Last year was a season of transition for the Centralia varsity wrestling team.
It's not like the squad didn't have any wrestlers make the state meet, because they did, but the 2017 Panthers didn't perform like they did in 2016 and those are the type of results this team is trying to get back to. One way the program is trying to make that happen is with an early summer camp June 12-14 at the high school from 10 a.m.- 1 p.m. featuring Missouri Valley College Associate Head Coach Pat Giangrosso.
"This is a Feet to Back camp. Justin Wisdom is the head coach for that group. He organizes who we use," said Centralia varsity wrestling coach Luke Gramke. "We just provide the Centralia gym and most of our kids come. Coach Wisdom brings a lot of kids from Willard. Some kids come from Butler. Coach Mark Schmidt is from Moberly, so that's where he brings kids from. There are Hallsville kids, so this is becoming an area thing."
Because Gramke has been working with Wisdom when organizing this type of event for his athletes in the past, not only was it he who orchestrated Giangrosso's participation in this event, but at past camps he's brought other grapplers of equal stature. This includes Joe Colon and various Mizzou wrestlers with the idea being this group wants to work with someone new every year.
"(It's very early in the offseason), but we're getting good numbers in the weight room. We have a lot of kids showing up and we offer three different sessions. one starts at 5:30 a.m, one starts at 7:30 a.m. and one starts at 8 a.m.," Gramke said. "Everybody who should be there has been regularly attending, and I think that's where it starts in playing a fall sport. Right now I'm getting most of my kids dedicated to playing football or running cross country, so they'll be taking part in those workouts, as well."
Front to Back is a summer team that competes at events such as the Missouri Duals, the Corncob Nationals and the Adidas Nationals. They will also take the court at several other events during the warmest months of the year and are comprised of several different schools.
"Oue weightlifting sessions isn't football weightlifting. Our sessions are open to everyone. All sports," said Gramke. "We're developing the whole athlete, so it's a great opportunity for anyone to come take part in. We get on the mat once a week. It was twice a week until school ended. After this camp we'll probably pick it up a little but because the kids will have that desire. A lot of the adults that are here are past wrestlers. Since we have so many schools here, all of their coaches are here, as well."
What makes Giangrosso's appearance noteworthy at this camp is that he's been an assistant at Missouri Valley for 14 years and the top assistant to head coach Mike Maccholz for nine. He also graduated from MVC in 2003 as a member of the National Championship team while earning All-American honors for the second time at 157 lbs.
"Our kids are going to be hungry. They've seen what past Centralia teams have done and the success they've enjoyed and now we're going into our sophomore and junior years instead of our freshman and sophomore years and I think they'll be ready to go out and show what they can do," Gramke said. "One of the things we put a big emphasis on is character. We want our kids representing our community really well, so we try and instill that in them every, single day. Make sure they're being good citizens."
One reason the Panthers had to look at 2017-18 as a developmental season is because of their tremendous youth. For example, the team graduated just two seniors and neither of those were state qualifiers. But, what Centralia did have was three underclassmen that qualified for the state meet, two of them even medaled and all are returning. Hopefully this will help even out things like the fact the team was 1-8 in bubble matches at districts.
"Grafton Litrell has been working really hard. He had a slight knee issue at the end of the school year, so he had surgery on that, but he's back on the mat now. I expect him to be a team leader, have a positive attitude and be a role model in the wrestling room," said Gramke. "If he does those things he could be standing on top of a podium come February."