At last years state championship meet in Columbia at Mizzou Arena, the Centralia varsity wrestling team was incredibly well-represented.
Among that group were five seniors, two of which, Jackson Evans and Sam Hasekamp, won state titles while Carter Kinkead finished third at 170, 285 and 145, respectively. Heavyweight Trey Taft and Andrew Newbrough at 113 lbs. also finished sixth in their weight class. Now, head coach Luke Gramke has to replace all that lost talent, and while a task like that is never easy, it won't be a lack of participation that keeps this team from acheiving the same postseason glory it enjoyed in 2016-17.
"We currently have 31 athletes on our roster and all are ready to compete for a varsity spot," said Gramke. "Almost two weeks into the season it has become very evident to me that we have extremely hard working kids. We might be young, but we intend to make up for that with discipline, effort, and enthusiasm."
Even though all that youth is a neccesary evil when replacing graduated athletes, balancing this lineup out are those returning from a year ago. This includes Grafton Litrell, who finoshed fourth at 132 at the state meet, and state qualifier Trevor Bodine at 182.
"Returning Varsity wrestlers that competed at districts include Austin Dawson, Carson Sanders, Nicklaus Toedebusch, Hunter Griggs and Quentin Foster," Gramke said. "Additionally, Duke Newsted, Anthony Stevens, Camron Jennings, and Lakota Phillips saw varsity time last year. I know they are looking forward to competing on the Varsity level again."
Last year the Panthers success culminated in a fifth-place finish in Class 1 at the MSHSAA championships. Taking the top spot in this 46-team field was Whitfield followed by Seneca, Lawson and Richmond.
"This season I am expecting all of my wrestlers to wrestle with intensity and purpose," said Gramke. "Every time they step on the mat they are going to try and create a tempo that is hard for opponents to match."