And that’s just fine by head coach Nate Urbach.
“It’s a unique year,” said Urbach. “It’s the first time I haven’t had a returning state champion in the room. We’re fine with not being in the favorite’s position. We’re using it for motivation some, but we don’t view it as if it’s a slight on us. Our opinion has always been that you don’t go out and defend a state title, you go out and earn another one.”
The key, Urbach notes, lies in not being the team with the most talent at the beginning of the year. Rather, the team that usually comes out ahead in Casper, he notes, is the team that makes the most improvement between now and February.
In that regard, the Panthers’ youthful nature could be an asset as wrestlers have plenty of room for growth. Additionally, the Panthers are sporting another advantage this season — balance.
“By the end of the season, we should be well-balanced,” said Urbach. “We should be able to put a good kid on the floor at every weight class, and that’s not always the case. Some weights, we’ll have two good kids and one will have to be a point scorer for us and the other will be a point taker preventing other teams from earning points.”
That balance won’t be on display right away, however. It will take some time for weight classes to level out and for some wrestlers to get to the certification they plan to wrestle at. For instance, in the early going the Panthers will have three returning medalists listed at 126.
Dylan Rood (sixth at state in 2012), Colton Parham (fourth at state in 2012) and Colbee Craig (third at state in 2012) will all begin the year at 126. Obviously, the plan is for that cluster of talent to disperse as the year goes along.
“It’ll only be like that for a little bit,” Urbach said. “At least one of those guys will be dropping down to 120.”
Six other returning state medalists are back on the mat for Powell. Fortunately, they’re spread more liberally around the roster in the early portion of the season. Tyler Patterson (170) and Zach Thompson (195) were both fourth last season. Rowdy Gard (285) and Mike Mundy (160) both placed fifth. Andrew Feller (132) and Spencer Shultz (220) each placed sixth. All are being looked at to step forward this season if the Panthers are to return to a center-mat celebration in Casper come February.
“I’m excited to see what some of them can do,” said Urbach. “Thompson was a heartbeat away from winning last year. Craig and Parham have been looking very good early. I’m interested to get Rowdy out on the mat and see what he’s capable of this year. We’ve got a lot of potential.”
“It’s a year-long process to get to where we want to be in February,” said Urbach. “We look at December and January as practice. We want to make our mistakes then and learn from them.”
There will undoubtedly be a few of those mistakes as the Panthers’ youth shines through from time to time, but Urbach is excited for what his team’s younger makeup has to offer.
“There’s an awful lot of potential there,” said Urbach. “We have some good young kids who have a lot of room to grow.”
Those younger bodies will look to draw upon the experience of a senior class that’s stepping to the front for this season. Wrestlers like Patterson, Feller, Rood, Schultz, Erik Denney and Mundy are expected to set the tone in practice.
“That’s part of the progarm and part of the process,” Urbach said. “You sit behind seniors, learning from them and now when you’re in your final year, it’s your turn to step forward and be the leader.”
The Panthers open their year Thursday evening with a dual against Kelly Walsh. On Friday and Saturday, the team hosts its own invitational tournament. Don’t consider either event a means of easing into the regular season.
“Our tournament is loaded,” said Urbach. “We’ve got a lot of strong teams coming in. It’s a great way for us to start the season. Same thing with Kelly Walsh on Thursday. They’re a well-coached program. They’ll come in and challenge us. Our kids are excited to get going.”
Tentative roster for Powell Invite
106 — Noah Wozney, Jose Perez, Trey Oulette
113 — Bailey Atkinson, Chance Karst, Robert Burke
120 — Nic Urbach, Ty Linebaugh, Justin Theriault, Kalvin McPherson, Alex Aquirre
126 — Dylan Rood, Colbee Craig, Colton Parham, Teagan Cordes, Tucker Darrah
132 — Andrew Feller
138 — Matt Widdicombe, Kye Catlin, Ashton Wollam, Grant Nickles
145 — Pax Mitchell
152 — Jacob Davis
160 — Anthony Lujan, Mike Mundy, Jared Wantulok
170 — Tyler Patterson
195 — Zach Thompson
220 — Spencer Shultz, Erik Denney, Daniel Wheeler
285 — Riley Stringer, Rowdy Gard