'Tis the season to stay busy in the malls and on the mats.
The weekend holiday menu is brimming with activity.
Action begins Friday featuring Springstead and Central taking part in the two-day, expected 25-team, second annual Bulldog Brawl at St. Cloud.
Unlike the IBT (individually bracketed tourney) format in Osceola County, both Nature Coast and Hernando will take part Friday in the two-day, expected 23-team, 11th annual Gulf Duals in New Port Richey.
Also on Friday in Osceola County, Weeki Wachee will take part in the two-day, expected 16-team, sixth annual Longhorn Duals at Harmony High.
In 2011-12, perhaps the third-toughest event Springstead participated in was the inaugural Bulldog Brawl, aka the St. Cloud Invitational.
After the Cougar Invitational at the Tampa Bay Convention Center and the Ippolito Tournament at Brandon, the Osceola County event stood out due to a visit by Parkersburg South (WV).
Parkersburg South edged the Eagles for the team title, by 29 points, 301.5-272.5.
Coincidentally, the Patriots were no slouches – they went on to earn their 18th state championship.
Meanwhile, Springstead utilized the experience to springboard to its second-ever state title in Class 2A.
This year the 24-team IBT format is expected to feature: Celebration, Miami Palmetto, Ocala-Vanguard, Orlando-Edgewater, Orlando-Timber Creek, Winter Garden-West Orange, Winter Park, Orlando-Bishop Moore Catholic, St. Petersburg-Northside Christian, Crawfordville-Wakulla, Lowndes (Ga.), Cedartown (Ga.), Springstead, Citrus, Okeechobee, Punta Gorda-Charlotte, Bunnell-Flagler Palm Coast, Naples-Palmetto Ridge, Deltona-Pine Ridge, Palm Bay-Heritage, Oviedo-Hagerty, Tampa Bay Christian, Central and host St. Cloud.
There's one certainty coming in: Defending champ Parkersburg South is not back to defend its title.
Several Georgia programs bring an unknown factor to the event.
Dangerous mat squads from Charlotte (fifth in 2A states), Citrus (seventh in 2A), Wakulla (10th in 1A), Palmetto Ridge (16th in 2A), Miami Palmetto (17th in 3A), Celebration (19th in 2A) and Tampa Bay Christian (20th in 1A) loom.
On Springstead's return to St. Cloud, the site of Class 2A, Region II – aka "The Region of Doom" – St. Cloud head coach Matt Milton said, "Some people think Springstead can't win it again. I think they've got the kids to build on. I'm a big fan of (head coach) Sal (Basile). I've always appreciated him over the years. If anyone can lead a team to a state title – it's Sal. To me, he's Springstead wrestling.
"With Springstead coming, they're the team to beat. As deep as Springstead is, I don't see a blowout, either."
Springstead enters Osceola County attempting to fill gaps in its lineup and position itself for the second-half stretch run.
"This (St. Cloud Invitational) should be a good gauge at where we're at," explained the first-year Springstead skipper Sal Basile. "Honestly, we don't know much about the Georgia teams. But I can promise you that if they were not serious about competing, they wouldn't be coming here. Even though they may not be nationally ranked doesn't mean that we're not going to run into a buzz saw.
"The key for us," added the former Springstead state placer, "is to never underestimate anyone. We've got to give whoever's there some respect.
"Palmetto Ridge will be there and they just won their tournament. Flagler will be there and they've really improved," pointed out Coach Basile. "I'd like to say we're the favorites, but there's nothing guaranteed."
Lineup-wise, Springstead is bringing 13 members to Osceola County, minus a 285-pounder.
Health has been a legit concern. A flu bug has ravaged the team following the Combs Duals.
According to Basile, though sophomore Billy Swift went 4-1 at 160 last weekend he competed despite suffering from flu-like symptoms. Since then, Humphrey, Ross and sophomore Andrew Smith all missed Monday and Tuesday's practices due to the flu.
"This (flu season) has been the worst I've seen in years," lamented Basile. "Hopefully, it (cold season) runs its course and we'll get our guys ready by Friday."
Ross and Rivera enter the meet as the county leaders in wins (19). Rivera and McDonald lead the county in pins (13).
Rivera's first win at the Bulldog Brawl will be his 100th. By reaching that milestone, he'll become the 21st member of that exclusive fraternity on the Mariner Boulevard campus.
Central, which has not competed since finishing 15th at the Kiwanis Invitational two weeks ago, makes its initial jaunt to the Bulldog Brawl.
"At this point, we plan on taking eight wrestlers to St. Cloud," explained first-year Central skipper Tim Brown. "I really feel that our team is getting tougher and smarter every week. This could be a very good showing for us. We went back to the basics in practice and worked our tails off."
The Bears are led by senior Taylor Cromwell at 220 and junior Jesus Nieves at 160 – who have both registered eight wins.
Senior Josh Marquez (4-4) at 113 is the team's most experienced grappler behind three regional appearances. Marquez was the lone Bear to place at Kiwanis (fourth).
Nature Coast and Hernando return to a new and improved 11th annual Gulf Duals.
The event, which first began in 2002, has mushroomed into a two-day, two-venue, 23-team affair.
On Wednesday, tournament organizer and veteran Gulf head coach Travis Dewalt received an email that changed the tourney's format – Fort Lauderdale-Cardinal Gibbons was pulling out from the field.
The Redskins departure left 23 teams and Dewalt scrambling in the 11th-hour for one more team.
Pool A will feature: Green Cove Springs-Clay, Anclote, River Ridge, Hernando, Land O' Lakes and Dunedin. Pool B includes: Fivay, Clearwater-Countryside, Wesley Chapel, Tampa Prep, Sarasota Military and Ridgewood.
Pool C has Gulf, Naples-Golden Gate, Clearwater, Mitchell, Lutz-Steinbrenner and Belle Glade-Glade Central; Pool D contains Sunlake, Nature Coast, Pasco, Wiregrass Ranch, and Hudson.
The defending champion is Fivay.
The top three teams from each of the pools on Friday will advance to Saturday's second day at Gulf.
"There are a lot of great local teams coming with Fivay, Sunlake and Pasco, along with a good mix of out-of-county teams with Clay, Golden Gate and Glade Central," noted Dewalt, who guided the Buccaneers to the 2010 Class 1A state championship. "I really like the field. It's diverse and pretty competitive."
Hernando was one of the original teams in the inaugural Gulf Duals in 2002.
This weekend will be its ninth trip to the West Pasco County event. To date, Hernando has compiled a pedestrian 26-21 won-lost mark. Hernando's' best finish in this event was going 4-1 in 2007.
The Leopards are attempting to maintain the momentum gained from their encouraging sixth-place effort at Kiwanis. Hernando hasn't competed since that Dec. 7-8 event.
On predicting this year's Gulf Duals, "It's one of the toughest fields they've ever had," described Hernando head coach David Pritz. "It'll definitely be competitive."
"Our objective is to finish in the top three in our pool and wrestle on Saturday," emphasized Pritz. "We're clearly a better IBT team than a dual team. We're stressing winning matches."
Hernando is expecting to take 12 grapplers, with lineups holes at 138 and 145.
On the negative side, according to Coach Pritz, junior Nick Brewer (5-4 overall) is no longer on the team despite earning a silver medal at Kiwanis. It's the second time in two seasons he has not finished the season.
On the plus side, senior Jacob Curtiss (6-1) returns to fill 195.
Two others, Clint Wilkins and Connor Haitz, could return once their skin issues have cleared up.
Nature Coast will be making its fifth appearance at the Gulf Duals. The Sharks, who have haven't competed at Gulf since 2010, are a combined 12-9. The Sharks finest effort was in 2008, going 4-1.
According to head coach Mike Lastra, Nature Coast will be bringing 18 grapplers to the West Pasco County event filling all 14 weight divisions.
On this weekend's goals, "We want to get a lot of matches in; a lot of quality matches," he said. "Our main goal is to wrestle Saturday."
Sean Nguyen enters with a team-leading 12-1 slate. The four-year starter enters Gulf with 66 pins, needing four more pins to snap Tyler Forand's school record for most career pins (69).
On the eve of the tourney, senior Anthony Siciliano at 285 is questionable. He's missed practiced due to a flu bug.
Weeki Wachee will be the first Hernando County team to participate in the sixth edition of the Longhorn Duals at Harmony High.
The 16-team, dual-meet format is expected to include: Pool A – Clearwater Central Catholic, Dunnellon, Fort Myers, Harmony, Sarasota, Seminole-Osceola, The Villages and Weeki Wachee; Pool B – Belleview, Cocoa Beach, Orlando-Cypress Creek, Orlando-Freedom, Jensen Beach, Orlando-Lake Nona, Melbourne-Viera and Space Coast.
The defending champion is Palm Harbor University.
According to tourney organizer and Harmony head coach Chris Todd, he expects The Villages, Fort Myers and Harmony to battle for Pool A supremacy while Jensen Beach, Space Coast and Viera battle in Pool B.
Weeki Wachee will compete three times on Friday. The Hornets open against Clearwater Central Catholic at 3 p.m., followed by Harmony at 5 p.m. and Dunnellon at 6 p.m.
On Saturday, Weeki Wachee will tangle with Sarasota at 9:30 a.m. followed by The Villages at 12:30 p.m., Seminole-Osceola at 2 p.m., Fort Myers at 5 p.m. and then a cross-over opponent between 6-7 p.m.
"At this point, without seeing all the teams, it's hard to predict what will happen," shared Hornet head coach Joe Felice. "Fort Myers is usually very good, but we really don't know what they have."
Health-wise, Weeki Wachee enters without three starters: Andrew Vreeland and Timonte Hunter (shoulder injuries), and Jake Wilson (elbow).
The Hornets plan on taking 14 grapplers to fill 11 weight classes.
"There really aren't any maulers in this tournament," forecasted Coach Felice. "We should be in every match. I could care less about won-lost records, we need the work."