Two local teams will remain active at two mat tournaments in the final weekend of 2012.
In terms of depth and toughness, the two-day Knockout Christmas Classic at Kissimmee-Osceola is "a beast" while today's Lakeland Holiday Classic in Polk County could be looked at as an appetizer.
Twenty-five teams will take part in the Osceola County event offering a double-elimination, IBT (individual-bracketed tournament) format featuring: Cleveland (Tenn.), Sutter Union (Calif.), Walton (Ga.), South Forsyth (Ga.), Holy Innocents (Ga.), The Lovett School (Ga.), Springstead, Orlando-Lake Highland Prep, Homestead-South Dade, Fort Lauderdale-St. Thomas Aquinas, Lakeland-Lake Gibson, Fort Myers-Riverdale, Palm Harbor-University, Pembroke Pines-Somerset Academy, Orlando-Cypress Creek, Orange City-University, Bradenton-Manatee, Boca Raton-Olympic Heights, Loxahatchee-Seminole Ridge, Englewood-Lemon Bay, Miami-Braddock, Palm Bay-Heritage, Fort Pierce Central, Winter Garden-West Orange and host Kissimmee-Osceola.
On this weekend's plethora of outstanding teams, the event offers four of the top eight finalists from the 48th annual FHSAA Finals in Class 3A including: South Dade (second), host Osceola (third), St. Thomas Aquinas (fourth) and Palm Harbor-University (eighth); the two-time defending Class 2A state champion Eagles of Springstead, two-time state runner-up Braves of Lake Gibson and third-place Fort Myers-Riverdale; along with the defending Class 1A state champs from Lake Highland Prep.
On the six out-of-state teams – highlighted by Cleveland – in the field, said tourney organizer and veteran Kowboy head coach Jim Bird, "You don't come down to a tournament like this to get whipped."
On the loaded field, "Make no mistake, Cleveland is the best team here," emphasized Coach Bird, the 15th-year mat mentor. "And some of the state's best teams including state champions Lake Highland Prep in 1A, Springstead in 2A, 3A teams like St. Thomas, Palm Harbor and us make this so much fun.
"I'm looking forward to it," he added. "In some tournaments, you don't get tough matches till the semis or finals. Here, you'll start getting tough matches in the quarters."
Osceola is located at 420 S. Thacker Ave. in Kissimmee.
Today's action runs from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. across eight mats in the gymnasium and cafeteria.
Saturday's action begins at 9:30 a.m. with a consolation round followed by the semifinals and then wrestlebacks.
According to Coach Bird, at approximately 3:30 p.m. the consolation finals for seventh-, fifth- and third-place, along with the championship finals will take place along four mats.
The top five teams will receive trophies. The top eight placers count toward team score. The top two placers earn trophies. Third through eighth placers will receive medals.
Springstead is coming off its come-from-behind Bulldog Brawl win over Wakulla at St. Cloud.
The tournament victory was the Eagles' fourth in five events. Their lone loss: When they tangled short-handed with Osceola at Durant.
"I respect Coach Bird a lot," said Springstead first-year head coach Sal Basile. "He's a no-nonsense guy who will do anything for his kids. He and his kids do things the right way. Trust me; we realize what we're walking in to."
On how tough the inaugural Knockout Classic will be, "Brandon wasn't at Durant and Brandon won't be at Osceola. But we're walking into the toughest tournament of the year," declared Basile. "There's no doubt Durant was loaded. I'm not down on Durant. But to me, this is a step up from Durant."
On what the Eagles could expect, "A lot of teams are firing on all cylinders now," pointed out Coach Basile. "For instance, Lake Gibson should be close to full power now. Seth Kelly is back at 113, but I'm not sure if their 106-pounder is ready to go yet.
"There's not much drop-off on paper. The biggest issue I have is with the out-of-state teams. Of course, we haven't seen them and really have no idea what they're packing."
Springstead will enter the Osceola County event minus two grapplers at 132 and 285 pounds.
The flu bug that ravaged the team last week continues to linger this week.
Sophomore Conor Ross missed Monday's practice due to illness and junior Jordan Rivera missed practice on Wednesday due to a flu bug.
Despite the reoccurring illness, Basile believes the Eagles will have the pieces in place by Friday's opening round.
"I think we'll be all right by Friday," said Basile. "Travis (O'Neil) is back (the 195-pounder missed last week's tourney due to a flu bug) and remember at Durant we didn't have (Stephen) Pavao or (Joe) Russo in the lineup – they were both sick."
On the Eagles' goal against such a stacked field, "I'm not looking as much at the team aspect as I am the individual performances," stressed Coach Basile. "There's so much uncertainty with all those out-of-state teams, I don't know how we'll fare.
"I definitely would like to see a better performance than we had at Durant (eighth place)," he added. "We'll be better with Pavao and Russo in the lineup."
The Spring Hill mat men are led by Ross and Rivera with 23 wins apiece. Sophomores Michael McDonald and Matt Landgraff are right behind with 22 wins apiece.
Additionally, McDonald and Weeki Wachee frosh Brandon Smith are tied for the county lead in pins (16).
At press time, six Eagles were seeded this weekend featuring: Landgraff (third) at 106, McDonald (fourth) at 113, Pavao (fifth) at 120, Rivera (fifth) at 138, Russo (fourth) at 145, and Ross (first) at 170.
Nature Coast is the only other county mat squad in action.
The Sharks will take part in the Lakeland Holiday Wrestling Classic.
The field features 16 teams in a one-day, double-elimination IBT (individual-bracketed tournament) format including: Lakeland Senior, Gainesville-Buchholz, Haines City, Bradenton-Bayshore, Eagle Lake-Lake Region, Tampa Prep, Orlando-Boone, Melbourne-Eau Gallie, Gainesville-Eastside, Kissimmee-Liberty, Winter Springs, Citrus, Nature Coast, Vero Beach, Melbourne-Viera and Orlando-Olympia.
The defending champion is Lakeland Senior.
The top two teams will receive trophies. The top three placers earn individual medals. Most Outstanding Wrestler awards will be presented to the best lightweight and heavyweight.
Lakeland Senior High School is located 726 Hollingsworth Road in Lakeland.
Action begins at 9:30 a.m. along six mats (four in the gym, two in the cafeteria). Finals only are set for one mat at 5 p.m.
As far as favorites, tourney organizer and former Dreadnaught head coach Brian Abdon singled out Winter Springs and Nature Coast.
Winter Springs placed fifth in the 3A state finals in 2012, while Nature Coast finished sixth in 2A.
On the main goal of this event, "There are no substitutes for matches," pointed out Coach Abdon. "We have a lot of hard-working kids. They're going to make mistakes; that's OK. They've just got to learn to clean those up."
Nature Coast enters Polk County coming off an encouraging third-place finish in the 23-team, 11th annual Gulf Duals. The lone blemish was the Sharks' 60-18 pasting at the hands of the 1A state runners-up from Green Cove Springs-Clay.
"Yeah, I'm excited about this weekend," shared ninth-year Shark head coach Mike Lastra, following his team's 6-1 performance in New Port Richey. "That's the best we've ever done at Gulf.
"It was a great confidence-builder for our guys," Lastra said. "We wrestled so much better from the top position. What we have to avoid repeating is that 'deer in the headlights' look against the Clay guys. Once one guy wrestles nervous there tends to be a trickle down to the next guy."
On this weekend's goals, "We're going in there to win it," indicated Coach Lastra. "One of our goals this year was to win an IBT. This is the one we think we can win."
According to Lastra, Nature Coast is expected to enter the Polk County meet with 12 starters – minus 220 and 145 pounds.
According to Lastra, sophomore Frank Richey at 220 is rehabbing a "sore shoulder" while sophomore Kam Faulkernberry at 145 is visiting with his father out of state.
Senior heavyweight Anthony Siciliano, who was under the weather and missed the Gulf Duals, will be back in the lineup.
Another key Shark, junior Luis Espinosa, has not been medically cleared after an ankle injury during football season.
In other mat notes from the Gulf Duals, senior Brandon Vovan's career-best 14-match winning streak was snapped in an odd fashion. Though he was handily beating Steinbrenner's Shir Shraga, he was hit on the nose and could not stop bleeding.
According to the mat official, Vovan ran out of blood time permitting Shraga to win by injury default.
The Nature Coast school record for most consecutive victories is held by Carlos Carrasquillo and Greg Jarque III (16).
Coincidentally, senior Sean Nguyen was the lone Shark to go unbeaten at Gulf (7-0) and extended his current unbeaten streak to 10 in a row.
Nguyen enters the Polk County meet with a team-best 19-1 slate with eight pins.
Nguyen needs two pins today to leap past Tyler Forand's (2007-11) school record for most career pins (69).
Additionally, last weekend's 81-0 win over Hudson tied the Shark school record for biggest margin of victory – set in the 2008 Gulf Duals over Ridgewood (81-0).