ORANGE PARK - As area wrestlers return to school after a Christmas to New Year's break, teams have been busy readying for this week's District Duals clashes to determine the best dual meet format teams in Florida.
Tops on the readiness list goes to Fleming Island High School who have battled through a month of rugged encounters in south Florida with the likes of South Dade, the defending duals champion among the top 10 ranked 3A and Georgia teams on coach P.J. Cobbert's very tough schedule. South Dade and Fleming Island have been 1-2 in the spring individual state championship run the past three years and also the duals state championship the past two years.
Tops on the local rivalry list is the February 12 scheduled Fleming Island vs. Clay dual match; the Tussle of Muscle, which will feature a stellar field of returners for the Golden Eagles and a rugged team of Blue Devils bent on returning the Blue Devils back to the top tier after a less-than-Clay 21st state finish last year.
District 3A-1 – Fleming Island (District duals at Oakleaf, Wed., Jan. 8, 7pm) (Fleming Island, Oakleaf, Atlantic Coast, Bartram Trail, Creekside, Mandarin, Nease, Sandalwood)
2019: Fleming Island lost 32-28 to South Dade in championship match. Fleming Island beat Windermere, Buchholz, Hagerty and Fort Pierce Central to advance.
Fleming Island second in Class 3A IBT. Bartram Trail 23rd in 2A, Creekside 42nd in 2A, Nease 50th in 2A.
Over the weekend, Fleming Island torched their own mats with a dominating performance at the Keystone Memorial Duals and Invitational with the competition arguably a step down from recent tournaments for the Golden Eagles.
"I was a little disappointed with our duals performances even though we won, but I got on to them overnight and we had a better day in the IBT (individual) end of the tournament," said Fleming Island coach P.J. Cobbert, who has a nearly complete returning lineup from last year's second place team. "Sometimes, to win is not enough, it's how you win that gets you ready for the championship stuff coming up."
At the Keystone IBT, Fleming Island finished with championships medals to 10 of 14 weight divisions; Riley Holton at 126, fifth ranked in 3A; Tyler Williams at 138, who has returned to state meet form after negotiating injuries; Gannon Janssen at 145, ranked second in 3A to South Dade defending champion Bretli Reyna; Tanner Hill at 152, fourth ranked; Luke Chop at 160, fourth ranked; Gavin Smith at 170, eighth ranked; Nick Janssen at 182, eighth ranked; Jeff Lascano at 195, third ranked, Chad Nix at 220, top ranked, and Raul Gonzales at 285, sixth ranked.
Among the teams that Fleming Island topped in the IBT tournament top six were Brunswick High (GA), coached by former Fleming Island coach Larry Insalaco, 3A-Doral Academy of Miami, McKeel Academy of Fort Lauderdale (45th in Class 1A), 2A-Daytone Beach Seabreeze and a resurgent 3A-Oakleaf High team.
Oakleaf, under new coaches Marcus Miller and Sean Conroy, had top finishes from David Parkes at 145 and Josh Murrell at 285 who both placed third. Parkes lost his semifinal match with Fleming Island's Gannon Janssen then won his third place match of McKeel's Vish Williams, who sported a 20-4 season record, 8-2.
Murrell lost to Fleming Island's Raul Gonzalez in his semifinal, 8-4, then pinned for third place against Palatka's Marlon Williams.
"If coach Conroy and I had these same guys last year, we would be very competitive this year," said Miller. "These guys are wrestling hard, but inexperience is where we are. We can surprise people though."
Oakleaf got fifths from Isiah Schevchook at 170 and Jason Mitchell at 220.
Middleburg also competed at Keystone with Alex Nayfack sixth at 160 and Caiden Berg sixth at 106.
In the Class 1A ranks, Clay has impressive IBT wins at Bishop Snyder and also in Georgia with a team of hardened returners led by senior Tazz Hampton, fourth in 1A last year, and state meeters Cale Hoskinson and Joe Grelli.
Last week, Clay lost 36-34 to region rival Wakulla at the Manatee Duals with Hill scratching his head to figure out the formula for a win in that matchup.
"We have transitioned to more live and battle scenarios in practice," said Hill. "Got to find a way to beat Wakulla. As far as Fleming Island, that is always measuring stick that gets us better by having great competition nearby."
The new entry into district 4-1A Ridgeview High has its dynamic duo in junior Matthew Rodriguez, top ranked at 126 and 2A runnerup last year) and senior Gabe Guzman, 10th ranked at 145, who both ready for new duals competition with the likes of Clay, University Christian, Bradford and Bishop Snyder.
Rodriguez and Guzman recently came home from the Scott Rohrer Hoover Invitational in Alabama with gold and silver medal finishes with the Panthers finishing 21st in the 30 team field. Rodriguez (32-0), posted a 12-2 major decision over Pace High (FL)'s Ethan Billhimer (30-1). Guzman, 20-3, lost to Sarasota Military Academy's Mason Marchbank 6-1. Marchbank, a state qualifier at 132 last year, was 22-1.
District 1A-4 – Clay (Duals at Univ Christian Jan. 8 1-5pm)(Ridgeview, Clay, Baldwin, Bishop Snyder, Bolles, Bradford, University Christian, Wolfson)
2019: Clay lost to Wakulla in region final 59-4. Clay beat Bolles and Yulee to advance. Wakulla lost to Lake Highland Prep 68-6 in 1A championship.
Lake Highland Prep won Class 1A IBT. Clay 21st, Ridgeview 21st in 2A.
Ridgeview sports a feisty team, though, small in numbers and could shake up the district lineups in February with freshman Blake Pu ranked 11th at 113.
Clay, who has traveled to many of their first half meets with a invitational title in Georgia two weeks ago and a strong duals outing in Manatee last week, features a handful of returners led by third-ranked Tazz Hampton at 106 (fourth in 1A last year), 11th-ranked Abdiert Escobar at 132 who has added a solid contender since transferring from Oakleaf; Clay Hoskinson at 152, seventh ranked and a state qualifier last year; Joe Grelli, 13th at 195 and a state qualifier; Garrett Tyre, 11th at 220, and massive Derrek Mosley at 285, 11th-ranked, but strong enough to upset wrestlers above him who make one false move. Senior Luke Davis is a steady battler ranked 15th at 120.
Clay coach Hunter Hill likes his lineup and cited freshman Dominic Martin, ranked 18th at 145, as a new face.
"He was 10-0 at the start and was great in the youth wrestling circuit," said Hill. "He is one of many youth club members that will make the transition up over the next couple of years."
Clay came back from a duals tourney at Manatee with a hard-fought 36-34 loss to Wakulla in a probable preview of an upcoming region duals final in two weeks; January 16. Clay's region features the likes of Panhandle powers Wakulla (6th in 1A in 2019), South Walton (23rd), Arnold (26th), Suwannee (17th), Florida High (8th in 2019) and Episcopal (19th).
Top finishers at Manatee, where Clay won decisively over 3A-Riverview, Columbus (4th in 3A), Manatee (8th in 3A), Newsome (16th in 3A), 1A-Teneroc, 2A-Lincoln and 3A-Bloomingdale, were Cale Hoskinson at 8-0, with Abdiert Escobar, Luke Boree, Dominic Martin, Garrett Tyre and Derrek Mosley all losing just one match.
"Class 1A is most competitive it has been," said Hill. "Always with Lake Highland Prep, Somerset and Cardinal Gibbons, with Wakulla and Hernando from our area."
District 1A-5 – Keystone Heights (District duals at Palatka, Tues., Jan. 7) (Keystone Heights, Atlantic, Florida Deaf and Blind, Interlachen, Lake Weir, Menendez, Palatka)
For Orange Park, in Class 2A action, the Raiders got a late period pin from Jose Indio in a clash with Tallahassee Chiles at the Ron Bierbaum Invitational at Episcopal High School, but the exciting win was not enough in the end with Chiles winning by three points.
District 2-2A Orange Park (District duals at Columbia Fri., Jan. 10 1pm) (Orange Park, Middleburg, Chiles, Columbia, Gainesville, Leon, Lincoln, Mosley)
2019: Middleburg and Orange Park both lost in round one; to Matanzas and to Creekside (now 3A). Lincoln, who beat Columbia in round two, beat Matanzas 35-34 in round 3 final. Lincoln lost to Charlotte in state semifinal. Lake Gibson beat Charlotte 39-33 for 2A title. Lake Gibson also Class 2A IBT champions. Orange Park 16th, Lincoln 33rd, Columbia 42nd, Middleburg 48th, Chiles 50th, Leon 65th.
Orange Park coach Justin Daniels sports a senior-strong lineup that intends to show up strong at the District 2-2A Duals tournament with experience in big meets.
"The Christmas break was a good time to recover," said Daniels. "We are looking at February in our big picture expectations. The seniors have stepped up and the younger kids are learning fast."
Daniels liked the Raiders efforts against Chiles who figure to be a contender in the new district 2-2A lineup with Tallahassee Lincoln, Columbia and Leon.
The Raiders top contenders appear to be Cameron Broughton, fifth ranked in 2A and top north Florida ranked wrestler behind the likes of Tampa Jesuit, Lake Gibson, Estero and Miami Southridge.
Orange Park's prowess comes from a strong upper weight lineup led by Jacob Moore at 182, seventh ranked in 2A with Chiles junior Kyle McGill at sixth. Moore won by pin against McGill in the Episcopal dual match with both expected to clash in February.
At 170 at Episcopal, but ranked 11th earlier at 195, was sophomore Julian Moore who was able to drop weight at the Episcopal tournanment with the absence of state qualifier Jacob Campbell who ended his wrestling at Orange Park.
"We focus on who is here, Julian dropped to 170 and he brings a strong, athletic approach to that weight class," said Daniels.
At 285, senior James McArthur, ranked 17th, is a capable surprise entry with enough athleticism to withstand the tough wrestlers ranked above him. McArthur has Lincoln's Jeremiah Brown at 15th and Chiles Hezekiah Moore at 16th to contend with in district action.
On the lighter end of the Raider lineup is Davon Bailey (10th ranked at 126), Arlo Wilson (138) and Vince Walker (145).