FOREST CITY — Admittedly, there’s work still to be done on the Central Springs wrestling team. The Panthers know they’re close, though, and if they can clean up a few things over the next week, look for plenty of Panthers to leave their mark on the postseason.

Saturday’s Top of Iowa Conference meet showed a partial blueprint for the way forward as the Panthers had two champions, and nearly another, but there’s a few hurdles to get over before they can be talking about state.

“We’ve got to beat North Butler to do it and they looked great today,” Central Springs coach Jay McDonough said. “It’s just something about Central Springs — we get to this time of year and it’s time to peak. We just had a little couple matches that got out of control today, but we’ll come back, we’ll build off this and we’ve got to bring the fight.”

Carter Pals has been one of the Panthers’ bright spots this season at 120 pounds, and he has the kind of fight McDonough loves to see in his wrestlers.

He showed a little of that Saturday in his title match vs. Lake Mills’ Tyler Helgeson, who’s ranked sixth in Class 1A. Pals, who trailed 2-1 after one period, took Helgeson to the mat at the start of the second, and then turned him to his back for a pin in 2 minutes, 43 seconds. It was the second time in two tries Pals, who’s unranked, has beaten Helgeson this year.

“It means a lot because last year I got fourth last year, and to get fourth last year and first this year feels real good,” Pals said of his conference title. “I worked hard and felt that I could do good and I did and came out on top.”

Pals, who has won more than 40 matches this season, beat Helgeson 4-3 earlier this season, and he nabbed the win in the final 10 seconds. Saturday’s victory showed how far he’s come.

“Just his fire,” McDonough said. “Sometimes he’ll wrestle a little flat and a little timid against the really good kids. That’s the second time he’s beat Helgeson this year so he had the confidence going in and he had the fire today. He’s been wrestling with more energy, more passion, more fire on the mat so that’s what we’re looking for.”

Another positive has been the continued drive of Zack Santee.

Santee added to an already solid season Saturday with a conference title at 220 pounds, although it wasn't perfect as he admitted after a 5-3 victory over Eagle Grove’s Joel Mendoza.

“I would’ve liked to have won by a lot more,” Santee said. “A win’s a win, but I need to work on it a lot more. That was a learning match for me.”

His coach has seen a wrestler whose drive could take him as far as he wants to go.

“Santee has just been solid,” McDonough said. “He lost to a good kid the other night out of South Winneshiek, now he’s turned back around the corner, he’s hungry, and when he gets that fire, he just wants it.”

With the good came the not-so-good Saturday, but the Panthers remain confident their best week’s are in front of them.

Central Springs’ only other finalist, Zach Ryg, watched his title chances slip through his fingers in an overtime loss vs. Belmond-Klemme’s Tucker Kroeze. McDonough called the match a learning experience for Ryg and something he expects him to bounce back from should the two meet again down the road.

If the Panthers can pull it tighter team wide and get over the hump in a week, the confidence is only going to spill out even more than it already is.

“We didn’t think that we were going to do good this year as a team but we ended up doing pretty well, and I think we have a shot at regionals,” Pals said.

Added Santee, “It’s all in the mindset. I think we’re ready for Saturday to give it what we’ve got.”

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