Seniors take leading role on, off mat for Panthers
Pekin wrestling has leaned heavily on its senior class in recent years, and head coach Al Chapman expects the current group to be no exception.
“You always look to your seniors, and you build your practice around that,” said Chapman, who is entering his fourth year in the program. “They’ll be the ones who lead on the mat and off the mat. I’m looking for those guys to be our extra coaches.”
At the top of the four-member class are previous state tournament qualifiers Austyn Vogel and Thomas Slaney.
“Those two have targets on their backs this season and have to work extra hard. They know that,” said Chapman.
At 195 pounds is Slaney, Pekin’s only returning state-qualifier from last winter. The senior emerged as one of the top wrestlers in the area as a junior, claiming titles at the sectional and district tournaments before dropping his first two matches at state.
Vogel, the team’s 152-pounder, also took home a sectional title last season before coming up short in a loaded district field. Vogel was a state-qualifier and district champion as a sophomore, and he is currently just 14 wins away from 100 in his career; his brother Ryan Vogel ranks first on the school’s all-time wins list with 144.
138-pounder Chase Earnest and 145-pound wrestler Tatye Schoff round out the strong senior class, and big things are expected of juniors Brandon Baayen and Trenton Conger, who will be wrestling at 120 and 220, respectively.
“Now that they’re upperclassmen we look for them to pick it up and make the next season even better,” said Chapman. “Their performance last year lit a fuse and we’re looking for bigger things out of them.”
Expectations are just as high for 132-pound sophomore Avery Bennett, who could be the underclassman to watch.
“I’d like to see Avery come in through the state tournament’s back door,” said Chapman. “Hopefully we can surprise some people with him since he didn’t get out much last year.”
Scott Entsminger and Matthew Bollinger return at the middleweights after receiving valuable experience as freshmen. Caleb Sadler could make waves as an incoming 126-pound sophomore.
A promising five-member freshman class also has Chapman excited not only for this season but the next four. Lightweight rookie Clayton McKim, middleweights Chase Copeland, Riley Brown and Garrett Bowermaster and heavyweight Michael Hadley will provide valuable depth at some weights, and score right away in others.
“Bringing in five freshmen is a great number for our program. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve told these guys if they stick together they will accomplish big things in the future,” the head coach said.
Altogether, the 15-member group is smaller than previous Pekin teams, but the wrestlers will likely fill all but one of the 14 spots this winter.
The Panthers opened up the season Tuesday with a quadrangular at Lynnville-Sully. Their annual tournament is scheduled Saturday.