Oconto Falls wrestlers hang tough in loss to Freedom

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Panthers surrendered 18 free points in 18-point loss

Greg Bates, Times Herald correspondent

With some young wrestlers hitting the mat for their first varsity experience, Oconto Falls tri-head coach Marc Kinziger didn’t know exactly what to expect.

That’s especially true since the Panthers were taking on perennial state power Freedom.

“The coaching staff kind of looking at each other like, hey, we did a little bit better than we thought we would,” Kinziger said. “We thought the guys wrestled really good. In a way, inexcusable not to fill all the weight classes.”

Oconto Falls left three open weight classes — surrendering 18 free points — as Freedom went on the road to pull off a 41-23 victory in a Northeastern Conference dual on Thursday, Nov. 29.

The Panthers won five of the 11 contested matches and got bonus points in three of those matches.

“We knew we were going to give up the three, so we kept it competitive and we still wanted to win the contested matches,” Kinziger said. “We came up one point short. Proud of the way they wrestled. Freedom’s a tough team.”

“We had a lot of matches early on that were either a lot closer than I expected or our guys won with a pin or more, and I wasn’t expecting that,” said Oconto Falls 113-pounder Jager Eisch.

Oconto Falls trailed 26-12 after eight matches. Then the meat of the Panthers’ lineup stepped up. In his first varsity match, freshman Graeson Pankratz (106) came back to down Freedom’s Logan Talbot by a 7-4 decision.

Eisch stepped up and dazzled in his season-opening performance. The sophomore had two near falls before closing out Zach Lahay with a 10-1 major decision.

“I really wanted points for my team,” Eisch said. “I knew we were behind, and I wanted to get a pin. I was just focused on team points, mostly. Working on my moves, making sure I kept the lead for my team.”

“He looked sharp,” Kinziger said. “He looked really, really good. I know at some point he’s going to 106 where he’ll be totally dominant down there. He looked really good tonight against a good, quality kid.”

Collin Schindel (120) followed that up with an exciting match against Colton Kater. Trailing 5-1 in the first period, Schindel didn’t panic. He said he felt Kater getting tired and he worked harder. Down 5-4, Schindel picked up two points on a reversal with 38 seconds remaining the third period. He held on from there for a 9-5 victory.

“He’s one of those guys that’s been looking really good in the practice room,” Kinziger said. “I knew he had a tough guy tonight and it looks like he was in a little better shape than his competition.”

Schindel had faced off against Kater the last two season and lost “pretty bad” both times.

“This year, I finally beat him,” Schindel said. “It’s my senior year, pretty proud.”

The 182-pound match between Oconto Falls’ Aidan Stary and Freedom’s Grant Vosters was a gem. Vosters led 4-0 before Stary scrapped back to tie at 4-4 through two periods. With 36 seconds on the clock in the third, Vosters got an escape to eke out a 5-4 victory.

“Other than that first 10 seconds, he basically dominated that match,” Kinziger said.

Oconto Falls notched two pins on the night. Clayton Whiting (152) earned a fall in 5:23 and Trevor Pankratz (170) made quick in his match with a pin in 2:36.

A big emphasis for future meets is filling all the weight classes. Oconto Falls can’t be without bodies at 132, 138 and heavyweight and expect to win big duals.

After watching his teammates wrestle against Freedom, Eisch picked up a few things his team needs to work on before its invitational at Bay Port on Dec. 8.

“I think next week we’ve really got to work on bottom,” Eisch said. “There’s a lot of guys getting turned or stuck on bottom. Also, on top, I know my kid, I couldn’t turn him. I got most of my points from takedowns.”

The Oconto Falls wrestlers can take away plenty of positives from their effort in the first meet. It gives them a glimpse of what’s to come this season.

“I feel really confident in our future,” Schindel said. “If we practice every day, do what we’re supposed to, eat right and I think we can be a good team.”