Four of Hernando County's five mat programs return to action this weekend in a pair of dual-meet tourneys.
Springstead will host the 6-Way Combs Duals II at the Eagles' gym along three mats beginning Saturday at 10 a.m.
The three-time defending Class 2A state champion Eagles - possessors of a county-best 44-match win skein - will face a stiff dual-meet challenge from last winter's 2A No. 5 team (Nature Coast Technical) and No. 6 team (Tampa-Jesuit), 1A's No. 7 team (Hudson-Fivay) along with perennially tough Lowndes County (Ga.) and Citra-North Marion.
Meanwhile in Marion County, 10 teams will clash in a robin-round, dual-meet format beginning Friday and concluding on Saturday featuring: Hernando, Citrus, Crystal River, Dunnellon, Lakeland-George Jenkins, Ocala-West Port, Sarasota, The Villages, Weeki Wachee and host Belleview.
Make no mistake about it, the Hillsborough County-based Jesuit Tigers are primed to upset the Eagles and shake up the 2A rankings. Many pundits and coaches agree that this might be the best-ever Jesuit team.
The optimism is high due to the return of four 2013 state qualifiers, featuring three state runners-up, plus a fine sporting cast.
Eighth-year JHS skipper Mike Scicchitano has at his disposal talented seniors Anthony Zucco at 113 (went 1-2 at 106 at states) and Austin Underwood at 285 (state runner-up at 220), sophomore Adam Lewis at 132/138 (state runner-up at 126) and Tampa Prep move-in Mike Mosco at 195.
Mosco enrolled at Jesuit as a freshman following his second-place state finish at 170 for the 1A Terrapins.
Jesuit arrives 6-1 in dual meets, fresh from its second-place finish in the star-studded Jensen Beach Bash. The Tigers fell in the finals to Jensen Beach, 34-31.
JHS turned heads by solving two-time 1A state champion Fort Myers-Riverdale and three-time defending 1A state champ Green Cove Springs-Clay.
"Our goal was to put together one of the best teams in the state with another tough schedule. That's why we're going to Springstead," detailed the 30-year-old Scicchitano, who has been a part of Jesuit wrestling for almost a decade.
"When you talk about being consistent year in and year out, that's Springstead," he said. "There's a reason they've won three state titles in a row. Going there this year was a no-brainer. This will be a great test for us."
On the Tigers' objective, "Honestly, I don't care if we win or lose," declared Scicchitano. "Every day we've got to get 1-2 percent better. We're looking to retain technique. More importantly, we want to see, 'How are we competing against some of the best guys out there?' On Saturday, we'll see how our guys respond to wrestling some of the best kids around and see how they handle adversity."
According to Springstead's second-year mentor Sal Basile, forget the Eagles' recent success.
"Going into Saturday I don't think we're the favorites by any means," explained Basile, 2A's Coach of the Year voted on by the state media through the Florida Dairy Farmers. "I would have felt a lot better if we had (two-time state placer) Conor (Ross, out due to torn left ACL). With him, we'd have a chance."
On Jesuit, "They're pretty solid," pointed out Basile. "They're a good program with good, smart kids. Their kids are disciplined. Even their non-credential kids are pretty good. Their 152-pounder (Brian) Buser is a load - and he didn't make states."
On analyzing Lowndes County, "We know they're tough," admitted Basile. "We saw them last year at St. Cloud. I'm expecting them to be loaded to the gills. They wouldn't have gone to the Graves Tournament (last week at Brandon) - unless they felt they had a real good team."
Breaking down Fivay, "They're in 2A this year," said Basile. "And they've got two state placers back in Nicco Lightfoot (fourth in 1A at 170) and Andrew Scheer (fourth at 145) and they've got a tough 120-pounder in (Cole) Manion."
SHS isn't a big proponent of dual meets, especially with the state series utilizing an IBT (individually bracket tournament) format.
"Normally, any IBT we walk into we can compete in," suggested Basile, a two-time Eagle state qualifier. "But we're not really built for duals. We've got some holes in the lineup."
As far as the Eagles' possibly extending their current dual-meet streak, Basile said, "Plain and simple; for us to be successful, our best kids have to beat the other team's best kids. We're going to need every point we can get and that includes the younger guys coming through."
SHS, which went 10-0 in dual meets last season, went 5-0 in the first Combs 6-way Duals.
Seven Springstead starters return from last year's Combs sweep including: Matt Landgraff at 106, Michael McDonald at 120, Andrew Smith at 138, Jordan Rivera at 152, Robert Holdway at 152, Billy Swift at 160 and Corey Humphrey at 220.
All but Holdway are returning state qualifiers.
Landgraff and Swift enter the Combs Duals II unbeaten at 8-0 with McDonald right behind at 7-0.
Rivera, the Eagles' returning state champion, got a late start due to football and arrives 4-0.
Last weekend's 32nd Brooksville-Kiwanis Invitational at Hernando High left Nature Coast with a sour taste. NCT placed outside the top 10, finishing 12th with no grapplers achieving the tourney finals - a particularly pesky theme throughout their first nine trips to HHS.
"Last weekend left us with a bad taste in our mouths," explained NCT's 11th-year mentor Mike Lastra. "We dropped a couple close semifinal matches. And we had a kid get kicked out of the tournament. If we win those two semifinals and don't get kicked out, that's 30 more points and we're right where I thought we should have been."
On this week's goal, "We did OK. We won more matches than Hernando (26-25), but we want to do better," said Lastra. "Looking at the overall picture, last weekend was our third tournament, not our last. We realize we've got to get better."
Looking at the Combs Duals II field, "It's another tough one," indicated Lastra. "It's one where our guys will have to man up or back down.
"To me, I see a three-way battle for first between Jesuit, Springstead and Lowndes County. Jesuit has some torpedoes, but don't count Springstead out," he said. "Their young guys will have to step up. At this point, I really don't know who's going to win."
Lineup-wise, NCT will be forfeiting 106 and 113 and restocking 160 following sophomore DeShawn Smith being ejected during his third-round match Friday night at Kiwanis.
According to Lastra, Smith received a six-week suspension from the FHSAA for unsportsmanlike behavior. NCT is appealing the ruling.
At Belleview, former Hudson High football and wrestling mentor Gary Hall has returned to the mats for the Diamond Rattlers.
Friday's action begins at 3 p.m. and Saturday's action is expected to start at 9 a.m. across four mats.
"There will be some good wrestling this weekend," predicted Coach Hall. "Crystal River, Jenkins and Citrus are always up there. I don't know much about Sarasota."
Hernando hopes to maintain its momentum The Leopards, who finished ninth last weekend at Kiwanis, doubled up on visiting Land O' Lakes Tuesday night, 48-24.
"We're 9-5 right now," said HHS' second-year skipper David Pritz, whose first team finished 8-24. "And we're coming off a good Kiwanis tournament. I think the kids are having fun. We want to definitely keep the momentum going."
As far as the field, "Crystal River and Citrus should be among the top three - that's what we're shooting for," Pritz said. "We lost to Citrus (60-24) earlier in the season, but our lineup is much better now."
The Purple and Gold is led by seniors Bailey Mosher at 120 (15-4), Sonnie Genberg at 152 (14-5), Brennan Ertl at 160 (13-2) and Jesse Gaudin at 220 (10-0).
Despite a 14th-place finish featuring a school-record three placers at Kiwanis - Weeki Wachee isn't satisfied.
"Sure, we're progressing. This was our best Kiwanis," explained the third-year mentor Joe Felice. "But we're still not mentally tough. We've got some guys that think they're defeated before they step on the mats - and that's unacceptable."
Looking at the Belleview field, "I see Jenkins and Crystal River at the top, after that is a huge question," said Felice. "The problem we have is we're still giving up 24 points (four forfeits at 113, 170, 182 and 195) - that's way too many points to overcome and win a dual-meet tournament."
The Hornets will be led by seniors Anthony Vines at 285 (county-best 17-1, county-high 14 pins), Dante Padilla at 120 (14-4) and Jesus Nieves at 132 (13-2).
At a Glance
What - Combs 6-Way Duals II
Who - Six teams in a robin-round, dual-meet format featuring: Nature Coast Technical, Citra-North Marion, Fivay, Lowndes County (Ga.), Tampa-Jesuit and host Springstead.
Where - Springstead High School's gymnasium along three mats.
When - Saturday, beginning at 10 a.m.
At Stake - First-place team members receive gold medals while the second-place team members receive silver medals.
What - Belleview Duals
Who - Ten teams in a robin-round, dual-meet format featuring: Hernando, Citrus, Crystal River, Dunnellon, Lakeland-George Jenkins, Ocala-West Port, Sarasota, The Villages, Weeki Wachee and host Belleview.
Where - Belleview High School's gymnasium along four mats, 10400 SE 36th Ave., Belleview.
When - Today, beginning at 3 p.m., and Saturday, beginning at 10 a.m.
At Stake - Trophies for two top teams. Medals for top three in each weight class.
By the numbers: Hernando County's Longest Dual-Meet Win Streaks (thru 12-13-13)
- Compiled by TONY CASTRO
RK. NO. SCHOOL YEARS COACH
1 44 Springstead 2008-13 Eric Swensen/Sal Basile
2. 42 Springstead 1991-94 Bob Levija
3. 13 Hernando 1990-91 Doug Reese
3. 13 Central 1993-94 Alan Solomon
5. 12 NCT 2011-12 Mike Lastra
6. 4 Weeki Wachee 2012-13 Joe Felice
Springstead's Current 44-Match Dual-Meet Streak
- Compiled by TONY CASTRO
YEAR W L COACH
2008-09 1 0 Eric Swensen
2009-10 13 0 Eric Swensen
2010-11 13 0 Eric Swensen
2011-12 7 0 Eric Swensen
2012-13 10 0 Sal Basile
TOTALS 44 0