(Creston) -- Creston-OM's youth has not stopped the Panthers from making strides on the wrestling mat, and they are hopeful they can continue to do so as some important tournaments loom.
The Panthers are currently 11-1 on the dual season and have featured a lineup that's consisted of as many as nine freshmen or sophomores during times this season.
"We're kind of getting some new guys in our lineup," Coach Cody Downing tells KMA Sports. "The effort has been there. It's been a fun group to coach. They come to work every day."
The Panthers have also had success in tournaments with top-four finishes in every tournament they've participated in except for the 49-team Kansas City Stampede.
"We've been right there," Downing said. "We've had some guys sit out in some tournaments with injuries that might have helped us but overall we're kind of where we expected to be. Maybe even better in some cases."
Justin Parsons (106), Owen Hend (113), Trey Chestnut (120), Triston Barncastle (132), Ty Morrison (152), Austin Seaton (170) and Chris Wilson (285) have been among the freshmen and sophomores in Coach Downing's lineup.
"I really feel like the fundamentals, we've picked up on," Downing said. "I just think the fundamentals and things are getting better. With this young of a lineup you're going to have your frustrations but it's still fun."
One wrestler that has likely not caused Coach Downing any frustration is junior Jackson Kinsella. A state medalist from a year ago, Kinsella is 29-1 on the season with his lone loss coming to a nationally-ranked wrestler from Oklahoma. Kinsella is also currently ranked No. 3 at 2A-182 by IAWrestle and No. 3 in the KMAland 160-285 power rankings.
"He's super motivated," Downing said. "He's got some goals he wants to hit. Hopefully, he can reach the goals he wants to hit this year."
Kinsella's practice partner Sam Chapman is also having a strong season and is currently 24-7 on the season.
Despite their youth, the Panthers find themselves very much in the hunt for the wide-open Hawkeye Ten title on both the tournament and dual side.
The Panthers' lone dual loss of the year came to Atlantic-CAM, who lost a conference dual to Harlan Thursday. The Panthers are set to dual Harlan on January 28th. A victory could create a three-way tie for first place.
Individually, the Panthers now enter the thick of the tournament season beginning with a trip to the 17-team Big Red Invitational in Centerville followed by the John J. Harris Invitational in Corning and the Hawkeye Ten Conference Meet in Red Oak before beginning postseason action.
Coach Downing is hopeful his young team can use the next few weeks to continue to improve.
"We want to start closing the gap on these guys," Downing said. "You're going to start seeing a lot of the competition over and over again, so start closing the gap and keep improving the little things in the room and give yourself a chance to close the year."
The complete interview with Coach Downing can be heard below.