Wrestlers seek more dual wins
With 16 wrestlers returning who saw some varsity action a year ago, Matt Clark is expecting the Park Rapids wrestling team to improve on last year's record in dual meets and qualify at least one individual for the state Class AA tournament.
A year ago the Panthers finished with a 7-15 record in dual meets and qualified two individuals for the state tournament. Joey Meinert, Chris Sandretzky and Paul Massie graduated from that team, leaving the Panthers with three key spots to fill.
Meinert compiled a 137-85 career record and qualified for three state tournaments and Sandretzky had a 21-14 record last season. Meinert, who is tied for second for most wins in school history, won the Section 8AA title at 140 pounds, Sandretzky placed fourth at 119 pounds at the section meet and Massie competed at 171 pounds last season.
On the positive side, the Panthers will return five wrestlers who won at least 18 matches last season. That group features seniors Lee Branstrom, Colter Uscola and Tony Sperle, and juniors Derek Werner and Matt Weaver.
Branstrom qualified for his first state tournament last season by winning the Section 8AA title at 189 pounds. Branstrom finished sixth in his state debut to cap off a 34-5 season, including 28 pins. The team's Most Valuable Wrestler will carry a 98-57 career record and 68 pins into his senior season. Branstrom enters the season ranked No. 3 at 189 pounds in the initial state Class AA poll.
Uscola became the 10th wrestler in school history to surpass 100 career wins and just missed returning to state after placing third at 135 pounds at the section meet. Uscola had a 28-5 record with 14 pins last season to raise his career record to 101-53 with 59 pins. Uscola is rated No. 10 at 152 pounds in the first state Class AA poll.
Sperle had an 18-10 overall record with nine pins while wrestling between 125 and 135 pounds. Sperle will enter the season with a 54-42 career record with 18 pins.
Werner went 21-12 last season with eight pins and finished fifth at the section meet at 130 pounds. Werner will carry a 36-38 career record into the season.
Weaver compiled a 19-11 overall record with 12 pins and was a section competitor at 145 pounds. Weaver has a 34-29 career record with 25 pins.
Going into the season, Branstrom will wrestle at 215, Uscola will be at 140, Sperle will wrestle at 130, Werner will start at 135 and Weaver will wrestle at 152.
Five other wrestlers who competed at last year's section meet return. Senior Andrew Gilbertson went 0-2 at 152 pounds, sophomore Kenny Weaver had a 2-8 record with two pins at 160 pounds, sophomore Caleb Atkins went 6-15 at 215 pounds, freshman Adam Branstrom had a 6-17 record with three pins at 103 pounds and eighth grader Forest Drury went 1-19 at 112 pounds.
Gilbertson (171), Weaver (189), Atkins (189), Branstrom (112) and Drury (125) will be vying for starting spots this season.
Also returning with some varsity experience are senior Tyler Larosa (0-6 at 152); juniors Matt Offerdahl (7-10 with two pins at 135-145) and Andy Boos (2-11 with one pin at 152-160); sophomores Michael Sandretzky (2-1 at 119), John Drury (0-1 at 145) and Casey Disney (0-2 at 145); and eighth grader Zachary Steffen (0-3 at 103-112). Junior Tom Drury, who was 6-12 with three pins at 160-171, is injured.
Larosa, Offerdahl, Boos, Drury and Disney will compete at 160 while Sandretzky and Steffen will vie for the starting spot at 119.
Filling in the other starting spots and providing depth will be freshman Nick Pappas, eighth grader Kevin Just and seventh graders Lucas Weaver and Cody Fransen at 103 pounds; freshman Zac Haugland and eighth grader Joe Hartig at 112; junior Ryan Moos at 125; senior Derek Francis, eighth grader Brock Fritze and seventh graders Nick Schulz and John Sherer at 130; junior Jake Gartner and freshman Kody Disney at 140; junior Logan Spears, sophomore Jared Nash, freshmen Danny Pike and Dale Breitweser, and eighth grader Rylee Smith at 145; sophomore Alex Berthelsen and freshman Jason Hilden at 160; freshman Tyler Barr at 171; junior Andrew Lafontain at 189; seventh grader Trai Schmidt at 215; and senior Kyle Blanchard at heavyweight.
"We could have a tough time in our first three weights, but we have a lot of experience and depth in the middle and upper weights," said Clark, who will be assisted by Jeff Dravis, Mike Baumgartner and Brett Bishop. "We could have a .500 season or better. It all depends on if everyone falls in the right spot."
Qualifying individuals for the state meet will be tougher this season with the addition of Perham, Pine River-Backus/Pequot Lakes, Fergus Falls, Little Falls and Detroit Lakes to the section. Those teams join defending section champion Thief River Falls, Roseau, Bagley/Fosston, Blackduck/Cass Lake-Bena, Walker-Hackensack-Akeley/Nevis, Crookston, East Grand Forks and Park Rapids in Section 8AA this season. Moving out of the section are Cloquet, Hibbing, Deer River, Nashwauk-Keewatin, Mahnomen/Waubun and Virginia.
Perham, the defending state runner-up, is rated No. 2 and Thief River Falls is ranked No. 12 in the first state Class AA poll. PR-B/PL and Fergus Falls are also listed among the top 25 teams.
"Team wise we should be fairly competitive. We have a good schedule. We'll struggle against teams like Perham and Frazee, but we'll hold our own against the other teams," said Clark, whose team opens the season at Menahga Thursday night. "I think we're going to have a really competitive section. Our section is going to be tough, but we have some kids who have a shot of getting to state. We're going to have a fun season."