Tom Owens has coached the Pallotti varsity wrestling team for all but four seasons since 1995 and this year’s squad has more youth then any other group.
“This is the youngest team I’ve ever had and they are all really eager to learn and they are just a good bunch of kids that are picking it up pretty fast,” Owens said.
The squad includes eight freshmen and none have junior league experience.
That didn’t stop freshman Jason Hilbun from making an immediate impact at the Battle in the Boro IV wrestling tournament at Boonsboro High on Dec. 13 and 14 .
Hilbun placed fifth at 113 pounds.
“He’s a freshman and we went to a JV tournament with him and we had the one match and this was his first varsity tournament and he did really well,” said Owens, noting the Panthers lost its first dual meet, 45-17, to Friends.
The coach took seven grapplers to Boonsboro and senior captain Jeremy Wright placed seventh at 132.
“He is wrestling well, he got caught up there in a headlock, he’s starting to get better, I look for him to do really well,” said Owens, whose squad finished 15th out of 43 teams at Boonsboro.
Wright was seeded eighth in the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association tournament last year and went 3-2 and took fifth at 132 pounds.
The top finisher at the MIAA tournament last year was Tyler Rhodes, who went 28-7 and was fourth, but he graduated and is now helping to coach the team.
Last year’s Panthers went 2-4 in dual meets during the regular season, but in the tournament they were ninth out of 17 teams, finishing highest among B Conference teams and ahead of two A Conference foes.
“They really came together at the tournament, the seniors did, Tyler did really well getting in that third and fourth match,” Owens said. “We just got wins up at that tournament that just gave us some points.”
Max Grogans (23-7), Jack McCarty and Eduardo Sandoval were the other seniors that graduated from last year’s squad.
Another varsity returnee, who placed sixth at the MIAA tournament, won by Mount St. Joseph, was heavyweight Robert Thornburg.
At Boonsboro, the 236-pound sophomore placed eighth at 285.
“He is getting better,” Owens said.
The other returning veterans include junior Damon Hawkins (132 or 138) and sophomores Jaden Koranteng (126), K.K. Lewis (132 or 138) and Clay Bullock (170).
Lewis is expected to return next week from a broken arm suffered during football season.
Bullock was just cleared to practice on Dec. 16 after a shoulder injury.
“Koranteng wrestled 126 at Boonsboro and won some matches,” Owens noted.
Senior Mekhi McDaniels is a first-year wrestler hoping to improve along with freshmen John Singh (106), Jaden Reis (113), Charles Rukus (113), Ethan Leach (120), Jacob Wright (120), George Trimble (138) and Aaron Goode (170).
“They are doing better then you could expect for first-year kids,” Owens said. “It just takes time to become well-rounded, but by the end of this season and a little work over the summer, I think it’s going to be a really, really good team in a couple years.”
Besides Rhodes, former Pallotti wrestlers Brandon Farley and Newt Davis are also helping to coach the team that Owens would like to see become a springboard back to teams from the glory days.
“We are rebuilding, but I’ve got eight freshmen, if I keep these eight freshmen for the next couple of years, we are going to be fine,” Owens said. “If I could keep adding more and more freshmen every year, I could get it back to what we were in 2012 when we were in the A Conference and we had 40 kids coming out.”
Pallotti ended its 2019 schedule on in a tri-meet with St. Mary’s and Glenelg Country School.
They are not going to compete in any tournaments over the holidays, but will participate in the Battle at the Bridge tournament at Bohemia Manor High after the new year (Jan 10-11).
“No holiday tournament, we are just going to practice and practice and get better,” Owens concluded.