With three weekends remaining in the regular season, all five Hernando County mat programs are expected to be in action this weekend.
Springstead will cut its teeth at a first-time venture beginning this afternoon in Suwannee County.
According to Suwannee High Wrestling Hall of Famer David Laxton, the former Suwannee Invitational was renamed the Billy Saylor Invite, honoring the former Bulldog and Campbell University grappler, who died suddenly of a heart attack at 19 years old in 1997.
Meanwhile, Hernando High, Weeki Wachee and Central are expected to compete beginning this afternoon in the fifth edition of the Nature Coast Technical Duals in the Sharks' gymnasium, sponsored by Brooksville-based Combs Service.
The two-day Saylor Invitational is expected to draw as many as 18 teams in a two-day, round-robin format featuring: Springstead, Tallahassee-Lincoln, Tallahassee-Leon, Lake City-Columbia, Lynn Haven-Mosley, Orange Park-Ridgeview, Fort Walton Beach-Choctawhatchee, Ocala-Vanguard, Green Cove Springs-Clay, Wewahitchka, St. Augustine-Florida School for the Deaf and Blind, Jacksonville-Raines, Panama City-Bozeman, Tallahassee-Godby, Tallahassee-Florida High, Santa Rosa Beach-South Walton, Valdosta (Ga.) and host Live Oak-Suwannee.
The defending champion is Lincoln. Clay won this event two years ago.
Of the eight possible 2A teams at Suwannee, the Lincoln Trojans are the most dangerous, placing seventh in last winter's state finals.
LHS returns a defending state champion, senior Tristan Sommer at 152 pounds, and junior Jacob Geiger at 113. Geiger went 0-2 at states at 106.
Of the possible nine 1A teams in the mix, host Suwannee and Clay should be revered as mat royalty.
Under Laxton, Suwannee has raised three state championship banners in 1982 (3A), '91 (3A) and '96 (4A). The Bulldogs have also finished as state runners-up six times ('95, '97, '98, 2005, '06 and '10).
Suwannee's program has produced 22 state champions including Saylor's three crowns from 1995-97.
Suwannee is led by senior Shawn Brown. Brown placed third at states at 145 last winter at The Lakeland Center.
The Clay Blue Devils, guided by skipper Jim Reape, are no slouch.
CHS captured the 1A state title in 2004 and have posted four state runner-up finishes - including the last three in a row. Over the years, Reape's mat men have secured 19 state crowns.
The Blue Devils' firepower features sophomore Clay Browning, seniors Dylan Martin and Austin Luke, and junior Adam Breindel.
Browning placed fourth at 106 pounds last winter, Luke was sixth at 132 and Breindel was third at 138. Martin finished 1-2 at states at 120.
Coach Laxton didn't mince words about this tourney field, "We're excited to have Springstead coming, but we've also got some other great teams in Clay, Lincoln, Lake City (Columbia) and hopefully Valdosta."
Springstead opted for a change this weekend after capturing the Rotary Tournament at Bunnell-Flagler Palm Coast for the past five straight winters.
"Suwannee will be good for us," indicated second-year SHS skipper Sal Basile. "The Suwannee Tournament is something different and poses another challenge. I think diversity really helps; it's really good to see other teams and other kids' styles."
Team-wise, "Clay is very similar to Flagler; they've got some horses," detailed Basile. "There are several credentialed individuals sprinkled throughout this field. We're trying to get some matches to begin building toward districts."
Springstead will be led by junior and two-time state qualifier Michael McDonald. McDonald arrives 25-0. Dating back to last winter, McDonald is riding a 26-match win skein.
Junior and two-time state placer Matt Landgraff enters with a team-best 26-1 slate. Right behind him are Andrew Smith and Corey Humphrey both at 22-5 while Billy Swift is 21-5.
Smith, Humphrey and Swift are all returning state qualifiers.
For the fifth consecutive winter, Nature Coast will host a dual meet.
In 2010, NCT won the original six-team affair topping Central in the finals. In 2011, NCT finished runner-up behind Southwest Ranches-Archbishop McCarthy's 37-34 nod.
With 12 teams in 2012, the host Sharks finished 7-1. NCT was denied again in the finals by Palm Harbor University, 37-28.
Last winter, the PHU Hurricanes repeated as champions while NCT finished second behind a 7-2 mark.
Head coach Mike Lastra's crew fell at the hands of Lutz-Steinbrenner (39-36) and PHU (64-9).
This year's NCT Duals is expected to include 11 teams in a two-day, round-robin, dual-meet format featuring: Hernando, Central, Weeki Wachee, Wesley Chapel, Wiregrass Ranch, Land O' Lakes, Crystal River, Citrus, Dunnellon, Palm Harbor University and host NCT.
Action is set to begin at 1:30 p.m. Friday across four mats in the Sharks' gymnasium. Saturday's action begins at 10 a.m.
Trophies will be awarded to the two top teams. Two Outstanding Wrestler awards for Best Lightweight and Best Heavyweight will also be presented.
NCT is expecting eight returnees including: Mark Espinosa, Jeramie Jazikoff, Raivyn Alicea, Adrian Rivera, Le'Shaun Gray, Anthony Contegiacomo, Frank Ritchie and Dean Brooks.
Alicea and Espinosa have each won six matches over the past two years in this event.
Rivera, who tweaked a knee during the 6-Way Combs Duals at Springstead, hasn't competed in almost a month.
The sophomore Contegiacomo at 220 pounds arrives as the team's leader in victories at 29-7, featuring a team-best 14 pins. Right behind him is Espinosa at 26-10.
Lineup-wise, NCT is expecting to debut sophomore Kyle Schaefer at 195 pounds while Ritchie drops to 182.
Lastra, the current dean of Hernando County mentors in his 10th season, believes the onus this week is "on getting better."
Sub-par Shark performances at the Lakeland Classic II (ninth) and Springstead Invitational (19th out of 23 teams) have left Lastra frustrated.
"This isn't last year's team (which placed fifth in the 2A state finals), but we've got to get better," he insisted. "We're not as good as we've been in the past. Last weekend, we made too many rookie mistakes; we threw away too many matches.
"What bothered me the most was we had a handful of guys lose matches that they were winning," he said. "At this point, we're not finishing - that's the point of emphasis this weekend. In practice we incorporated a lot of situational wrestling to see if we can turn the corner."
As far as predicting this weekend's action, "It's Palm Harbor and then everybody else," stated Lastra. "Crystal River should be the second-best team here, but after that it's really wide open."
Weeki Wachee will be making its third trip to the NCT Duals.
In 2012, the Hornets finished 1-7 and were dissected by PHU, 83-0. Last winter, WWHS finished 3-6 and placed seventh in the 10-team field.
Third-year Hornet mentor Joe Felice is expecting seven returnees to NCT including: seniors Dante Padilla at 120, Jesus Nieves at 132, Nathaniel DeJesus at 145 and Anthony Vines at 285, junior Gavin Beck at 152/160, and sophomores Brandon Smith at 106 and Brandon Enoch at 138.
Over the last three years as a member of Central, Nieves was 12-11 at NCT. His best-ever finish was last winter at 8-1 with three pins.
Padilla is career-best 14-3 with eight career pins at the NCT Duals.
Vines, who missed this meet last winter, is looking to make amends for his 1-7 results in 2012.
Both Padilla and Vines enter as the county leaders in victories at 35-5.
Vines also arrives with a county-high 29 pins. Vines needs 11 pins to supplant Springstead's John Dreggors' 2010-11 county mark (39 pins).
Hernando's first-ever visit to the NCT Duals resulted in a 2-7 run and an eighth-place finish last winter.
Second-year HHS mentor David Pritz could have as many as six returnees from last year's event featuring: Jesse Gaudin, Brennen Ertl, Bailey Mosher, Johnny Fouts, Clint Wilkins and Michael Listebarger.
Seniors Gaudin at 220 and Ertl at 160 arrive at 26-2 and 26-5 respectively. Mosher is right behind at 25-11.
At a Glance
What - Nature Coast Technical Duals, sponsored by Combs Service
Who - Eleven teams in a round-robin, dual-meet format featuring: Hernando, Central, Weeki Wachee, Wesley Chapel, Wiregrass Ranch, Land O' Lakes, Crystal River, Citrus, Dunnellon, Palm Harbor University and host Nature Coast Technical. Defending champion is PHU.
Where - Nature Coast
When - Today, beginning at 1:30 p.m. across four mats in the Sharks' gymnasium. Saturday's action begins at 10 a.m.
At Stake - Trophies will be awarded to the two top teams. Also, two Outstanding Wrestler awards for Best Lightweight and Best Heavyweight will be presented.
What - Billy Saylor Invitational, formerly the Suwannee Invitational.
Who - Up to 18 teams are expected to participate in a two-day, round-robin format featuring: Springstead, Tallahassee-Lincoln, Tallahassee-Leon, Lake City-Columbia, Lynn Haven-Mosley, Orange Park-Ridgeview, Fort Walton Beach-Choctawhatchee, Ocala-Vanguard, Green Cove Springs-Clay, Wewahitchka, St. Augustine-Florida School for the Deaf and Blind, Jacksonville-Raines, Panama City-Bozeman, Tallahassee-Godby, Tallahassee-Florida High, Santa Rosa Beach-South Walton, Valdosta (Ga.) and host Live Oak-Suwannee. The defending champion is Lincoln.
Where - Suwannee High, 1314 Pine Ave. SW, Live Oak.
When - Today, beginning at 3 p.m. across 3-4 mats in the Bulldogs' gymnasium. Saturday's action begins at 9:30 a.m.
At Stake - Trophies awarded for top four teams while medals will be presented to top four grapplers in each weight class. Best Finals Match plaques will be given to two finalists along with two Outstanding Wrestler awards for Best Upper Weights and Best Lower Weights.