Wrestlers relying on youth to be competitive
Even with only one senior and two juniors returning from last year’s team, the Park Rapids wrestling team will put an experienced lineup on the mat this season.
The Panthers return 14 wrestlers who saw action on a team that went 11-12 in dual meets. Heading that list are five wrestlers who placed at the Section 8AA meet: senior John Kyllonen, junior Ben Baumgartner, sophomore Chris Baxter, and freshmen Justin Dravis and Jared Sunram.
Kyllonen won the section title at 182 pounds to earn a trip to the state Class AA tournament. Kyllonen was second in wins by going 29-9 and led the team with 20 pins while wrestling at 170, 182 and 195. Kyllonen has a 50-25 career record with 32 pins.
Baumgartner led the Panthers in wins by going 33-2 with 14 pins at 132, 138 and 145 to raise his career record to 129-26 with 73 pins. Baumgartner finished third at the section meet at 132. However, Baumgartner is recovering from a broken wrist suffered during the football season and could miss the entire season.
Sunram just missed qualifying for state by placing third at 106 at last year’s section meet. Sunram compiled a 20-14 record with 10 pins at 106 and 113 a year ago.
Dravis compiled a 26-12 record with 17 pins at 138, 145 and 152. Dravis finished fifth at 145 at the section meet.
Baxter went 11-22 with nine pins at heavyweight and placed sixth at that weight at the section meet.
Also returning from last year’s section team are junior Jeff Dickinson; freshmen Nolan Booge, Zach Nelson and Logan Johnson; and eighth grader Zach Hocking.
Dickinson competed at the section meet at 170 pounds and compiled a 12-11 record with five pins at 170, 182 and 195.
Booge went 26-11 with 18 pins at 120 and 126 and wrestled at the section meet at 120.
Nelson had a 5-13 record with three pins at 126, 132 and 138 and wrestled at 138 at the section meet.
Johnson tallied a 2-14 record with two pins at 126, 132 and 138 and wrestled at 126 at the section meet.
Hocking went 0-9 at 152 and 160 and was the Panthers’ section entrant at 152.
Five other wrestlers return with varsity experience. That group features senior Laine Jensen (who didn’t compete in wrestling last season but has a 34-56 career record with 17 pins); freshmen Randall Scott (1-2 at 138), Nathaniel Beck (1-2 at 182 and 95) and Logan Veo (4-9 at 195 and 220); and eighth grader Dwayne Johnson (0-2 at 160 and 170).
Looking to fill in for last year’s senior group of Lucas Weaver (10-13 at 152, 160 and 170), Kyle Ritter (1-4 at 182 and 195), Chris Shaw (2-9 at 195) and Trai Schmidt (16-8 at 220) will be seventh graders Dawson Roth, Landen Burlingame, Ashton Clark, Toby Ritter and Blake Sellion at 106; eighth grader Andrew Goltz at 113; seventh grader Kian Scott at 126; junior Jacob Gasbarro and seventh grader Kaleb Vang at 138; seventh grader Jack Hensel at 145; freshman Anthony Ritter at 152; Jensen and seventh grader Cody Dravis at 160; eighth grader Jacob Berg at 170; freshman Jacob Bittmann at 195; and freshman Keith McDaniel at 220.
The Panthers will face some different competition this season after moving to Section 8A and seeing the Mid-State Conference combine with the Heart O’Lakes Conference. Even though the Panthers will field a young team, head coach Matt Clark is looking for the younger kids to produce again and make the Panthers competitive.
“We have a lot of young kids back who did pretty well for us last year. Hopefully they’ll step up a little more this year,” said Clark. “If we can spread the kids out and if they wrestle to their potential, we can compete with most teams in our section. We’ll see how much they progress during the season and see how things go.”