Panther matters endure tests, set foundation

Mike Tupa

Two words best characterize the essence of Barnsdall High School wrestling in 2019-20.

Joe Cole.

The light-heavyweight senior warrior (170 pounds) wrapped up a stellar mat career by making one final encore appearance at the Class 3A state tourney.

Cole’s prep era is done — but Panther wrestling appears to be alive and vibrant as it moves toward the future.

Head coach Caleb Haws bids good-bye to only four seniors — Cobb, Dallas McGill (120 pounds), Dawson Walker (126 pounds) and Ashton Armstrong (195-220) — and welcomes back more than a half-dozen for next year’s squad.

But, the Panthers will continue to consist of a strong core of youth.

“We’ll have seven eighth-graders coming up (as freshmen),” Haws said. “I hope we’ll have a good year.”

Last season’s team battled through a semi-rebuilding process, thanks to the graduation of seven or eight seniors from the 2018-19 crew.

“We didn’t necessarily have the firepower we had a year before,” Haws said. “This year it was pretty much Joe. We got better as the year went on, of course. We had tough teams in our district. … We had to give up two or three weights to forfeit in each dual, which made it difficult to win.”

But, the young Panthers who persisted through the bumps and lumps gained valuable seasoning for next year.

Sophomore Keiven Slone lined up for the Panthers at 106 pounds, followed by Carson Auschwitz at 113 pounds.

Auschwitz powered to a 2-2 record at the regional — posting both his wins by pins. He came up just one win shy of advancing to state.

At 120 pounds, McGill also found a spot in state just inches away from his grasp. The senior battler wrenched out a 3-3 — including a win by bye — at the regional. He finished in sixth place, earning a spot as a state alternate.

Walker filled the 126-pound slot. He finished 1-2 at the regional.

McKenzie Owens filled in during the season at either 113 or 120 pounds.

Josh Bransetter adapted quickly from a novice to the rough-and-tumble rumble of grappling.

“He was a first-year guy,” Haws said about the 138-pounder. “He learned a tremendous amount over a few months. He was close.”

Junior Kendall Owens muscled up at 145 pounds. He carved out his season highlight with a win by pin in the grueling dual scrap with Pawhuska. Owens finished 1-2 at the regional.

Sophomore Adam Jennings displayed character-driven, hard-work progress.

“He’s a second-year guy,” Haws said. “Last year, he didn’t win a single match. He won three or four matches this year.”

Jennings finished 1-2 at the regional.

Trace Wells fought hard at 195 pounds. The junior “did all right,” Haws said, adding Wells’ best achievements are ahead of him.

At 220 pounds, sophomore Carson Dildine fashioned a .500 record. He opened the regional with a win by fall, but was eliminated in the round two of the consolations.

The retooled Panthers squad opened the season less than a week after the extended football campaign came to a halt in the Class A quarterfinals.

“Five or six days after football ended, we have a dual at Newkirk,” Haws said. “We don’t have lot of conditioning or time to work on technique. We end up losing the dual by two or three matches. We fought hard.”

Inexperienced Panthers struggled on through the season.

“Some of these young guys had to rely on the seniors and Joe Cole,” Haws said. “It was probably then these guys started realizing that: ‘Even if I don’t win, I can contribute by not getting pinned.’

“Just them realizing they could contribute by avoiding a technical fall or fight hard not to give up a major decision was a step in the right direction,” Haws said. “We had a really good dual with Pawhuska. There were a lot of forfeits, but it’s always a fun rivalry. … We had a better regional tournament than people were expecting.”

Even so, there were some tough lessons to absorb.

“Some of the those younger guys had to step in and take their lumps as freshmen and sophomores,” Haws said. “We started the season with 15 guys and ended with 12. … Our numbers were down just a hair, but I think they’ll be back up next year.”

Barnsdall’s outlook glows bright in more than one way.

In addition to a heavy influx of new grapplers, Barnsdall also will be working out of a fresh wrestling room, which is part of the new football fieldhouse being put in north of the football field.