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Saturday, Mar 28, 2015

County grapplers enter rugged regionals

Hernando Today correspondent

Published:   |   Updated: February 7, 2014 at 02:53 PM

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Thirty-six Hernando County grapplers enter two mat tourneys today with a singular purpose - to advance (via a top-four regional placing) to the 50th annual FHSAA Finals set for Feb. 14-15 at The Lakeland Center.

Three-time defending 2A state champion Springstead advanced a county-best 12 grapplers into Class 2A, Region II, aka the "Region of Doom," at vaunted Brandon High.

The Brandon Eagles, who enter with 13 grapplers, featuring 12 district champions, are seeking to extend their school and state record of 24 regional titles in a row.

Next week, Brandon aspires to add its 15th straight state championship and state-record 25th overall team crown.

Meanwhile, the Hernando County's four other mat programs trek to Green Cove Springs-Clay for the rugged 1A-II Tournament.

Both meet features 31 teams in a two-day, double-elimination IBT (individually bracketed tournament) format.

Included in 1A-II is the Orlando-Lake Highland Prep Highlanders, the two-time defending 1A state champions.

The host Blue Devils, who captured the 1A state crown in 2004, finished as state runners-up in each of the past three seasons.

As per state guidelines, both venues will begin competition at noon today across four mats.

There will be two winner's rounds and two loser's rounds completed today.

Saturday will begin with the semifinal round at 10 a.m. followed by wrestlebacks.

Consolation finals and finals will be held at 6 p.m. along two mats.

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Hall of Fame Brandon skipper Russ Cozart's didn't mince any words in defending the "Region of Doom" moniker.

"It's a tough region," declared Cozart in his 34th season at BHS. "We've got some great programs, like Springstead and Lake Gibson, who both have tremendous coaches in Sal (Basile at Springstead) and Danny (Walker at Lake Gibson). Robinson and Jesuit have great teams, too.

"The great coaches know the significance of this meet," added Cozart. "Sal's got a ton of experience. He and Danny will have their kids pointing toward this meet and next. When you have great coaching, then there will be some head butting."

Cozart defended his team's 'hunted' role, saying, "We're fortunate to have a lot of tradition here. To me, being the hunted is a compliment to our kids and our program. A wise man once said 'It's harder to stay on top, than to get to the top.' We've been fortunate to be on top for a while; but we're not dwelling on it.

"We've raised the bar higher here - these type meets are what we train for," admitted Cozart. "We all enjoy great competition and that's what the kids will get this weekend. We're all looking forward to it."

Springstead enters fresh from its county-record 28th district championship and 10th in a row.

The Spring Hill mat men will descend upon Hillsborough County facility winners of three straight regional crowns.

SHS hasn't competed against BHS at this level since finishing second in 2009, some 109 points behind Brandon in 2A-II at Poinciana.

The Mariner Boulevard mat men include 12 entries: seniors Travis O'Neil at 285 pounds, Shane Wiggins at 220, Corey Humphrey at 195, Vincent Buonanno at 160 and Jordan Rivera at 145; juniors Matt Landgraff at 106, Michael McDonald at 120, Quentin D'Alessandro at 126, Andrew Smith at 132, Robert Holdway at 152 and Billy Swift at 170; and freshman Travis Williams at 138.

Last weekend, O'Neil, Wiggins, Humphrey, Rivera, Landgraff, McDonald, D'Alessandro and Smith each captured first-place blue ribbons.

Last season at St. Cloud, SHS pushed seven into the rugged regional finals and notched three champions to push their county record in that department to 65 individual regional champions.

Last winter, McDonald and Rivera earned regional titles while Landgraff, Smith and Humphrey were all runners-up. Swift placed third.

Rivera, who lost in overtime as a freshman in the regional finals at 112, is a two-time defending regional champ.

The three-time state placer and defending state champion Rivera (31-3 this winter, 156-22 lifetime) is attempting to join three-time state champ Corey Hill with three regional titles.

Jimmy Stevenson (1996-2000) holds the SHS and Hernando County record with four regional crowns.

Since the Knockout Classic II at Kissimmee-Osceola, Rivera has reeled off 15 straight victories.

McDonald arrives a team-best 37-0, featuring a 38-match win skein dating back to the 2013 state tourney.

Smith is tied with McDonald in wins at 37-6, with Landgraff (36-2) and Humphrey (34-6) in hot pursuit.

Springstead's second-year skipper Sal Basile clearly understands the uphill task ahead for the Eagles.

"A lot of the brackets have 5-6 kids that are good enough to make states; unfortunately at Brandon only four will go," lamented Basile. "Based on our seeds, half of our guys got favorable seeds. The other half will have to beat 1-2 guys that they've already lost to.

"The key for us is we have to elevate our level," noted Basile. "Even if we've beaten a guy before, that doesn't mean anything going into this meet."

Based on the draws, Basile believes Landgraff, McDonald, Smith, Rivera and Humphrey could reach the tourney finals.

As far as the rest, "As long as they wrestle well, that's all that matters," he said. "Our theme all week is not to look past anyone and just concentrate on our first match."

Team-wise, Basile was realistic.

"On paper, we're trying to get second," said Basile. "On a good weekend, Jesuit could pull three in the finals. But just like in states, funny things happen in big meets. We're not as deep as we've been in the past, but we've got guys that can go deep into brackets."

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For the fourth time in five winters, Nature Coast Technical collected a runner-up district trophy last weekend at Hernando High in the 10-team 1A-District 6 Tournament.

This weekend, NCT will have to cut a pathway through a regional jungle containing Clay, Lake Highland Prep, Pasco, Crystal River - just to name a few.

"We know we're going into the toughest regional in 1A," declared the dean of Hernando County coaches, 10th-year Mike Lastra of NCT. "This group is particularly inexperienced for this type of competition, but we're coming off a tremendous weekend."

Team-wise, Lastra says 1A-II's team trophy will boil down to Clay and LHP.

"Clay is 14-deep and has tradition on its side, Lake Highland has 10 solid guys, but they've got six guys who are battleships," said Lastra. "I'd give a slight edge to Clay. After those two, I see Pasco, Crystal River and us in the mix."

On the Sharks' prospects of advancing grapplers to states, "With a perfect day, we could push 5-6 kids," detailed Lastra. "We could have as many as eight reaching the (consolation) finals. We received some good draws and realistically 3-4 kids could make it (to Lakeland)."

On the team's approach, Lastra kept it simple saying his grapplers have to win tough matches.

The Sharks arrive with 11 grapplers including: juniors Mark Espinosa at 126, Joey DeFranco at 132, Jeramie Jazikoff at 138, Raivyn Alicea at 145, Adrian Rivera at 152, Le'Shaun Gray at 180 and Frank Ritchie at 195; sophomores DeShawn Smith at 160, Anthony Contegiacomo at 220 and Dean Brooks at 285; and frosh Jordan Gibson at 120.

Last weekend, Gray and Ritchie became the Sharks' ninth and 10th district champions in 10 years.

Contegiacomo, who ranks third in the latest Hernando County Honor Roll, arrives with a team-leading 48-11 won-lost mark and a team-high 30 pin falls.

Espinosa (42-17) and Alicea (41-18) trail Contegiacomo in victories.

Third-year Weeki Wachee placed fifth in last weekend's 1A-6 Tourney.

WWHS walked in with eight grapplers and walked out with five qualifying for 1A-II including: seniors Anthony Vines at 285, Jesus Nieves at 132 and Dante Padilla at 120, and sophomores Brandon Smith at 106 and Brandon Enoch at 138.

The Hornets placed 27th in 1A-II in 2012 and improved to 23rd in 2013.

Nieves placed second in the "Region of Doom" last winter at St. Cloud while Padilla placed fourth.

Last weekend, Nieves and Padilla earned the school's first-ever district championships while Smith and Vines settled for second. Enoch placed third.

"We pushed four into the finals and pushed five to regionals, so we did everything I thought we would," explained Weeki Wachee head coach Joe Felice. "There were no real surprises for us. It was really nice to see two of our seniors earn district championships. I was real happy for them."

The Hornets' chances of advancing to states hinge on 120, 132 and heavyweight.

"I'm a planner," described Coach Felice. "Our best chances are with Padilla, Nieves and Vines.

"I feel bad for Enoch. Last year out of the gate he caught (Nick) Vestal of Lake Highland Prep, and this time he catches another stud (LHP's Anthony Petrone). We caught some bad breaks (seed-wise) at 106 and 138.

"That 138-pound weight class may be the best in that building," added Felice. "It's loaded. There are seven state-caliber kids in that one weight class."

Vines arrives in Clay County leading all Hernando County grapplers in wins (50) and pins (36).

Vines, who has never competed at the regional level, remains three wins shy of breaking the county mark for most wins in a season (52 by NCT's Sean Nguyen) and needs three pins to break the single-season mark for pins in a season (39 by Springstead's John Dreggors).

Both Padilla (48-8) and Nieves (47-6) are in Vines' rearview mirror as far as wins.

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At home last weekend, Hernando placed sixth in the 10-team 1A-6 field advancing five to regionals featuring: senior Bailey Mosher at 120, freshman Codey Maniates at 138, senior Brennan Ertl at 160, junior Austin Webber at 170 and senior Jesse Gaudin at 220.

Though Mosher, Ertl and Gaudin all reached the finals, only Gaudin garnered the first-place blue ribbon.

Gaudin (team-high 41-3, team-best 27 pins; 138-19 lifetime, 83 career pins) is seeking his second straight regional championship.

HHS' second-year mentor David Pritz was encouraged with last weekend's efforts.

"Across the board, I was very proud of our young guys. We had three guys come within one match of reaching regionals," he said.

On the tourney seeds, "Ertl and Webber got placed nicely, Jesse got a tough draw, but he'll battle through," noted Pritz. "Mosher has wrestled his best. There's no reason he can't slide into states either. And if Webber wins his semifinal, he'll be going, too."

Central, which walked into districts with five grapplers, walked away in eighth place advancing three to regionals: senior Austin Mestres at 113, junior John Templar at 170 and senior Brandon Brown at 182.

Brown arrives with a team-best 19-3 slate, featuring a team-high eight pins.

At a Glance

What - Class 2A, Region II Wrestling Tournament.

Who - Thirty-one teams in a two-day, double-elimination IBT (individually bracketed tournament) format including: 2A-5 champion Springstead, 2A-6 champ Harmony, 2A-7 champ Brandon, 2A-8 champ Tampa-Jesuit, along with Auburndale, Belleview, Daytona Beach-Seabreeze, Deltona-Pine Ridge, Eagle Lake-Lake Region, Citrus, Kissimmee-Liberty, Lakeland-Kathleen, Lakeland-Lake Gibson, Land O' Lakes, Sunlake, Lecanto, New Smyrna Beach, Ocala-Lake Weir, Ocala-Vanguard, Orlando-Lake Nona, Seffner-Armwood, Tampa-Blake, Tampa-Chamberlain, Tampa-Freedom, Tampa-Gaither, Tampa-Hillsborough, Tampa-Jefferson, Tampa-King, Tampa-Robinson, Wesley Chapel-Wiregrass Ranch and Winter Haven.

Where - Brandon High's gymnasium, 1101 Victoria St., Brandon.

When - Today from noon to 7 p.m. across four mats. Saturday's action expected to begin at 10 a.m. with the semifinals followed by wrestlebacks at 12:30 p.m. Consolation and finals set for 6 p.m.

At Stake - Top two teams receive trophies. Top four wrestlers receive ribbons and advance to Feb. 14-15 Class 2A FHSAA Finals at The Lakeland Center.

What - Class 1A, Region II Wrestling Tournament.

Who - Thirty-one teams in a two-day, double-elimination IBT (individually bracketed tournament) format including: 1A-5 champion Green Cove Springs-Clay, 1A-6 champ Pasco, 1A-7 champ Orlando-Lake Highland Prep, 1A-8 champ Rockledge, along with

Central, Hernando, Nature Coast Technical, Citra-North Marion, Cocoa, Cocoa Beach, Cocoa-Space Coast, Crystal River, Deltona, Dunnellon, Gainesville-Eastside, Anclote, Hudson, Interlachen, Gulf, Ridgewood, Ocala-Trinity Catholic, Orlando-Bishop Moore, Orlando-Central Florida Christian Academy, Palatka, Port Orange-Atlantic, Satellite Beach-Satellite, The Villages, Titusville, Titusville-Astronaut, Weeki Wachee and Wesley Chapel.

Where - Clay High, 2025 Florida CR 16 West, Green Cove Springs.

When - Today from noon to 7 p.m. across four mats. Saturday's action expected to begin at 10 a.m. with the semifinals followed by wrestlebacks at 12:30 p.m. Consolation and finals set for 6 p.m.

At Stake - Top two teams receive trophies. Top four wrestlers receive ribbons and advance to Feb. 14-15 FHSAA Finals at The Lakeland Center.

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