Nearly every member of the Palmyra Panthers inaugural wrestling team is new to the sport.

Nearly every member of the Palmyra Panthers inaugural wrestling team is new to the sport.

That reality hasn’t limited their progress.

“From the ground up to where we are now, the kids have made huge strides,” coach Josh Buatte said. “It’s like night and day, watching them from their first meet until now. They can notice the difference, I can notice the difference, and their confidence level is going up as well.”

Palmyra hosted its final of two home meets last Thursday night, defeating Macon 36-30 before falling to Missouri Military Academy 48-30.

Evan Kelso and Boyd Triplett each came through for the Panthers with pins during the meet, while the rest of Palmyra’s individual victories came via forfeits.

It was Senior Night for five Panther wrestlers: Wade Fessenden, Tucker Crowe, Matthew Calnan, Tyler Murray and Clayton Hudson. 

“It was nice to be able to recognize and thank all of our seniors for laying down a great foundation for future wrestling at Palmyra,” Buatte said.

Buatte came to Palmyra after six years as coach at Fort Zumwalt East. When the new head coach led a team camp last summer, he was encouraged by the number of grapplers who came and also their effort.

“We had quite a few numbers when I came in, and they also had kids recruiting other kids as well, which is also a big thing,” he said. 

Fast forward six months, the Panthers remain just as hungry as they work through growing pains with districts right around the corner.

At the St. Clair tourney last weekend, Connor Roberts (138) and Hudson (170) led the squad with fourth-place finishes in their respective divisions.

“The St. Clair tournament was some of the best wrestling I have seen from my wrestlers yet,” Buatte said. “They really showed up to compete.”

Last Tuesday, the Panthers faced Blair Oaks, Knob Noster and Southern Boone in a quad meet at Blair Oaks. Palmyra dropped all three matches.

“(We) fell kind of flat,” he said. “The wrestlers on this team are better than how they wrestled that night and they know that. Everybody has bad days, and that’s okay as long as you learn from it and better yourself.”

While the Panthers weren’t 100 percent pleased with the split outcome of their home tri-meet Thursday, Buatte said his squad is moving in the right direction.

“As long as they keep working that hard, I can’t ask any more,” he said. “I’m extremely happy with the kids. I’m proud of them, and I think they’re proud of themselves and each other.” 

In the future, Palmyra hopes to host more home meets than the two it has this season. Being on the road does have its perks, though, Buatte said.

“As a first-year team, it’s kind of nice to be on the road and not have to worry about setting things up and tearing things down,” he said. “We just show up and wrestle.” 

Although the five seniors will only get the chance to wrestle one high school season, there is plenty of talent coming through the pipeline, Buatte said.

“With our youth program, we should be replenishing that,” he said. “There should be five or more kids from the youth program next season.” 

First things first, the Panthers are shooting to fare well in their district and send at least one individual to state this year, Buatte said. 

“If you can get somebody through to state your very first year wrestling, it’s an extremely big compliment to the kids and how hard they work,” he said. “It’s a tall task, but that’s what we strive for.”

Hudson, out indefinitely with an elbow injury, would provide a boost to the team should he return.

“The way Clayton is, he’ll probably come back, but don’t hold me to that,” Buatte said. “He wants to compete. If there’s any way he can wrestle, he will wrestle.”

Palmyra heads to a tri-meet at Missouri Military Academy this Saturday.