FULTON – The 2018 Fulton High School wrestling team rosters just three upperclassmen. The remaining 14 competitors are sophomores and freshman with little or no varsity experience.
The Steamers' adolescence surfaced in a dual with Three Rivers Athletic conference heavyweight Orion, who imposed its will through five pins while cruising to a dual victory Friday night at Fulton High School.
Fulton coach Chris Grant said his team, who are only three meets into the season, are still primarily focused on fundamentals and basic mechanics during daily practice sessions.
"We have a lot of holes in our lineup right now and we are really, really young," Grant said. "I have a lot of new kids that have never been out so we are still learning... Some of these kids are only three weeks into practice and are still learning moves and that kind of thing."
"But they showed a lot of heart against a very good Orion team."
Fulton senior Eli Pannell recorded the Steamers' lone pin against Orion's Luke DeBaillie with 1:32 remaining in the first period. Pannell, who qualified for the 1A state tournament last season, is primed to turn in a historical campaign while continuing his quest to return to Champaign.
Grant said the team expected a showdown with Orion state qualifier Logan Lee, who ultimately was sidelined due to injury.
"Eli is going for a pin record this year," Grant said. "We were actually looking for the Pannell versus Lee matchup tonight but I think Lee is still healing, which is good, but maybe down the line we will get that opportunity again."
Another highlighted performance from Fulton came from sophomore Michael Apostolos, who nearly stunned senior fifth-ranked Mason Loete in the 138-pound bout.
"He [Apostolos] is one of my sophomores that you can not ever count him out," Grant said.
Apostolos nearly pinned Loete in front of a vibrant home crowd, but the referee allowed Loete enough time to regroup and return to his feet, which caused a stir from many Steamers' fans in the bleachers.
"That would have set the state on the fire and would have been a huge deal... I think Loete was bringing the heat and Apostolos felt it and that is one thing we have been working on," Grant said.
In the final match of the night, Fulton sophomore Kaleb Schipper nearly pulled off an improbable comeback performance to oust Andrew Allen after pulling into a 9-9 tie after trailing 9-3 with just moments remaining in the third period.
While Allen ultimately prevailed, Schipper's relentless and enthusiasm were not lost on Grant.
"That was fun," Grant said. "He is very limited in his moves but we have been working with him on that head-and-arm and he is starting to feel it... this was pretty much his first match of the year so sometimes it just takes a while to get him revved up."
Fulton will return to the map with a trip to Newman for a triangular meet against AFC and Newman at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday.