The O’Fallon Township wrestling team will have to grapple with youthful inexperience this year, but coach Glenn Exton thinks his Panther matmen can still be competitive in the Southwestern Conference and may just have a couple state-qualifiers in the fold.
The Panthers finished last season with a 19-1 dual meet record and a 6-1 mark in SWC action, but the team was laden with seniors.
“This year will be challenging, because we lost seven quality seniors from last year’s team — two of them were state place-winners,” said Exton, who has coach the Panthers for over a decade. “That being said, I do think we can competitive, despite losing half of the starting lineup.”
But the half that remains is strong.
Jack Bond, a senior, had a 37-3 last year as a junior and was a state-qualifier. He will wrestle at 170 pounds.
“Jack has set his sights on winning a state title this year. He has put in a lot time in the off season and looks stronger than ever entering this season,” Exton said.
Alex Fulton, a junior, will wrestle at 132 pounds and is a captain of this year’s team. He was a sectional qualifier the past two seasons.
Michael Faulkner, a senior, had a good junior season, including winning the Mascoutah Tournament.
“Strongest kid, pound-for-pound, on the team,” Exton said of Faulkner, who will compete at 145 pounds. “He should be one of our best.”
However, with so many starters lost to graduation, there will be many new faces on the varsity roster. Some freshmen could even crack the starting lineup.
“We really like the freshman group this year,” Exton said. “It is a good blend of first-year athletes and experienced kids.”
Possible starters for this year’s team in the other weight classes are:
▪ At 106, Austin Kostedt, a junior, started last year. Exton said expects even more for Kostedt this season, since he coming back into the same weight class.
▪ At 113, the team is still looking for someone to emerge.
▪ Andrew Nunez, a senior, is penciled in at the 120-pound spot. Exton said Nunez is “a solid wrestler, who could have a great year.”
▪ At 126 pounds, Gabe Thomas, Caleb Neuwirth and Abrahm Ford, all freshmen, will be battling for the top spot. “All three are promising freshman and have had success at the lower levels,” their coach said.
▪ At 138 pounds, either freshman Jackson Baker or junior Marcus Myers should fill the spot. “Both have a lot of experience and success at the lower levels,” Exton said. However, neither participated last year.
▪ Who will wrestle at the 152-pound spot is another mystery. “(We) will wait and see who comes out,” Exton said.
▪ At 160 pounds, Damien Ross, a junior, wrestled for East St Louis last year and had a 15-7 record.
▪ The 182 spot is another toss-up. Sophomores Ethan Tinarwo and Kyler Adams, as well as Brandon Kent, a senior transfer from Lindbergh High School in St. Louis, all figure to compete for the position. “All three of these guys did well at the JV level last year,” Exton said.
▪ Two other transfer students will try to make the starting lineup at 195 pounds. Terry Thompson, a junior transfer from Belleville East, and Nathan Vasquez, a junior transfer from Grayslake, should battle for the spot.
▪ Exton expects senior Stephen White to emerge at the 220-pound spot. “(He) has been waiting in the wings for a couple of years now behind standout Brian Ahle. Stephen should have a good senior year. He has dominated the past two years at the JV level and has put in considerable time in the off season,” Exton said.
▪ At 285, Mason Baker qualified for the sectional last year as a freshman. “We didn’t expect much from him last year, and he ended up being a pleasant surprise,” his coach said. “This year. we will rely on him to be one of our top wrestlers.”
All in all, Exton said it’s a mix that could yield some positive results.
“Hopefully, we will have enough balance and depth stay near the top in the conference,” Exton said.
The OTHS varsity wrestlers will open their season at home Saturday, Nov. 25 with a multi-dual meet against Springfield High School, De Smet Jesuit (St. Louis), and Mattoon.