Tuesday, Jul 29, 2014
Nature Coast

NCT's Nguyen inks with Darton State College


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Across the initial nine mat seasons at Brooksville's Nature Coast Technical High School, a total of 122 grapplers have stepped into the circle for a varsity match.

During that span, the mat program has elevated itself from its initial - and not unexpected - lack of success (1-17 in 2004-05) to its current back-to-back top 10 state tournament performances (sixth in 2011-12 and fifth in 2012-13) in the rugged Class 2A classification.

Had it not been for neighboring Springstead's monumental accomplishments manufacturing back-to-back-to-back state championships - something no previous Hernando County wrestling program or otherwise has ever achieved - then NCT's ascent would be atop every sports page.

Much of the Sharks' meteoric rise can be traced to its dedicated mentors: head coach Mike Lastra and assistant coach Greg Jarque Sr.

The remainder of the credit belongs to the Shark wrestlers.

Perhaps their most decorated grappler, recent graduate Sean Huynh Nguyen (pronounced Wynn), stand all of 5-foot-3.

But don't let the 'Little Big Man's' slight stature take away from his impressive resume on the California Street campus.

In four winters, across 190 career matches, the 18-year-old Nguyen was simply sensational.

Nguyen left NCT after establishing 10 school records and breaking the four-decade-old Hernando County record for most individual wins in a season (52) in 2011-12.

Besides earning a school-record two regional titles, Nguyen not only qualified for the past two FHSAA Finals in Polk County - but returned home with hardware. He placed fourth in 2012 and finished as state runner-up in 2013.

The multi-sport student/athlete certainly made a name for himself on the mats.

As a result, Nguyen recently signed with the Darton State College Cavaliers in Albany, Ga.

Darton, located in Dougherty County, was originally founded as Albany Junior College in 1963 and offered its first classes in 1966.

Darton offers 84 two-year transfer and career associate degrees and 45 certificate programs.

Before accepting the Cavaliers' mat offer, Nguyen, who graduated with a 3.4 grade point average in the engineering cluster at NCT, visited Division II Newberry College in Newberry, S.C. and had pondered attending Luther College in Decorah, Iowa.

Nguyen, the younger of two sons to Brooksville's Thanh, or "Tom," and Hoainam Nguyen, was originally born in Lowell, Mass. The Nguyens have called Hernando County home for nearly 13 winters.

Nguyen's athletic roots trace back to playing hoops at the Spring Hill YMCA when he was 12.

Before that, he did not play any organized sports.

Even in his two years at J.D. Floyd (sixth and seventh grade) and in his eighth-grade year at Powell Middle School, the diminutive Nguyen did not compete in any athletic endeavors.

Upon matriculating to NCT, Nguyen quickly adapted to the rigors of the varsity level on the mats and competed for four seasons.

In "order to get stronger," said Nguyen, he competed on the weightlifting team as a sophomore and junior.

In "order to improve my endurance," he said, Nguyen swam in both freestyle relay events and breaststroke as a junior and senior.

Like a fish adapting to water, Nguyen explained his passion for wrestling.

"It's a sport where you have to work hard; there's no letup," he said. "You get out of wrestling whatever you put in."

Looking back fondly at his mat career, "I really enjoyed competing in the dual-meet tournaments with my teammates - those were my favorites," he recalled. "There's a lot less pressure than in the IBTs (individually bracketed tournaments)."

Of Nguyen's 20 career IBT events, he captured five. Besides his two regional crowns, his most significant IBT win was capturing a gold medal in the 22nd annual Springstead Invitational in 2012. That win served as the Sharks' first ever in the Spring Hill event.

On a Shark career where Nguyen captured 78 percent (148 wins in 190 bouts) of his matches, "Setting the all-time wins record is probably my top accomplishment," he said. "But going to states twice and placing twice is a very close second."

On whether Nguyen has gotten over the disappointment of not becoming the school's first-ever state champion - that honor went to recent graduate Brandon Vovan - "I wanted both of us to win at states," recalled Nguyen of his final visit to the FHSAA Finals in Jenkins Arena in Lakeland. "I was happy when he won but yes, my goal was to be the first one."

Nguyen credited his coaches and ex-teammate Carter Bolesta for his terrific career.

"I owe my coaches so much, without them I wouldn't have been half the wrestler I was," he said. "And I owe Carter a lot. He kind of took me under his wing and showed me a bunch of moves. I trained with different guys every day - mostly heavier guys - to get me stronger."

On his biggest improvement on the mats, "It's with my execution," noted Nguyen. "As a freshman, I never shot. As I got older, I executed my moves a lot more.

"Fitness is also important. I always tried to stay in shape. I didn't want to just go out there and gas out in the third period."

His crowning achievement team-wise mirrored his team's ascent, "You always want to go out with a bang as a senior," emphasized Nguyen. "It was just awesome to be a part of the two best Nature Coast wrestling teams of all-time."

Nguyen, whose favorite class is biology, is undecided on his major upon arriving at Darton.

The proximity from NCT's campus to Darton - only a 4-hour drive spanning 292 miles - helped sway Nguyen's decision.

"Darton was closer to home than, say, Luther," pointed out Nguyen. "When I visited Darton, I was amazed to see how modern it was. There are new sidewalks, new buildings everywhere - just like at Nature Coast.

"The gym is quite bigger, though, than Nature Coast's," added Nguyen. "And there's a separate wrestling room."

By comparison at NCT, the Shark grapplers mostly practiced in the cafeteria.

On the Cavaliers' sales pitch, "I met the head coach (second-year skipper James Hicks) but spoke mostly with the assistant coach (Karl Reed). Basically he said that I needed to come here and work and see where that takes me," pointed out Nguyen. "That's fine by me; all I was really looking for was an opportunity to get on the mats."

On the transition to his new digs and new environment, "I think that'll be easy," declared Nguyen. "All you have to be is friendly to meet new people."

On his departure from Hernando County, "My mom was still crying all the way to the door," recalled Nguyen. "She really took it hard. But I look at it as you have to grow up sometime. This will prepare me."

Of the possible obstacles blocking his path to success at the next level, "I intend to work even harder on the mats and in the classroom," stressed Nguyen. "As far as I'm concerned, you have to do well in both - not just one.

"The only thing my parents really insisted on was wherever I choose; I had to continue to study hard."

Years from now, Nguyen's legacy could be spelled out in the simplest terms.

"I want to be remembered not only as a good wrestler at Nature Coast," he said, "but I want to be remembered as a hard-worker."

By the numbers: NCT's Sean Nguyen (2009-13)

- Compiled by TONY CASTRO

YEAR W L .PCT PINS

2009-10 9 16 .360 2

2010-11 43 15 .741 31*

2011-12 #^ 52*+ 8 .867 27

2012-13 #^ 44 3 .936* 24

TOTALS 148* 42 .779* 84*

+ Denotes Hernando County record

* Denotes school record

# Denotes All-County selection

^ Denotes state placer

Nguyen's additional school records:

* Most individual wins in a row (28) in 2012-13.

* Most regional titles (2) in 2012-13.

* Most times qualifying for states (2) in 2012-13, tied with three others.

* Most times placing at states (2) in 2012-13.

By the numbers: NCT's Sean Nguyen IBT Results (2009-13)

- Compiled by TONY CASTRO

YEAR EVENT W L .PCT PINS PL

2009-10 20th Springstead Inv. 0 2 .000 0 -

2009-10 1A-8 Tourney 1 1 .500 0 2nd

2009-10 1A-II Tourney 0 2 .000 0 -

2010-11 29th Kiwanis Inv. 4 1 .800 3 3rd

2010-11 21st Springstead Inv. 3 2 .600 3 -

2010-11 1A-8 Tourney 3 1 .750 2 3rd

2010-11 1A-II Tourney 3 2 .600 2 -

2011-12 6th Ocala-Forest Inv. 2 1 .667 2 2nd

2011-12 30th Kiwanis Inv. 3 1 .750 3 2nd

2011-12 Zac Jarzynka Inv. 6 1 .857 2 3rd

2011-12 22nd Springstead Inv. 3 0 1.000 1 1st

2011-12 Citrus Inv. 3 0 1.000 2 1st

2011-12 2A-7 Tourney 1 1 .500 1 2nd

2011-12 2A-II Tourney 4 0 1.000 3 1st

2011-12 2A State Finals 3 2 .600 1 4th

2012-13 31st Kiwanis Inv, 3 1 .750 1 2nd

2012-13 Lakeland Classic 3 0 1.000 2 1st

2012-13 2A-7 Tourney 2 1 .667 1 2nd

2012-13 2A-II Tourney 4 0 1.000 1 1st

2012-13 2A State Finals 3 1 .750 1 2nd

TOTALS -20- 54 20 .730 31

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