Despite returning 10 varsity competitors, it’s going to be tough for the Park Rapids wrestling team to match up with most teams on the schedule this season.

Instead of focusing on wins, head coach Matt Clark will be focusing on getting his wrestlers ready for the Section 8A individual tournament.

Park Rapids moves from Section 8AA back to Section 8A this season, joining Badger/Greenbush/Middle River, Crookston, Fertile-Beltrami, Fosston/Bagley, Frazee, Mahnomen/Waubun, Red Lake County Central and United North Central. At last year’s Section 8AA tournament, the Panthers received the No. 9 seed and ended a 3-17 showing in dual meets with a 56-24 loss to No. 8 Fergus Falls.

The Panthers have four key spots to fill from last year’s team with the graduation of Ashton Clark, Cody Dravis, Jack Hensel and Kian Scott. Clark became the first Park Rapids wrestler to compete in five state tournaments, concluding his career by being named the Mid-State Conference’s MVP and winning the Section 8AA title at 120 pounds while posting an 18-1 record for a 159-22 career mark. Dravis was the section runner-up at 160 pounds to earn his fourth trip to state and ended his career with a 35-6 record for a 168-42 career record and 117 pins. Hensel finished third at 182 pounds at the section meet for a 28-15 record while Scott posted a 28-9 record at 195, 220 and 285. Those four combined for 431 wins and 229 pins during their careers.

Being counted on to lead the Panthers this season are seniors Hunter Carnell, Joe Klein, Kaden Safratowich and Joey Stachowski; freshmen Lucas Kritzeck, Robby Sherk, Micah Snyder and Harley Wellman; and eighth graders Henry Thorson and Eli Burton.

Carnell compiled a 13-21 record with seven pins and was a section competitor at 285.

Klein posted an 11-14 record with six pins at 152, 160 and 170 and enters the season with a 35-71 career record and 18 pins.

Safratowich placed eighth at 152 at the section meet to cap off an 18-21 record with 11 pins while wrestling at 152, 160 and 170. Safratowich has a 34-55 career record with 20 pins.

Stachowski tallied a 12-4 record with seven pins at 195, 220 and 285.

Kritzeck, who missed meets with an injury, went 9-5 with four pins at 113 and 120 and wrestled at 113 at the section meet. Kritzeck has a 23-23 career record with 12 pins.

Wellman finished with a 3-10 record and three pins at 152 and 160. Sherk, who missed most of the season with an injury, went 0-2 at 106. Snyder went 1-5 with one pin at 126 and 132. Burton had a 3-3 record with two pins at 113. Thorson compiled a 3-4 record at 106.

The projected starting lineup has Sherk at 106, Burton at 113, Thorson at 132, Kritzeck at 138, Snyder at 145, Klein at 160, Safratowich and Wellman at 170 and 182, Stachowski at 195 and Carnell at 220.

Looking to fill the other weights and providing depth will be seventh grader Johnny Bruguier at 106, seventh graders Jarrett Galzki and Gunner Zeitz at 113, freshman Matt Dahring at 126, seventh grader Zach Paurus at 132, seventh grader Damion Snyder at 145, freshman Taten Horton at 152, freshman Mike White and seventh grader Tyler Crissinger at 160, freshman Malik Johnson at 170, and seventh grader D’Andre Johnson at 220. Junior Aaron Gartner, sophomore Tristan Hill and seventh grader Michael Rausch will also compete for varsity spots.

Defending champion BGMR and runner-up Frazee are the favorites to return to the section final again this season with Fosston/Bagley and United North Central as the top contenders. BGMR enters the season rated No. 9 while Frazee is rated No. 14 in the state Class A poll.

“We don’t have a go-to hammer like we’ve had in the past, so we’ve got to focus on winning the little battles and making improvements from now until the end of the season,” said Clark, who will be assisted by Jeff Dravis, Mike Baumgartner, Brett Bishop, Dan Pike and Dan Etter. “Hopefully we’ll have kids step up to give us a chance of getting someone to state.”

Dec. 5 - vs. Blackduck/Cass Lake-Bena, Crookston, United North Central at Menahga, 5 p.m. Dec. 10 - vs. Walker-Hackensack-Akeley/Nevis at Century School, 7 p.m. Dec. 14 - at Crookston tournament, 11:30 a.m. Dec. 17 - vs. New York Mills, Wadena-Deer Creek at Wadena, 5 p.m. Dec. 20-21 - at Cass Lake tournament, 9 a.m.
Jan. 4 - at Ogilvie tournament, 10 a.m. Jan. 9 - vs. United Clay Becker at Area High School, 7 p.m. Jan. 11 - at Parkers Prairie tournament, 9 a.m. Jan. 14 - at Fertile-Beltrami, 7 p.m. Jan. 17 - vs. Bertha-Hewitt/Verndale/Parkers Prairie, Roseau, Red Lake County Central at Oklee, 2 p.m. Jan. 18 - at Thief River Falls tournament, 11 a.m. Jan. 24 - Mid-State Conference tournament at Pequot Lakes. Jan. 28 - vs. Crosby-Ironton, Wadena-Deer Creek at Wadena, 5 p.m.
Feb. 6 - vs. Fosston/Bagley, Mahnomen/Waubun at Century School gym, 5 p.m. Feb. 15 - Section 8A team tournament. Feb. 21-22 - Section 8A individual tournament.