Tradition, the Paola Panthers have shown a strong tradition of excellence through the years, whether its the football field, volleyball or basketball court, or any one of the host of sports teams bearing the Panther name. The Panther Wrestling team is no different, producing both individual and team state champions over the years. If Panthers Head Coach Russ Hermreck has his way, this year’s Panther Wrestling squad will not only be aware of the tradition, but will do it’s level best to continue and build on the excellence of the past.

“We are getting back to our roots with the program,” Hermreck said. “This group of young men has been very enjoyable to work with.”

WLH0281 Hermreck, while excited about the possibilities his squad has demonstrated, is aware this is a young, and largely inexperienced group of wrestlers. Sure, there are returning wrestlers, who have had success, with which to build the program on, but from top to bottom, this will be a work in progress.

“We have a good number of guys that are very inexperienced within the sport. Being able to teach it again is always much more enjoyable,” Hermreck said. “You can take the time to cover every little detail with them and not worry about them getting bored with the material. It is new so it is exciting to them.”

Even with that inexperience, the cupboard is far from empty when it comes to quality wrestlers. The Panthers have two returning state competitors from last year in Dylan McKinney and Spencer Trumbly as well as two or three others who fell just short of a trip to state for one reason or another. These wrestlers will, according to Hermreck be the one’s to pass the torch of the Panther tradition to the younger members of the team, as well as help with the new members development. Hermreck sees the experienced members of the team as some of the best coaches the younger wrestlers can have, they, as Hermreck says, have experienced success and know what it feels like to do things right and benefit from it.

“Experience is something that all coaches find as a valuable asset to team progression. We are very excited that we have a so many with a year of varsity experience under their belts,” Hermreck said. “Dylan McKinney and Spencer Trumbly are going to be a very important part of our team chemistry and success this season. Those two know what kind of work ethic needs to be adapted by our other athletes in order for them to reach their individual goals.”

In addition to McKinney and Trumbly, Hermreck sees several members of the squad who came up just short of qualifying for state competition last year as key components in the success of the Panthers this year. He specifically mentioned Tanners Staats, Cale Karigan and Tyler Henness as squad members with experience and another year of growth and development under their belts.

“Tanner Staats and Cale Karigan are two prospects we are really high on and truly expect great things out of. These two young men are exemplarity model student athletes for everyone to follow,” Hermreck continued. “They work exceptionally hard, lead by example, excel in the classroom, and are very well respected amongst their peers. We are hoping for good things out of them.”

Henness was the third member of the squad mentioned by Hermreck as a key player in the overall success of the team. Henness looked to be on his way to qualifying for state last season, when an injury sidelined him and took away his state dreams. He returns this year healed and hungry for a shot at the state championship bracket.

“Tyler Henness is another one of those individuals that if you could clone a million out of you would,” Hermreck said. “Simply put he does everything the right way, the correct way. Last year was hard on him, it was a roller coaster ride for him both mentally and physically. Tyler is the type of wrestler that you can challenge with anything. His presence in the room alone is going to make everyone around him better.”

School wide success in athletics is a good news, bad news situation for all those involved in Panther athletic teams. With the wrestling squad being no exception, as this years development has been slowed because of the Panther Football team’s deep run in the Class 4A Football tournament. Many of Hermreck’s experienced, team leaders, as well as his newer, inexperienced squad members were part of the football team, and have only begun practicing.

“With our first competition taking place this Saturday at Gardner, and the football team competing late into the season we have had very little time to teach,” he said. “We understand that conditioning is always a vital part of our success in competitions but we do not expect our team to be filled out or in shape until end of January.”

None the less, Hermreck sees team, from the most experienced to the first year members working hard and soaking in everything he and his assistant coaches are throwing at them. The team is working on being very good at the basic skills, and, Hermreck says the team understands they need to be very successful performing these techniques. He refers to them as "must win" situations, things each wrestler needs to be able to execute against every level of competition. He went on to explain the team is spending a lot of time early in the season at being very good at specific situations, and are we focusing on the basic skills of the sport.

Two additional things that are pleasing to Hermreck are the solid numbers of kids who are turning out for the squad, and the continuing good effects the youth wrestling programs in the Paola area are having on the new wrestlers joining the squad.

“We have been hovering around 34 wrestlers. It is always nice to have above 30 but 40 would be home run,” he said. “I cannot complain about our numbers we seem to be gathering a handful of new recruits out each year and that is something that makes me very happy.”

When talking about the positive effects of the kids wrestling club in Paola, Hermreck pointed out freshman Joe Pomatto’s experience with the kids club and how valuable his time with the club has been to help speed his adaptation to the high school level.

“We always preach basic positioning traits. Our club program does a great job at teaching the same skills, so Joe is already able to perform the drills and techniques with very little coaching needed,” Hermreck said. “We just have to fine tune those skills a little so we can place him into a better position to be successful at the high school level.”

Aside from the obvious problems young athletes have, regardless of sport, in moving from one level of competition to the next, Hermreck is confident that kids who have taken part in the program, and Pomatto specifically, will have an easer time making an impact at the high school level.

“Joe is a very interesting situation simply because he is going to come out and battle at the 189 lb weight class, which is pretty rare as a freshman,” Hermreck said. “Joe has very high goals set for himself and if he works hard enough there is nothing that will keep him from attaining them.”

Tradition. The Panthers are ripe with tradition, and with this team, Hermreck is confident that tradition will continue. It’s the kind of situation every coach enjoys, having a group of kids who are eager and willing to learn and grow, and that, is exactly what Hermreck sees before him every day in practice.

“This entire group has ability to be pretty special. They show up every day, that is very important. They work hard, they make smart decisions, and they understand that the sky is the limit,” he said. “As a coach, I am telling you that you have to absolutely love coming in each and every day and being around this group of young men. They are a fantastic group and we have not had a team like this in a long time.”

Although no positions have been set, Hermreck said his squad heading into the Gardner meet on Saturday, December 5, 2009 could look something like this: 103 - Brian Ebeling; 112 - Open; 119 - Josh Wade; 125 - Taylor Harris; 130 - Tanner Staats; 135 - Dylan McKinney; 140 - Kurt Weaver; 145 - Eric Timpe; 152 - Samual Biggus; 160 - Tyler Henness; 171 - Brad Hall; 189 - Joe Pomatto; 215 - Spencer Trumbly; 285-Cale Karigan.

Panthers look to draw on Tradition