Panthers exceeded expectations on mat
Matt Clark was pleasantly surprised with how the Park Rapids wrestling team performed this season.
The Panthers went 16-8 in dual meets and had three wrestlers bring home medals from the state Class AA tournament. The 16 wins were the most since the Panthers went 17-11 during the 2005-06 season and the three state medals were the most since the Panthers had four wrestlers place at the 1970 state tournament.
Highlighting the season was having freshman Ben Baumgartner (at 120 pounds), senior Forrest Drury (at 170 pounds) and senior Brandon Ritter (at 220 pounds) finish sixth at their respective weights at the state tournament.
"I think my guys wrestled great in the regular season and in the post season," said Clark. "We got more dual meet wins in the regular season that I could have ever dreamed. Then placing three individuals at the stat tournament was great. Looking back you can always find one more match or one more dual you could have won, but overall I think this team shocked a lot of people."
The Panthers relied on the returning veterans and several first-year varsity wrestlers to produce a very successful season.
Park Rapids split its first two matches by defeating United North Central 45-36 and dropping a 59-12 decision to Blackduck/Cass Lake-Bena.
After a 40-24 win over Lisbon, the Panthers finished fourth at the Park Rapids Invitational with a 61-15 win over Deer River and losses to Hibbing (40-30) and BCLB (43-31).
The Panthers followed a 42-36 win over New York Mills by placing 23rd at the 32-team Big Bear Tournament with 61.50 points. Badger/Greenbush/Middle River, which ended the season rated No. 4 in the Class A poll, won the team title with 204.50 points.
The Panthers sat at 7-7 in dual meets with wins over East Grand Forks (61-17), Staples-Motley (49-28) and Detroit Lakes (44-27) and losses to Perham (58-19), Thief River Falls (37-27), Pequot Lakes/Pine River-Backus (51-16) and Frazee (51-18). Perham (No. 8), PLPRB (No. 15) and Thief River Falls (No. 17) were rated in the final state Class AA poll while Frazee ended up rated No. 8 in the state Class A poll.
An eight-match winning streak followed as the Panthers ended the regular season with a 15-7 record.
Park Rapids defeated Walker-Hackensack-Akeley/Nevis 41-38 before placing third at the 10-team Parkers Prairie Tournament with 147 points. Breckenridge won the team title with 174 points.
Victories over Crookston (45-35), Parkers Prairie (58-21) and Red Lake County Central (60-21) gave the Panthers an 11-7 record.
After finishing fifth at the Thief River Falls Tournament with 125 points (Badger took first with 209 points), the Panthers defeated West Central Area (46-29), Wadena-Deer Creek (51-21) and Crosby-Ironton (60-22).
Detroit Lakes won the Mid-State Conference title with 211 points as the Panthers finished third with 159 points.
A 36-34 win over Fosston/Bagley ended the regular season and gave the Panthers the No. 5 seed for the Section 8AA tournament. Park Rapids opened with a 72-10 win over No. 12 East Grand Forks before being eliminated with a 39-30 loss to No. 4 Fergus Falls. Perham defeated PLPRB for the section title.
At the individual section tournament, Baumgartner and Drury claimed section titles while Ritter was the section runner-up to advance to state. All three brought home medals by placing sixth.
Drury was named the Panthers' Most Valuable Wrestler after going 36-8 with 19 pins and 180 points to raise his career record to 83-79 with 45 pins. Drury was the Mid-State champion at 170 and finished second at Parkers Prairie, fourth at Thief River Falls and fifth at the Big Bear.
Ritter finished the season with a 25-4 record, 17 pins and 132 points to end his high school career with a 56-19 record and 31 pins. Ritter, who qualified for the state Class A tournament last season, was the conference champion at 220 and also won titles at Parkers Prairie and Thief River Falls.
Baumgartner ended the year with a 40-7 record, 23 pins and a team-leading 197 points to increase his career record to 96-24 with 59 pins. Baumgartner was an all-conference selection after finishing second at 120 and took first at Parkers Prairie and second at the Big Bear and Thief River Falls tournaments. Baumgartner was named the team's Hardest Worker.
In addition to those three, seniors Caleb Abraham, Robert Borger, Brock Fritze, Zachary Steffen and Cole Tretbar; juniors Kyle Ritter and Trai Schmidt; sophomores John Kyllonen and Garrick Scudder; freshmen Jeff Dickinson and Zachary Tretbar; eighth grader Noah Schulz; and seventh graders Nolan Booge, Justin Dravis, Logan Johnson, Anthony Ritter and Jared Sunram played key roles in the Panthers' success.
Steffen was named the Panthers' Most Determined Wrestler after going 28-14 with 12 pins and 130 points. Steffen just missed qualifying for state by losing a true-second match at 152 at the section meet. Steffen also was the conference runner-up at 152 and placed third at Thief River Falls, fourth at Parkers Prairie and eighth at the Big Bear. Steffen compiled an 85-85 record with 39 pins during his varsity career.
Cole Tretbar was fifth on the team in wins by going 24-13 with 16 pins and 133 points at the upper weights. Tretbar was the conference runner-up at 195 and finished fourth at Parkers Prairie and sixth at Thief River Falls. Tretbar finished his career with a 39-36 overall record and 25 pins.
Kyllonen had a solid debut for the Panthers, going 21-16 with 12 pins and 117 points. Kyllonen was the conference runner-up and finished fifth at the section meet at 182. Kyllonen also placed fourth at Thief River Falls.
Scudder finished fifth at the section meet and was the conference runner-up at 145. Scudder, who placed fourth at Parkers Prairie, compiled a 17-17 record with nine pins and 92 points in his varsity debut.
Booge ended the season with a 20-13 record, 12 pins and 107 points in his varsity debut. Booge finished fifth at 106 at the section meet and took fourth at the conference tournament.
Dravis compiled a 16-8 record, eight pins and 81 points in his first varsity season. Dravis finished sixth at 138 at the section meet, was the runner-up at Parkers Prairie and took third at the conference tournament.
Also competing at the section meet were Sunram, Johnson, Abraham, Dickinson and Schmidt.
Sunram went 13-10 with six pins and 60 points in his varsity debut at 106 and 113. Sunram placed fifth at Parkers Prairie.
Johnson finished with a 2-10 record and one pin for 12 points in his first varsity season at 120 and 126.
Abraham ended his senior season with a 4-8 record with one pin and 21 points at 160 and 182 to raise his career record to 5-10. Abraham was third at the conference meet.
Dickinson wrestled at 170 and went 1-2 with one pin.
Schmidt wrestled at 285 and had a 12-14 record with three pins and 60 points to raise his career record to 18-28 with four pins. Schmidt placed third at the Mid-State meet and sixth at Thief River Falls.
Borger scored 27 points, going 5-6 at 160 and 170. Borger took fifth at Parkers Prairie.
Fritze scored 18 points in his varsity debut, going 3-12 at 145 and 152.
Zachary Tretbar had a 3-6 record at 145 and 152 to raise his career record to 10-15.
Schulz went 2-23 with two pins at 132 and 138. Schulz placed fifth at Parkers Prairie.
Kyle Ritter scored 31 points at 195 and 220 with a 6-10 record and two pins.
Anthony Ritter went 0-10 at 120 and 126.
Also seeing some varsity time this season were senior Rylee Smith (0-2 at 220), junior Lucas Weaver (0-1 at 160), eighth grader Chris Baxter (0-2 at 285) and seventh grader Christian Weiss-Borg (1-0 at 132).
The 14 returning wrestlers combined for 183 wins, 94 pins and 925 points while the 10 first-year varsity wrestlers combined for 100 wins, 51 pins and 530 points.
Looking ahead to next season, the Panthers have eight spots to fill. However, the return of 16 wrestlers who saw varsity action has Clark expecting another successful season from the Panthers next season.
"We do lose a large and talented senior class. It will be difficult to replace them, but that is a part of high school sports," said Clark. "You always have to move forward. We do have a good core of young kids that have had a fair share of early success in their first years on the varsity. Now we have to have those kids improve and have several other kids make the jump to varsity level of wrestling. If we can do that, our team will be fine next year."