity time last season returning, winning dual meets could be a problem for the Park Rapids wrestling team this season.
On the positive side, the Panthers have some talented individuals and solid numbers at the junior high level, which bodes well for the future.
The graduation of eight seniors who combined for 125 victories last season leaves the Panthers will several key spots to fill. Heading that list were Forrest Drury, Brandon Ritter, Zachary Steffen and Cole Tretbar.
Drury won the Section 8AA title at 170 pound and finished sixth at the state tournament to cap off a 36-8 season. Ritter was the section runner-up at 220 pounds and also finished sixth at the state tournament to cap off a 25-4 season. Steffen went 28-14 and took third at 152 pounds at the section meet. Tretbar compiled a 24-13 record in the upper weights.
Returning to lead the Panthers this season are seniors Kyle Ritter and Trai Schmidt; junior John Kyllonen; sophomore Ben Baumgartner; and eighth graders Justin Dravis, Nolan Booge and Jared Sunram.
Baumgartner led the Panthers in wins by going 40-7 with 23 pins and qualified for his first state tournament as the section champion at 120. Baumgartner ended the season by placing sixth at the state meet. Baumgartner also received Mid-State Conference honors as the conference runner-up at 120 and will carry a 96-24 career record with 59 pins into the season. Baumgartner will wrestle at 145 this season.
Kyllonen also placed at the section tournament, taking fifth at 182 pounds. Kyllonen went 21-16 with 12 pins last season and was the conference runner-up at 182. Kyllonen will return at 182 this winter.
Booge also finished fifth at the section meet at 106 pounds and took fourth at the conference meet to end the season with a 20-13 record and 12 pins. Booge will wrestle at 120.
Dravis finished sixth at the section meet at 138 pounds and finished third at the conference meet. Dravis compiled a 16-8 record with eight pins last season. Dravis will return at 138.
Schmidt went 12-14 with three pins at heavyweight and placed third at the conference meet at that weight. Schmidt will wrestle at 220.
Ritter compiled a 6-10 record with two pins at 195 and 220. Ritter will start the season at 195.
Sunram competed at the section meet at 113 pounds and finished with a 13-10 record and six pins. Sunram will wrestle at 113.
Also returning with some varsity experience are senior Lucas Weaver (0-1 at 160), freshman Chris Baxter (0-2 at heavyweight) and eighth grader Anthony Ritter (0-10 at 120 and 126).
Competing for varsity spots will be senior Chris Shaw; freshman Riley Wilcox; eighth graders Nathaniel Beck, Zachary Nelson, Austin Parker, Randall Scott and Logan Veo; and seventh graders Landen Burlingame, Tanner Eischens, Andrew Goltz, Zachary Hocking, Dwayne Johnson, Tanner Lewis and Dawson Roth.
"Our lack of numbers in our upper grades is a major concern," said Clark, who will be assisted by Brett Bishop, Jeff Dravis and Mike Baumgartner. "A big positive for the program is the numbers in the lower grades. Not only are the numbers good, but the quality of the kids is good."
Last year, the Panthers went 16-8 in dual meets and received the No. 5 seed for the Section 8AA tournament, losing to No. 4 Fergus Falls in the second round. Although the Panthers could struggle to produce a winning record in dual meets, Clark is counting on the Panthers to send at least one wrestler to the state meet.
"I have a feeling our dual record may not be very good," said Clark. "It is going to be a challenge to put a competitive team on the mat for every event. We do have a returning all-state athlete in Ben and have three other athletes (Booge, Dravis and Kyllonen) that placed in the section tournament last year. A key for us this year is to give our young kids quality matches and monitor their progression."