Panthers look to put competitive team on mat
Matt Clark is going to have a tough time filling seven key weight classes this season.
The Panthers graduated four state qualifiers and three other starters from a team that went 14-4 in dual meets, advanced to the Section 8A championship match and set a school record by qualifying six individuals for the state Class A meet. The group of Justin Dravis, Nolan Booge, Jared Sunram, Jacob Bittmann, Logan Johnson, Zach Nelson and Logan Veo combined to go 183-63 with 113 pins last season and ended their careers by combining for 740 wins and 483 pins.
Dravis was a four-time state qualifier, earning three state medals (including a third-place medal last season at 160 pounds) and ending his career as the Panthers' all-time leader in wins with 189 and pins with 133. Sunram qualified for three state meets, Booge qualified for state twice and Bittmann earned his first trip to state last season. Sunram was the section champ at 152 while Booge was the section runner-up at 132 and Bittmann was the section runner-up at 220. Nelson (fourth at 182), Veo (fourth at 285) and Johnson (sixth at 145) all placed at last year's Section 8A meet.
On the positive side, the Panthers return two state medalists and four other wrestlers who placed at the section meet.Those wrestlers will see different competition this year as the Panthers will be wrestling in Section 8AA this season.
Being counted on to lead the Panthers this winter are seniors Landen Burlingame and Zach Hocking; juniors Ashton Clark, Cody Dravis and Jack Hensel; and sophomores Kaden Safratowich and Joe Klein.
Clark was the Mid-State/Heart O'Lakes Conference champion at 106 and capped off a 39-3 season and 16 pins by winning the section title and placing second at the state Class A meet at 106 to earn his second state medal in three state trips. Clark, who enters the season with a 103-20 career record and 48 pins, enters the season rated No. 3 at 113 pounds in the state Class AA poll.
Cody Dravis finished third at 170 at the conference meet before ending the season by winning the section title at 170 and placing third at the state meet for his first medal in three state appearances. Draivs compiled a 38-7 record with 27 pins last season to push his career record to 97-31 with 69 pins. Dravis is rated No. 4 at 170 in the pre-season state poll.
Burlingame compiled a 24-11 record with 10 pins last season, placing fourth at 126 pounds at the conference meet and finishing fourth at that weight at the section meet. Burlingame will carry a 70-59 record with 37 pins into his senior season.
Hensel finished fourth at the section meet at 195 to cap off a 10-14 season with three pins. Hensel has a 13-17 career record.
Safratowich capped off the season by placing fourth at 120 at the section meet. Safratowich went 9-14 with six pins to raise his career record to 15-33 with nine pins.
Klein ended the season by placing sixth at 138 at both the conference and section meets. Klein compiled an 8-14 record with three pins and has a 15-29 career record and six pins.
Hocking went 7-9 with one pin and placed sixth at the conference tournament at 195 to raise his career record to 30-63 with 11 pins.
Also returning with varsity experience are seniors Dwayne Johnson (3-2 with two pins at 285 last season and 7-8 with four pins in his career) and Dawson Roth (4-11 career record); junior Kian Scott (3-3 career record); sophomores Eli Bessman (4-12 with three pins at 145 and 152 last season and 6-14 with four pins in his career); freshman John Hoefs (3-10 at 120); and eighth grader Kobe Burton (0-7 at 113, 120 and 126).
Looking to fill varsity spots and provide depth will be junior Angel Guajardo; sophomores Hunter Carnell, Joe Stachowski and Nathan Wood; eighth graders Jordan Berthelsen, Darryl Etter and Isaac Knapp; and seventh graders Lucas Kritzeck, Robert Sherk, Micah Snyder, Harley Wellman and Micheal White.
"We're going to have a lot of untested kids, but I feel they can be competitive," said Park Rapids head coach Matt Clark. "It's going to be fun seeing how they translate going from junior varsity to the varsity stage."
The Panthers have been moved from Section 8A to Section 8AA, joining Detroit Lakes, Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton, Fergus Falls, Pequot Lakes/Pine River-Backus, Perham, Pierz, Sauk Centre/Melrose, Thief River Falls and United Clay Becker. Perham defeated Detroit Lakes 61-10 in last year's section championship match and went on to win the consolation title at the state Class AA tournament. Pierz moves into the section after winning the Section 7A title and placing second at the state Class A tournament last season. Perham is rated No. 5, Detroit Lakes is rated No. 15 and Pierz is rated No. 16 in the pre-season state Class AA poll.
"We have a lot of guys in the same weight class right now. We'll struggle in dual meets because of all the open weights we'll have, but the kids we put on the mat will be very competitive," said Clark, who will be assisted by Jeff Dravis, Dan Pike, Mike Baumgartner and Brett Bishop. "We'll see how the young guys do. I'm projecting that we're going to be a much better team at the end of the season."
Dec. 7 - *Blackduck/Cass Lake-Bena, United North Central at Century School gym, 5 p.m. Dec. 9 - at Crookston Invitational, 9 a.m. Dec. 12 - *Walker-Hackensack-Akeley/Nevis at Area High School gym, 5 p.m. Dec. 15-16 - at Big Bear Tournament at Cass Lake. Dec. 19 - at Perham, 7 p.m.
Jan. 4 - *Grand Rapids at Area High School gym, 7 p.m. Jan. 9 - *United Clay Becker at Area High School gym, 7 p.m. Jan. 13 - at Parkers Prairie Tournament, 9 a.m. Jan. 16 - *Crookston at Area High School gym, 7 p.m. Jan. 19 - Parkers Prairie, Red Lake County Central at Red Lake County Central, 2 p.m. Jan. 20 - at Thief River Falls Tournament, 10 a.m. Jan. 23 - Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton, Thief River Falls at Thief River Falls, 5 p.m. Jan. 26 - Mid-State Conference Tournament at Staples. Jan. 30 - Wadena-Deer Creek, Crosby-Ironton at Crosby, 5 p.m.
Feb. 1 - at New York Mills, 7 p.m. Feb. 8 - Mahnomen-Waubun, Bagley/Fosston at Fosston, 5 p.m. Feb. 17 - Section 8AA Team Tournament at Thief River Falls. Feb. 23-24 - Section 8A Individual Tournament at Hawley.