Wrestlers had team, individual success
When reflecting back, Matt Clark thought the Park Rapids wrestling team had a successful season.
Clark's goals at the beginning of the season were to win at least 10 matches and send wrestlers to the state Class A meet. Going 10-12 in dual meets and qualifying two wrestlers - senior Danny Pike and junior Brandon Ritter - for state fulfilled those goals.
The Panthers opened the season by defeating Blackduck/Cass Lake-Bena (48-33) and United North Central (45-36) in a triangular meet at Menahga.
At the Park Rapids Invitational, the Panthers finished fifth with a 38-37 loss to Deer River, a 50-28 loss to Hibbing and a 45-30 win over BCLB.
Park Rapids dropped a 49-22 dual to New York Mills before finishing 18th out of 36 teams at the Big Bear Tournament at Cass Lake with 77 points. Fergus Falls won that tourney title with 180 points.
Perham posted a 46-28 win over the Panthers in a dual meet before Park Rapids split a triangular meet at East Grand Forks with a 34-24 win over the host team and a 42-21 loss to Thief River Falls.
The Panthers split a Mid-State Conference triangular with a 37-26 win over Pequot Lakes/Pine River-Backus and a 46-19 loss to Staples-Motley and followed by splitting conference matches with Detroit Lakes (a 46-27 loss) and Crosby-Ironton (a 57-18 win). Walker-Hackensack-Akeley/Nevis then defeated the Panthers 45-30.
At the 10-team Parkers Prairie tournament, the Panthers claimed runner-up honors with 166.50 points. Ottertail Central took first with 208 points.
Following a 54-21 loss to Crookston, the Panthers defeated Red Lake County Central (54-30), Parkers Prairie (51-24) and West Central Area (45-34) to even their dual record at 9-9. The Panthers also placed ninth out of 15 teams at the Thief River Falls tournament with 86.50 points. Badger/Greenbush-Middle River took first with 218 points.
Park Rapids ended the regular season with a 39-29 loss to Wadena-Deer Creek in the Mid-State finale, a fourth-place finish at the conference meet with 132 points (Staples-Motley took first with187.50 points), a 67-6 loss to Frazee and a 46-27 victory over Bagley/Fosston.
For the Section 8A tournament, the Panthers received the No. 5 seed and had their season come to an end with a 43-36 loss to No. 4 Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton.
Of Park Rapids' opponents this season, six were rated in the final state polls. Frazee (No. 2), W-DC (No. 22) and Crookston (No. 23) were rated in the state Class A poll while Thief River Falls (No. 9), Staples-Motley (No. 15) and Perham (No. 20) were rated in the state Class AA poll. Frazee shared the state Class A title while Thief River Falls advanced to the state Class AA tournament.
In the individual portion of the section tournament, Pike finished second at 171 pounds and Ritter won a true-second match at heavyweight to advance to state. Pike, who was rated No. 10 at 171 entering the section meet, capped his career by going 1-2 at state while Ritter lost his only match.
In addition to Pike and Ritter, 19 other wrestlers competed in a varsity match this season. That group featured seniors Adam Branstrom, Zac Haugland and Kevin Just; juniors Caleb Abraham, Robert Borger, Forrest Drury, Luke Hartig, Jeff Hemenway, Logan Schmaus, Rylee Smith, Zachary Steffen and Cole Tretbar; sophomores Trai Schmidt and Nick Schulz; freshman Laine Jensen; eighth graders Ben Baumgartner and Zack Tretbar; and seventh graders Devon Eischens and Noah Schulz.
Of that group, nine placed at the section meet. That group featured Pike (second at 171), Ritter (second at heavyweight), Baumgartner (third at 112), Steffen (third at 140), Branstrom (third at 145), Drury (third at 160), Just (fourth at 152), Cole Tretbar (fourth at 189) and Jensen (sixth at 119). Also wrestling at the section meet were Noah Schulz (125), Zack Tretbar (130) and Schmaus (215).
Pike was named the Panthers' Most Valuable Wrestler after leading the team in wins by going 35-6 with 20 pins at 171 and 189 pounds and qualifying for his second state tournament. Pike earned all-conference honors as the Mid-State champion at 171 pounds, finished first at Parkers Prairie, second at Thief River Falls and third at the Big Bear tourney. Pike concluded his career with a 79-32 record with 50 pins.
Ritter was fifth in wins by going 23-8 with 11 pins at 215 and heavyweight en route to earning his first state trip. Ritter also received all-conference honors and finished third at the Big Bear and sixth at Thief River Falls. Ritter has a 31-15 career record with 14 pins.
Baumgartner was second on the team in wins by going 30-4 with 20 pins at 112 and 119 and just missed a state berth by placing third at 112 pounds at the section meet. Baumgartner was the conference champion at 112, finished first at Parkers Prairie and took fourth at the Big Bear. Baumgartner, who was named the team's Most Determined Wrestler, improved his career record to 56-17 with 36 pins.
Steffen compiled a 26-10 record with 16 pins at 140 and 145 and just missed advancing to state with a loss in a true-second match at 140 at the section meet. Steffen placed third at the conference, Parkers Prairie and Thief River Falls meets and raised his career record to 57-71 with 27 pins.
Drury was fourth in wins with a 24-11 record and 14 pins at 160 and 171. Drury also contended for a state berth, losing a true-second match at 160 at the section meet. During the season, Drury finished second at the conference meet, second at Parkers Prairie and third at Thief River Falls. Drury, who was named the Panthers' Hardest Worker, has a 47-71 career record with 26 pins.
Just capped off his senior season by going 17-19 with eight pins at 152, 160 and 171. During the season, Just was the runner-up at Parkers Prairie and took fourth at the Thief River Falls, conference and section meets. Just, who received the Panthers' Spirit Award, concluded his career with a 38-74 record and 21 pins.
Jensen went 15-20 with eight pins at 119 and 125 and took sixth at the section meet. Jensen also finished fifth at the conference meet and sixth at Parkers Prairie en route to raising his career record to 30-53 with 16 pins.
Cole Tretbar was named the Panthers' Most Improved Wrestler after going 13-15 with eight pins at 189, 215 and heavyweight. Tretbar placed fourth at the section meet.
Branstrom capped off his senior season by just missing a state berth by losing a true-second match at 145 at the section meet. Branstrom went 12-15 with nine pins at 140 and 145 this season to raise his career record to 51-88 with 29 pins. Branstrom took third at the conference meet and at Parkers Prairie.
Haugland was the Panthers' other wrestler to reach double digits in wins by going 11-17 with seven pins at 145 and 152. Haugland, who finished fifth at Parkers Prairie, concluded his career with a 17-38 record and 11 pins.
Hartig went 7-5 with three pins at 125, 130 and 135 to raise his career record to 18-26 with nine pins. Hartig placed sixth at the Big Bear.
Schmidt went 6-12 with one pin at heavyweight. Schmidt placed third at the conference meet and sixth at Parkers Prairie.
Zack Tretbar compiled a 6-18 record with one pin at 130, 135 and 140. Tretbar also finished third at the Mid-State meet.
Schmaus had a 4-7-1 record at 215 and took fourth at the conference meet.
Nick Schulz compiled a 3-6 record with two pins at 152 and 160 and took fourth at Parkers Prairie.
Also contributing on the varsity this season were Eischens (0-10 at 103), Noah Schulz (who took fifth at the conference meet and went 1-21 at 125, 130 and 135), 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).
In junior varsity matches, Nick Schulz, Haugland, Smith and Abraham won titles at the conference meet while Baumgartner and Jensen won titles at the Brainerd tournament. Nick Schulz, Borger, Schmaus and Schmidt were runners-up at the Thief River Falls tournament.
"We got our 10 wins and we had a lot of individual success," said Clark. "We won most of our close matches and we had chances to win some other matches. We had two kids go on to state and three others who lost in true-second matches. We also had some young kids get some experience and wins for us."
Looking ahead to next season, the Panthers will have to replace the 185 wins Pike, Branstrom, Just and Haugland contributed over their careers. On the positive side, the Panthers return plenty of experience and talent to once again attain goals of winning at least 10 matches and qualifying multiple wrestlers for state.
"We lose some good seniors, but we'll have a good core of kids coming back," said Clark. "We won't have a lot of depth, but we should be OK next year."