Wrestling's premier Class 2A teams for the past three seasons - Springstead and Lakeland-Lake Gibson - collide during this weekend's 32nd annual Brooksville-Kiwanis Invitational at Hernando High's Michael A. Imhoff Gymnasium.
Springstead and Lake Gibson have finished 1-2 in the rugged 2A FHSAA Finals at The Lakeland Center for the past three winters.
LGHS skipper Danny Walker's 14th team features three returning state qualifiers from last winter's second-place Kiwanis effort: junior Caleb Smith at 113 pounds, junior Sa'derian Perry at 126 and senior David Rudd at 220.
Smith is lone returning state placer (third at 106).
Last June's commencement exercises claimed a combined nine seniors from Lake Gibson and Springstead entering the North Suncoast's longest-running mat tourney.
Despite the personnel losses, the Spring Hill-based Eagles and Polk County-based Braves are expected to battle for the tallest trophy while unleashing a combined nine returning state qualifiers beginning at 3 p.m. Friday across the two-day IBT (individually bracketed tournament) event.
Friday's opening round is expected to wrap up by 10 p.m.
Saturday's action begins with semifinals at 10 a.m. - unless any of Friday night's late second-round wrestlebacks did not get completed - across the four mats.
Wrestlebacks will immediately follow the semis. Consolation finals are set for 4:30 p.m. followed immediately by the finals.
All five Hernando County teams will also be competing in the largest-ever assembled Kiwanis field.
The field is expected to include teams representing 11 counties (Hernando, Pasco, Citrus, Sumter, Marion, Hillsborough, Pinellas, Polk, Osceola, Manatee and Broward).
The 31-team field is expected to include: Lake Gibson, Auburndale, Lakeland Senior, Tampa-Robinson, Brandon-Tampa HEAT, Tampa-Freedom, Riverview-Spoto, Ruskin-Lennard, Plant City-Durant, Tampa-Citrus Park Christian, Largo-Indian Rocks Christian, St. Petersburg-Northside Christian, Harmony, St. Cloud, Central, Nature Coast, Springstead, Weeki Wachee, The Villages, Bradenton Christian, Coral Springs Charter, Wiregrass Ranch, Land O' Lakes, Sunlake, Wesley Chapel, Pasco, Crystal River, Lecanto, Ocala-Trinity Catholic, Ocala-Vanguard and host Hernando.
The three-time defending 2A state champion Springstead Eagles have won this event a tourney record 17 times - including the last seven in a row.
Kiwanis: 'Quality individuals'
Of all the people involved with the three-decade old tourney, Hernando High's second-year mentor, David Pritz, understands its significance. Pritz placed fourth as a freshman and third as a sophomore before capturing back-to-back gold medals.
Pritz holds the distinction of being the lone two-time recipient of the meet's most prestigious honor: the Outstanding Wrestler Award in 2004-05.
"I think every coach here will tell you the tournament's top two teams will be Springstead and Lake Gibson; there's no doubt there," explained Pritz. "We brought in a lot of teams on purpose. Not everybody has a full boat, but a lot of teams have quality individuals. That, in turn, makes it a more competitive field. We brought in all these teams for a reason - hopefully to shake things up for better consolation finals, semifinals and finals."
On the Leopards' focus this weekend, "Last year, our goal was to reach the top 10 and we did," Pritz said. "We'd like to finish in the top 10 again. This is one of the more exciting weeks of the year for us."
According to Pritz, the Purple and Gold mat men are expecting to fill a complete lineup. Four grapplers are expected to make their seasonal debut including: freshmen Austin Watson at 132 pounds and Cody Maniates at 138, sophomore Michael Listebarger at 182 and senior Robert Smith at 285.
At 220, senior Jesse Gaudin, who went 3-2 in this meet as a freshman and failed to place, has captured his last seven Kiwanis matches.
The three-time All-County selection enters 10-2 lifetime at Kiwanis with back-to-back gold medals.
The heavily favored Gaudin (5-0, two pins this year) appears to have the inside lane on possibly tying Pritz with his second OSW award.
Last year, Gaudin was Hernando's 38th Kiwanis champion and the OSW recipient.
The last Hernando County team to open its season, Springstead, debuted last Saturday unveiling seven first-year grapplers.
Despite those fresh faces going a collective 10-12, SHS managed to capture its 10th tournament in 11 tries under former Kiwanis champion Sal Basile.
Basile, a two-time state qualifier, won at 103 pounds in 1992 behind three pins in four bouts.
According to Basile, with football season finishing up, the Eagles will enter Friday with three defensive starters from Mike Garofano's record-setting 11-2 team: seniors Jordan Rivera at 145 and Shane Wiggins at 195, and junior Robert Holdway at 152.
Wiggins isn't a complete novice on the mats. He's competed at the JV level in the past for SHS. Both Holdway (21-18) and Jordan (45-4) are returning starters.
Holdway is one of seven Eagles with previous mat experience at Kiwanis. He placed fourth in Brooksville last winter.
Rivera (125-19 lifetime, 64 pins) is a three-time returning state placer and Hernando County's lone returning state champion from last winter. With three Kiwanis wins, he'll leapfrog past Skylar Huff (127 career wins from 2004-08) into 10th place on the Eagles' all-time list of victories.
Besides HHS' Gaudin, Jordan should be in serious contention for this year's OSW. He enters his first meet of the season 12-0 lifetime at Kiwanis behind back-to-back-to-back gold medal efforts featuring 10 pins.
SHS also returns two other defending Kiwanis champions featuring juniors Matt Landgraff at 106 and Michael McDonald at 120.
Like Rivera, McDonald has never lost at Kiwanis (8-0 with six pins). McDonald and Landgraff are a combined 15-1 at Kiwanis.
Besides Holdway, SHS returns three other placers from last winter's Kiwanis meet: senior Corey Humphrey (third) at 220, Billy Swift (third) at 170 and Andrew Smith (fourth) at 138.
Springstead, which has totaled a meet-high 230 placers featuring a meet-best 102 champions in 29 previous Kiwanis events (they did not participate in 1985 or 1991), will enter minus three starters from last winter.
Two-time state placer, junior Conor Ross, was lost three weeks ago due to a left anterior cruciate ligament tear from football.
According to Basile, senior Austin Stock at 182 has opted not to return to the mats while senior Travis O'Neil at 195 was hit with a six-week suspension by the FHSAA after being ejected for unsporting behavior at Armwood.
Basile admitted the Eagle administration may appeal O'Neil's suspension, but he's definitely out for the next couple of weeks.
Typically, over the past few years the Eagles have attempted to bounce back at Kiwanis from the rugged Cougar Invitational hosted by Plant City-Durant. But the Cougar Invite was pushed back to Dec. 20-21.
"Usually by now, we've seen Lake Gibson and some of the tougher teams around," noted Coach Basile. "Both Lake Gibson and us are in a very similar position - we're both trying to fill holes in the lineup.
"Last week, we were fortunate to win a tournament with guys going 0-2. We can't afford anyone going 0-2 this weekend," said Basile. "With Conor out, we won't have anyone at 182. At least with Jordan, Robert and Shane back in the lineup, we've solidified ourselves better than last weekend. That's what we have to continue doing."
On his tourney outlook, "I agree with Coach Pritz's assessment, there's a lot more individual depth this year at Kiwanis," identified Basile. "I'm not sure who'll finish third or fourth. I see Nature Coast, Lennard and Durant all in that mix."
NCT: Seek top-three finish
Nature Coast has brought 93 grapplers to the Kiwanis Invite over the past eight winters.
Last season, Brandon Vovan at 160 pounds finally snapped the Sharks' gold-medal drought at HHS.
To date, the Sharks have returned home with 18 placers. NCT placed as high as second in 2011.
Last winter, head coach Mike Lastra's crew captured 26-of-45 bouts (58 percent) en route to a disappointing eighth-place finish.
This time, Hernando County's longest-tenured skipper seeks a top-three finish.
Junior Mark Espinosa at 120 has raised eyebrows behind an outstanding 12-0 start with seven pins. Jeramie Jazikoff at 138 and Adrian Rivera at 152 are 10-2 - both behind sophomore Anthony Contegiacomo's 11-1 start at 220 pounds.
"We're looking for a top-three finish," emphasized NCT's 11th-year skipper Lastra. "We're looking for some respect. Our goal is to get a couple champs and a few more placers than last year."
Though none of his returning grapplers are returning state qualifiers, Lastra believes Espinosa and Rivera "could go deep into their brackets."
"Rivera has lost to two tough kids in two decisions and we've bumped up Espinosa all season long and he's responded," Lastra said. "He's the leader in the room. I'm looking for great things from him at Kiwanis."
Weeki Wachee's Anthony Vines at 285 enters en fuego at 12-0 with 10 pins. He went 3-2 with three pins at Kiwanis last winter before losing in the final wrestleback round.
WWHS is attempting to surpass last winter's 19th-place finish out of 25 teams behind a 10-man lineup. The Hornets have been unable to fill 113, 170, 182 and 195.
"We don't have enough firepower to win an IBT," said former Springstead state qualifier and Weeki Wachee's current third-year skipper Joe Felice. "All I want to see is an improvement over last week (seventh-place finish at the Wildcat Invitational at Ocala-Forest)."
As far as Kiwanis' top rung, "With Springstead and Lake Gibson coming, they're the top two teams - that's undeniable," detailed Felice, who captured a gold medal in this event at 130 as a teammate of Basile in 1992. "Crystal River and Pasco have guys that can also score some points.
"Overall, the tourney field is tough. I think 106, 120, 126, 170 and 220 are particularly loaded. Whoever wins will have to beat some quality kids to get there."
Over the past 31 Kiwanis events, Central has participated in 20. CHS' best team finish was in 1993 (third) under Alan Solomon.
The Bears have collected 65 placers including 10 champions. The last two Bears to garner gold at Kiwanis were Bucky Solomon at 112 and Sergio Matos at 145 in 2002.
Central has not competed since opening the season winless at 0-7 at the Weeki Wachee Duals.
CHS finished 15th at Kiwanis last winter with one placer: Josh Marques (fourth) at 113.
The Bears are expected to return two grapplers with previous Kiwanis experience: senior Brandon Brown at 195 and Adam Keister at 182.
Brown enters Kiwanis behind a team-leading 7-0 won-lost slate, featuring five pins.
At a Glance
What: 32nd annual Brooksville-Kiwanis Invitational Wrestling Tournament.
Who: The 31-team IBT (individual bracketed tournament) field is expected to include: Lakeland-Lake Gibson, Auburndale, Lakeland Senior, Tampa-Robinson, Brandon-Tampa HEAT, Tampa-Freedom, Riverview-Spoto, Ruskin-Lennard, Plant City-Durant, Tampa-Citrus Park Christian, Largo-Indian Rocks Christian, St. Petersburg-Northside Christian, Harmony, St. Cloud, Central, Nature Coast, Springstead, Weeki Wachee, The Villages, Bradenton Christian, Coral Springs Charter, Wiregrass Ranch, Land O' Lakes, Sunlake, Wesley Chapel, Pasco, Crystal River, Lecanto, Ocala-Trinity Catholic, Ocala-Vanguard and host Hernando. The seven-time defending champion is Springstead.
Where: Hernando High's Michael A. Imhoff Gymnasium.
When: Two-day tournament begins Friday at 3 p.m. Saturday action is expected to begin with the semifinals at 10 a.m. Wrestlebacks will follow. Consolation finals set for 4:30 p.m. followed immediately by the finals.
At Stake: Team trophies for top two teams, medals for top four placers in each weight class along with individual awards for Most Falls, Least Amount of Time (only applies to individual champions); Fastest Pin; Outstanding Wrestler Award and Outstanding Referee.
Past Brooksville-Kiwanis Tournament Champions
YEAR SCHOOL POINTS
2012 Spring Hill-Springstead 215.5
2011 Spring Hill-Springstead 302.5
2010 Spring Hill-Springstead 287.5
2009 Spring Hill-Springstead 317.5
2008 Spring Hill-Springstead 252.5
2007 Spring Hill-Springstead 228.5
2006 Spring Hill-Springstead 234.0
2005 Gainesville 243.0
2004 Bunnell-F. Palm Coast 209.5
2003 Brooksville-Hernando 203.0
2002 Tampa-Sickles 156.0
2001 Spring Hill-Springstead 179.0
2000 Spring Hill-Springstead 208.5
1999 Spring Hill-Springstead 209.0
1998 Lecanto 189.0
1997 Spring Hill-Springstead 252.0
1996 Spring Hill-Springstead 214.5
1995 Spring Hill-Springstead 241.0
1994 New Orleans, LA-Jesuit 226.0
1993 Lakeland Senior 173.0
1992 Spring Hill-Springstead 210.0
1991 Mechanicsburg, PA 178.0
1990 Spring Hill-Springstead 175.0
1989 Spring Hill-Springstead 206.5
1988 Spring Hill-Springstead 211.5
1987 Land O'Lakes 147.0
1986 New Orleans, LA-Jesuit 162.5
1985 Leesburg 157.0
1984 Englewood-Lemon Bay 215.0
1983 Tampa-Leto 213.0
1982 Brandon 206.5