Cody Downing hopes for better luck from an injury and medical standpoint in his second season as head coach of Creston/Orient-Macksburg wrestling.
Even with a series of misfortunes affecting the Panther lineup in 2018-19, the Panthers put together a successful season at 13-7 in duals, third place in the Hawkeye 10 dual race, a sectional championship with eight district qualifiers and an appearance in the Class 3A regional duals, falling to state qualifier Davenport Assumption.
Senior Beau Barncastle and sophomore Jackson Kinsella qualified for the state individual tournament, where Kinsella stood on the podium as an eighth-place finisher at 170 pounds.
Early in the season, the adversity began with news that promising sophomore Kolby Hulett’s career was over because of a dangerous spinal condition in which doctors advised against contact sports.
From the varsity lineup, Keaton Street broke a leg at the John J Harris Invitational in Corning while wrestling in the semifinals, Hayden Green had shoulder surgery for a torn ligament, 220-pounders Kendall Crawford and Andy Weis missed time with concussions and Sam Chapman missed two critical weeks late in the season with torn rib cartilage.
“Even with the injuries and changes we had last year, we kept on going,” Downing said. “We were really putting together a piece meal lineup last year. But, one thing I was really proud of was that we always found a way to field a lineup. All things considered, we probably over-achieved.”
Downing and his staff approached training with a focus toward peaking in February, along the same lines as the many seasons Downing assisted successful head coach Darrell Frain, who is now athletic director at Riverside High School in Oakland. (The Panthers are traveling to Riverside this month for a tournament involving JV and varsity wrestlers in multiple gyms, replacing the annual December trip to Central Decatur.)
The Panthers of 2019-20 haven’t totally escaped hardship, however, as district qualifier Rylan Luther will miss his senior season after recently undergoing hip labrum surgery in order to complete the rehabilitation in time to play football at Dordt University next fall. Battling early injures are team members Jayson Shimer and Adam McElwain, leaving a squad of 26 healthy wrestlers in the opening week.
Fortunately, Luther wrestled at a weight class (152) that is at the upper end of this Panther team’s deepest pool of talent in the middle weights. Downing expects a lot of shifting of personnel during the season in the range of 132 to 152, as those beat out at one particular spot look to challenge for other varsity opportunities.
“Right now we’re just trying to settle things for our varsity and JV lineup for the first week at Tuesday’s duals and the Saturday tournaments,” Downing said. “We’re on the cusp of being a a good team. Our expectations have not been lowered at all.”
The team’s first action Tuesday is at Class 2A third-ranked Winterset, but the Panthers won’t face the Huskies until later in the season. Their opponents in Tuesday’s quadrangular meet are Interstate 35 and Nodaway Valley.
On Saturday, varsity travels to the Dallas Center-Grimes tournament, while the JV competes in Nodaway Valley’s varsity tournament.
Downing said the lineup for the first week may not necessarily be what he sends to the mat in February.
“We have some guys who might move down a weight eventually, and that could cause some guys to shift around,” Downing said. “As a team we usually sit down together in December and talk about goals, both team and individual, after we’ve made it through the preseason.”
Even though the assigned sectional (at ADM) and district (at Atlantic) tournaments again looked stacked with talent, Downing is optimistic about the possibilities of this Panther team. Two teams from each sectional advance to regional dual action.
“The team to beat locally is Winterset, and they are in our sectional,” Downing said. “I think they are ranked third going into the season. Coach (Ryan) Jensen has a good senior class they’ve built around and they have depth, with three state finalist-type kids. In the conference, Lewis Central returns the most points. Glenwood is back in 2A this year. Harlan has a lot of points returning and Atlantic is always tough at the end of the year. They were 19-0 last year and didn’t even make it to regional duals. That’s how tough our district was.”
Sixth-ranked Atlantic/CAM failed to qualify for regionals last year after finishing third at the Ida Grove sectional behind Sergeant Bluff-Luton and Harlan.
“I think the conference is wide open to be honest with you,” Downing said. “LC returns most of its lineup, but behind them and fifth place might only be separated by 10 to 15 points at the conference tournament.”
Downing’s primary assistant coaches again are former Panthers Chris Loudon and Kruz Adamson. Volunteer coaches include Casey Tanner, Tanner Webb and former athletic director Jeff Bevins, who now has a teaching position at Creston. His last coaching experience was in Clarinda, where his son Collin is now a junior high wrestling coach and head football coach. His son Jared is head wrestling coach at Centerville.
“Jeff has time to coach now, and he’s great with the kids. He loves being around the sport,” Downing said. “We still have Kolby Hulett and Rylan Luther with us too, as managers and student coaches. They like being around the program and will help in any way we need them.”
As the season gets underway, Justin Parsons (10 to 15 pounds heavier than last year’s 84 pounds) and Chase Lovely look to hold the first two positions at 106 and 113. Both have varsity experience.
Promising freshman Trey Chesnut and twins Owen and Carter Henderson are prospects at 120 pounds. Veterans Beau Thompson, Garon Wurster, Kaden Bolton and Keaton Street are opening varsity starters at 120 through 145 pounds. There are several wrestlers with varsity experience in those weights adding team depth, such as Corbyn Vicker, Triston Barncastle, Brayton Chesnut and transfer sophomore Aidan Anderson, who wrestled varsity last year at Spencer.
Sophomore Briley Hayes, who played varsity football this year, and freshman Austin Seaton could man the 152 and 160 spots.
The Panthers are solid, with varsity experience in the upper weights, but lacking much depth behind them. Starters are Green (170), Kinsella (182), Chapman (195), Weis (220) and Chris Wilson (285). First-year wrestler Owen Richards is pushing Wilson at heavyweight, Downing said.
Freshmen Kaden Street and Lucas Lynch and sophomore Chris Wells add to the depth in the 138 and 145 range, Downing noted.
“We wish we could spread some of that depth in the middle weights around to the top and bottom, but that’s just the way it is,” Downing said.
Returning district qualifers are Bolton, Thompson, Wurster, Kinsella and Weis. Seniors Trevor Kinyon (220) and Beau Barncastle (182) were the others last year, along with Luther at 152.
Because so many Hawkeye 10 duals have been assigned to quadrangular formats in recent years, the cycle this year gives the Panthers only a few home appearances — a Dec. 17 double dual involving Treynor and Glenwood, the annual JV tournament on Jan. 13 and a quadrangular dual on Jan. 28 hosting Carroll, Harlan and Lewis Central.
“I’ve been talking with our new AD (Scott Driskell) about coming up with a weekend where we could start holding a tournament again,” Downing said. “That’s a long-range goal for the program.”
(* — letterwinner)
Seniors — Hayden Green (160-170), *Sam Chapman (195), *Brayton Chesnut (132-145), *Rylan Luther (mgr/coach), *Beau Thompson (126).
Juniors — *Kaden Bolton (138), *Keaton Street (138-145), Adam McElwain (126-132), *Jackson Kinsella (182), *Andy Weis (220-285), *Garon Wurster (132-138), Kolby Hulett (mgr/coach).
Sophomores — Owen Richards (285), Chris Wells (145), *Briley Hayes (145-152), Aidan Anderson (145-152), *Corbyn Vicker (120-126), *Justin Parsons (106), *Triston Barncastle (126-132), *Chris Wilson (285) Chase Lovely (113-120).
Freshmen — Austin Seaton (160), Ty Morrison (152-160), Jayson Shimer (120-126), Owen Henderson (113-120), Carter Henderson (120), Kaden Street (138-145), Lucas Lynch (138), Trey Chesnut (120-126), Chris Aragon (145).
Dec. 3 — Quadrangular at Winterset vs. Interstate 35 and Nodaway Valley, 5:30 p.m.
Dec. 7 — at Dallas Center-Grimes tournament, 10 a.m. (varsity); at Nodaway Valley tournament, 10 a.m. (junior varsity)
Dec. 10 — at Red Oak vs. Red Oak, Atlantic, 5:30 p.m.
Dec. 14 — at Riverside tournament, Oakland (varsity and junior varsity)
Dec. 17 — vs. Treynor, Glenwood, 5:30 p.m.
Dec. 20 — Kansas City Stampede, Platte Co. (varsity); Indianola tournament (junior varsity), 5:15 p.m.
Dec. 21 — Kansas City Stampede, Platte Co. (varsity)
Jan. 7 — at North Polk vs. North Polk, South Tama County, 5:30 p.m.
Jan. 9 — at St. Albert Catholic, Council Bluffs vs. St. Albert Catholic, Clarinda, Kuemper Catholic, 5:30 p.m.
Jan. 11 — at Clear Lake tournament, 9 a.m.
Jan. 13 — Creston JV tournament, 5 p.m.
Jan. 16 — at Perry vs. Perry, Winterset, 5:30 p.m.
Jan. 18 — at Centerville tournament, 10 a.m.
Jan. 23 — at Shenandoah vs. Shenandoah, Denison-Schleswig, 5:30 p.m.
Jan. 24 — at John J Harris Invitational, Corning, 4 p.m. (varsity); at Glenwood JV tournament, 4:30 p.m. (junior varsity)
Jan. 25 — at John J Harris Invitational, Corning, 10 a.m. (varsity)
Jan. 27 — at Harlan JV tournament, 4:30 p.m.
Jan. 28 — vs. Carroll, Harlan, 5:30 p.m.
Feb. 1 — at Hawkeye 10 Tournament, Red Oak, 10:30 a.m.
Feb. 6 — at Atlantic JV tournament, 4:30 p.m.
Feb. 8 — Sectional at Adel, noon
Feb. 15 — District at Atlantic, noon
Feb. 19 — State dual team tournament, Des Moines
Feb. 20-22 — State tournament, Des Moines