Panthers drop dual to Demons
WASHINGTON — The night before his team’s dual meet with Southeast Conference rival Mt. Pleasant, Washington junior 152-pounder Tanner Knupp had a dream that the meet would come down to him. Unfortunately, he woke up before he got a chance to finish the dream.
But on Thursday night, on the mat, Knupp got a chance to finish his dream.
With his team trailing 34-31, Knupp walked onto the mat for the final match of the night.
“I had a dream last night that I would be the last match,” Knupp said. “Then we got into the locker room tonight and Coach [Brent Van Weelden] said, ‘Starting at 60.’ I was shocked. I love those situations where I’m under pressure.”
Knupp opened the must-win match with a quick takedown, but Mt. Pleasant senior Michael Alderson quickly escaped. Undeterred, Knupp took down Alderson again, this time to his back.
Knupp had Alderson on his back for over a minute, but finally pinned him with 17 seconds remaining in the first period. After the referee’s whistle, Knupp popped up and let out a roar. His win had lifted the Demons to a 37-34 victory over the Panthers.
“I knew I had the opportunity to get the fall late in the first (period), and I knew if I didn’t get the fall then I’d missed a big opportunity. So I had to make use of the opportunity, and I did,” Knupp said.
Knupp dedicated the victory to the late Curt Jensen, a beloved teacher and coach at Washington High School who passed away on Jan. 10, 2007.
“A family friend and a teacher, Mr. Curt Jensen, died six years ago today,” Knupp said. “On my knee pad, I wrote ‘CJ5.’ Jan. 10 is always going to be in my mind. When I woke up this morning, I thought of him.”
The loss was a tough one for the Panthers (11-6, 1-2 SEC), who had led 31-16 with five matches remaining in the meet. Washington also won by the score of 37-34 last year in Mt. Pleasant.
“It was real close,” Mt. Pleasant head coach Anthony Blint said. “A year later, same score.”
Mt. Pleasant senior Jayton Phillips opened the meet with a 7-2 win over Washington senior Brandon Rhinhart at 160 pounds. Washington junior 170-pounder Austin Latcham, wrestling in his first meet since the holiday break after returning from a back injury, answered with a win by fall at 170 pounds, and sophomore Brad Skubal also pinned his opponent at 182 pounds.
But Mt. Pleasant won the next four matches. Junior Justin Dilks won a 12-2 major decision over Washington senior Aaron Kempf at 195 pounds, and then senior Colton Aplara, senior Emmett Wester and freshman Colton Mertens each recorded pins to put the Panthers ahead 25-12.
“It seems like every dual we start at the worst place possible,” Van Weelden said. “They’re strong up top. We knew we were a little out-gunned up there, but I’ll tell you, Aaron Kempf didn’t get pinned. He lost by a major, but not a fall, so that was big for us. Even at 160, Brandon Rhinhart was going up against one of their best wrestlers and he only gave up a decision. Really, it came down to the kids who lost for us, but didn’t give up bonus points. That was the main thing, I think.”
“A lot of upperclassmen needed extra points,” Blint said. “We needed one more fall, and we just didn’t get it.”
Washington junior Fletcher Green, who is ranked fifth in Class 2A at 113 pounds, won a 9-0 major decision over Mt. Pleasant sophomore Conner Eads.
"Connor Eads wrestled a really tough kid,” Blint said. “He lost, but I'm real happy with the way (he) came out and competed."
Mt. Pleasant junior Tyler Lanphier came back after the loss with a pin in the 120-pound match again Washington freshman Michael Ellingson in the first period to put the Panthers up, 31-16.
Washington junior Tristan Pohren got a reversal to open the third period and then held on for a 2-1 decision at 126 pounds, and then freshman Jarek Brown, who was wrestling in just the sixth varsity match of his career because teammate Tony Landstrum was out sick, got a win at 132 pounds.
Brown’s win was a key one for the Demons (13-1, 3-1 SEC), who trailed 31-19 entering the match.
“That was huge,” Van Weelden said. “We had to get pins at that point obviously. Being down 31-19, I started counting on my fingers what we had to do, and I figured we probably needed three falls to win or maybe even to get a tie.”
Washington senior Mitchell Hora followed with a pin at 138 pounds that tied the score. But Mt. Pleasant junior Josh Larson won a 5-1 decision over Washington senior Matt Grote at 145 pounds to put the Panthers back in front. Then it all came down to Knupp, who got a chance to give his dream a happy ending.
“I dreamed about it, and dreams come true a lot of times,” Knupp said.
The Panthers get a week off before they get back on the mats, traveling to Fairfield on Thursday, Jan. 17, for their final Southeast Conference dual of the season.
The meet will begin with JV matches at 6:30 p.m.