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Monday, Mar 30, 2015

Loaded Leopards tracking district repeat

TONY CASTRO Hernando Today correspondent

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Talk about staying busy.

These days Hernando High’s boys weightlifting mentor Mark Latsko is in transition mode.

On Monday, he was attending new teacher orientation in Alachua County as Gainesville High’s new head football coach.

Forget all the details involved in changing jobs; imagine the hassles dealing with relocating his family from Brooksville to his alma mater in Gainesville.

Before the start of spring football drills on May 1, the first-year weightlifting mentor at Hernando is attempting do what no previous Leopard coach has ever done today at Fivay – earn a repeat district championship.

Hernando will be joined by Weeki Wachee and Nature Coast lifters in the expected 11-team Class 1A, District 6 Meet in West Pasco County.

Meanwhile, Central and 15 others schools are expected to compete in the Class 2A, District 4 Meet at Springstead.

Only the individual district champions automatically qualify for the 39th FHSAA Finals slated for April 19-20 in Osceola County. The second- and third-place finishers have an opportunity to also advance through at-large bids.

Former Leopard head coach John Palmer guided Hernando to the school’s first-ever district title last spring in Bushnell. The Purple and Gold edged the host Raiders, 42-39.

Seven weeks later, Palmer’s poor health forced him to retire from coaching weightlifting and football.

This time Hernando qualified 12 lifters for the 1A-6 Meet and enters the Falcons’ gymnasium with a county-high 11 lifters including: sophomore Kai French at 119, freshman Uriah Coniglio at 129, juniors David Goodwin and Harrison Hall at 139, junior Daniel Looper at 154, senior Mike Ulloa at 169, senior O’Mar Hawkins at 199, seniors Kyle Loparco and Robert Hill Bronson at 219, junior Brandon Laursen at 238 and senior Canaan Swackard at heavyweight.

Junior Jesse Gaudin, who captured the Hernando County championship at 238 pounds, will not be available. According to Coach Latsko, Gaudin is competing in a national wrestling tournament in Virginia Beach.

Hernando returns three district champions from 2012 featuring: Goodwin at 139, Hawkins at 199 and Loparco at 219.

Despite finishing third in districts last year, Bronson also qualified for states.

The two-time defending county champions believe they’re poised for a district repeat.

“I think O’Mar (Hawkins) will put up a big total,” declared a confident Latsko. “He’s excited about competing. It’s seems the bigger the meet, the more he rises to the occasion. The weight seems to get light for O’Mar. Don’t be surprised he if finishes among the top three at states this year.”

On Goodwin, “He’s finally putting it all together,” noted Latsko. “He beat the county champ (Nature Coasts Derek Newman) in the qualifier. If he squeezes out an additional five pounds in his bench and cleans, he’s got a shot to return to states.”

On the Leopards’ solid 1-2 punch of Loparco and Bronson, “Kyle (Loparco) is creeping up on 660,” said Latsko. “And Robert Hill is a four-year lifter who is as consistent as they come.”

On the keys to a Leopard repeat, “Our guys have to continue to improve,” said Latsko. “If they do then the point system will take care of itself. The big thing is we have to make sure we don’t scratch. In a team sport, every individual has to get their lifts in.”

Unlike Hernando, which brought 15 lifters to the March 20 qualifying meet at Weeki Wachee, Nature Coast walked in with four lifters.

All four, however, qualified for Wednesday’s meet including: senior Derek Newman at 129 and juniors Ryan Stevens at 139, C.J. Maner at 154 and Ryan Roscillo at 183.

None of these Sharks, however, qualified for states last spring.

Only Stevens returned home as a Hernando County champion from the March 13 county meet at Springstead.

According to sixth-year skipper Charles Liggett, the Sharks’ best chance to advance rests with Newman.

“From what I’m told Newman should finish first,” pointed out Liggett. “He’s got to do what he’s done all season. I understand there are very few guys (3-4) in his weight class. If he has his best day, he’ll be fine.”

On Stevens, “He’s not a shoo-in,” explained Liggett. “He’s up against a lot of good guys. The Goodwin kid at Hernando is coming on. Ryan needs to have his best day and push himself to finish as high as he can.”

On Maner and Roscillo, “C.J.’s problem is Weeki Wachee’s (Thomas) Maynard is in the same weight class,” noted Liggett. “Maynard is a state qualifier from 2A from last year and he’s tough. I’m hoping both get PRs (personal records) and see what’s out there to improve on next year.”

On predicting 1A-6, “Hernando has plenty of lifters,” said Liggett. “I hear Hudson and Fivay have a bunch coming, too. Hernando should still pull it off.”

Third-year Weeki Wachee qualified five for the 1A-6 Meet including: sophomore Dakota Johnson at 119, the senior Maynard at 154, seniors Vince Pagano and Menyel Weaver at 169, and junior Anthony DiNardo at 183.

Maynard, who placed 15th in 2A in 2012 at 154, is unbeaten in the six meets he’s competed in this season.

“Thomas (Maynard) has a great shot at returning to states,” declared Weeki Wachee head coach Mark Lee. “He’s been basically competing against himself all season.”

According to Lee, “Johnson is iffy. His back locked up on him during practice. He’s not 100 percent.”

On the Hornets’ goal, “I’d like to see us continue to improve from the first meet to the last meet,” stressed Lee. “The last two years we never had a chance in this meet. Now the kids are going in believing they have a shot at this (states). More than anything else, we’re heading in the right direction.”

Last spring, Springstead finished eighth out of 15 teams in the 2A-4 Meet in Spring Hill.

On Wednesday, Springstead again hosts and this time will be represented by nine lifters: sophomore Dan Fazio at 139, senior Jake Alexsuk at 154, sophomore Ronnie Garcia at 169, junior Austin Stock at 183, senior Luke McLeod at 199, juniors Nathaniel Walker and Jameson Peppe at 219, junior Jesse Cowan at 238 and junior Michael Miara at heavyweight.

Of the Eagle returnees, Cowan advanced to states last year after finishing as a district runner-up. Stock had the next-best finish placing sixth.

According to 10th-year head coach Mike Garofano, he has several lifters who can place among the top six (to secure team points), but one legitimate lifter with a chance to compete at states.

“Jesse has the best chance to advance,” declared Coach Garofano. “Guys like Luke, Dan, Ronnie, and Austin have a better chance to secure PRs and score some valuable points. A lot of things have to go their way to reach states.”

Defending district champ Sunlake, guided by Springstead alumnus Matt Smith, enters as the pre-meet favorite.

“This district is loaded,” noted Coach Garofano. “You know Matt will have his guys ready. But Citrus will be tough. But who knows what Forest and Vanguard will be bringing – those two teams have quality lifters. When those guys get off the bus all you see are impressive specimens.”

On where the Eagles should finish, “We should be in the middle of the pack,” Garofano said. “Right now, there are too many unknowns to be 100 percent sure. I promise you this, based on the guys we’ve got coming back; we’re going be a whole lot more competitive next year.”

Central actually out-pointed Springstead in last year’s 2A-4 Meet, 14-13.

This time, Central head coach Mike Einspahr will enter the Eagle gymnasium with 10 lifters.

“Our kids have busted their butts all season to get to this level,” admitted Coach Einspahr. “Sure, a lot of them will not place, but I want them to see what’s out there.”

Central is leaning on two senior lifters and defending Hernando County champions – Gio Squartino at 129 and Alex Sprinkle at 169 – to advance to states.

Despite a third-place finish in 2A-4 last year, Squartino advanced to states and finished eighth.

On Wednesday, Squartino enters attempting to defeat the only lifter who has beaten him this season – Sunlake’s Jack Holloway. Holloway solved Squartino on Feb. 13, 425-410.

“Squirt is a crowd favorite,” described Coach Einspahr. “People are always cheering him on. He’s the type of guy who wants to win every time he’s under the bar. He’s like a player-coach for us. He’s always helping out all the younger guys in our room. He belongs at states.”

On Sprinkle, “He’s really bumped up his cleans,” indicated Coach Einspahr. “Now, if he can max out on his bench and power cleans, I think he’ll go. Honestly, I’d be disappointed if he didn’t.”

On the Bears’ goal, “I just want all of our guys to do the best they can,” said Einspahr. “Our goal all year has been to do our best on April 3. If each guy could squeak out an additional 5-10 pounds, you never know what could happen in a big meet like this.”

At a Glance

What – Class 2A, District 4 Boys Weightlifting Meet

Who – Up to 17 teams expected to be represented including: Central, Citrus, Clermont-East Ridge, Groveland-South Lake, Lake Minneola, Ocala-Forest, Ocala-Lake Weir, Ocala-Vanguard, Ocala-West Port, Land O’ Lakes, Sunlake, Leesburg, Lecanto, Mitchell, River Ridge, Wiregrass Ranch and host Springstead. Defending district champion is Sunlake. Defending district runner-up is Vanguard.

Where – Springstead gymnasium.

When – Today, weigh-ins from 12:30-1:30 p.m. Meet begins at 2 p.m.

At Stake – Each of the 10 individual champions automatically qualify for the 39th annual Class 2A FHSAA Finals on April 19 at the Kissimmee Civic Center. Next two placers in each weight class are in the running for at-large entries to states. Trophies awarded for the top two teams.

What – Class 1A, District 6 Boys Weightlifting Meet

Who – Up to 11 teams expected to be represented including: Hernando, Nature Coast, South Sumter, Crystal River, Pasco, Anclote, Hudson, Gulf, Weeki Wachee, Wesley Chapel, Zephyrhills and host Fivay. Defending district champion is Hernando. Defending district runner-up is South Sumter.

Where – Fivay gymnasium, 12115 Chicago Ave., Hudson.

When – Today, weigh-ins from 2:30-3:30 p.m. Meet begins at 4 p.m.

At Stake – Each of the 10 individual champions automatically qualify for the 39th annual Class 1A FHSAA Finals on April 20 at the Kissimmee Civic Center. Next two placers in each weight class are in the running for at-large entries to states. Trophies awarded for the top two teams.

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