GARY Engelking, Connor Montgomery and Colton Castetter are a trio of determined wrestlers who are helping the Panthers focus on repeating as sectional champions this season.
They know that the team is only as strong as its weakest link, and distractions are not permitted.
“We had some discipline problems early this year,” co-captain Montgomery said. “As captains, Engelking and I have had to be tough and put on a scary face, but not be too overbearing. We got the problems straightened out.”
Coach Howard Jones and his captains don’t want any more wrestlers to quit because the team isn’t as deep as it has been in previous seasons.
The Panthers ended last year with 64 wrestlers, but they have only 53 for the 2012-13 season.
“I’ve learned I can’t compete with the social hour in the hallways after school,” Jones said. “I go out in the hall, and I see seven or eight wrestlers who’ve quit the team this year, and it makes me sad. I feel like I have something to offer those kids, but I have to focus on those who are here at practice.”
The Panthers remain a formidable team on the mat.
“We’re young, but we’re experienced,” Jones said. “We only have three seniors, but everyone on our first varsity squad has at least six years of experience in our wrestling program.”
The first varsity squad has won 13 dual meets this season, and it shows no signs of letting up. “We thought we were going to have a tougher schedule this season,” Engelking said. “We lost 13 seniors, but a lot of us put in a lot of work over the summer.”
Engelking was impressed by the team’s recent victory against Columbus East earlier this season, and Engelking thinks the win might lead to success in the sectional in March.
“They’ve got a lot of guys who are good at technique,” Engelking said. “We are a stronger team, by far. We’ll have the edge on them in the sectional because we’ve got a lot of strong guys on our team this year, more than I’d thought we’d have.”
Jones said he thinks his team is stronger from top to bottom this season. The emergence and dedication of Castetter has been a key to the team’s work ethic.
“He inspires other kids to stay after practice,” Jones said of Castetter. “He improved so much over the summer that some people may think he’s a different kid.”
The 6-foot-2 junior is jokingly called “Bigfoot” by his teammates because of his height, and he quickly has become a quiet and well-respected team leader. The humble wrestler blushes whenever Jones pulls him aside and praises him.
“Colton keeps to himself and leads by example,” Montgomery said. “He doesn’t say much during matches or practices.”
Castetter doesn’t have to say much because he lets his actions speak for him. He recently lifted 525 pounds a couple of times during practice. He wants to be a state qualifier like his father, Rusty Castetter. Jones is confident he will achieve this goal.
“I coached his father, and Colton hasn’t been wrestling as long as his dad had been at this point,” Jones said. “But, there’s a lot of potential in Colton, and I know he’ll reach it. His improvement this season has been tenfold. There’s no one on the team who works harder than he does.”
After their 47-19 victory against South Dearborn on Thursday night, the Panthers are 13-2.