NEW FRANKLIN The Manchester wrestling team is heading into the home stretch of their regular season, and the Panthers are hoping to make their presence felt in just a few weeks when tournament competition begins.
This tends to be the time of year when the wrestling season becomes a grind, with competitors battling injuries and the fatigue of a long campaign as they keep their eyes fixed on the sectional, district and state tournaments.
The Panthers have had mixed results so far this year, finishing fourth at the Waterloo Division III Classic and 14th at the J.C. Gorman tournament in Mansfield. However, the wicked winter weather that has blown through the area has disrupted their schedule - and attempts to build momentum entering the latter stages of the season, as a scheduled appearance in the Bill Dies Memorial tournament was scrapped when the event was canceled due to inclement weather.
Despite the up-and-down nature of the season, veteran head coach Josh Cintron is optimistic about the road ahead and believes his team will perform well down the stretch.
"My expectations for the rest of the year is the finish the season healthy and be ready to wrestle tough matches at the sectionals and districts," Cintron said.
In the Waterloo Classic, sophomore Jake White (120 pounds), junior Zach Larue (126) and junior Mike Deventure (132) all won individual titles, while senior Dane Paris (152) placed third and Christian French was sixth.
Larue, who along with White and Paris are team captains, repeated the feat at the Gorman tournament, earning first place while White finished second and Colton Stewart (113) was sixth.
Larue is a two-time state qualifier for the Panthers, finishing sixth in both trips down to Columbus. He wrestled at 106 pounds as a freshman and 113 as a sophomore.
He is unbeaten on the season at 13-0 wrestling at 126 pounds, the heaviest weight at which he has competed during his career. White is also a state qualifier for red and black. He made his appearance in Columbus a year ago, but lost both or his matches. His record on the campaign is 15-3.
Paris and Baker, both returning letterwinners, are also having nice seasons for Manchester, compiling matching 14-5 marks.
"Zach (Larue) has a perfect record with some great wins under his belt," Cintron said. "Jake (White) has wrestled some tough wrestlers and improves from every win or loss. Colton (Stewart) has made a tough cut to 113 pounds to place at the J.C. Gorman, so we are excited for him and what the post-season has in store."
Cintron noted that, like programs around the area, Manchester has been redoubling its efforts in the closing weeks of the season with the hope of delivering big performances in the biggest matches of the year. The Panthers’ postseason road - along with their hopes of sending competitors to Columbus - begins Feb. 24 in the Independence Division III sectional tournament, where they’ve had success before and will look to recapture that magic this postseason.
"The team has been working hard in the practice room over the break to get back on the mats," Cintron said. "In January, we wrestle a lot of matches so I am very excited for the team to transfer all that hard work in the room to wins on the mat."