KISSIMMEE – Fleming Island High wrestling was supposed to take a step back after graduating two state champions that fueled three runnerup finishes to 3A powerhouse South Dade High the past two years; two state meet finishes and one duals state meet finish, but someone forgot to tell the new names on the roster that they were supposed to wait until next year to excel.
“I’ve said we were going to have great depth this year after last year’s team graduated a handful of seniors including two champions,” said Fleming Island High coach P.J. Cobbert, who got second to South Dade by just 27 points two weeks ago in a south Florida tournament. “This team is young and learning championship wrestling, but last night, they grew up real fast.”
Growing up including a sensational 10-point early lead that turned to a 29-28 gap to South Dade with just one match remaining before the Golden Eagles succumbed by just a takedown in the final match; Gannon Janssen versus South Dade’s Eric Temes, that left Fleming Island in the runnerup spot at 32-28.
“I hugged their coach, Victor Balmeceda (now with 13 wrestling state titles; including two duals and two team titles in two years over Fleming Island) and he said to me ‘This is what it is all about’,” said Cobbert. “A match like this, with the entire gym done and watching us is an experience these kids will never forget. We just came up short.”
Fleming Island torched all comers to get to the finals against South Dade with Windermere and Buchholz falling in the district duals by lopsided scores; a somewhat surprisingly ferocious 36-25 win over Hagerty High in the region final and a 53-5 smokeout of Ft. Pierce Central in the state semifinal. Hagerty finished third behind Fleming Island at last year’s state championship. Ft. Pierce Central made the region finals at last year’s duals tournament beating Royal Palm Beach, but losing to Wellington. Hagerty also got to the region round two matches before losing to Winter Springs. Hagery beat Winter Springs in this year’s region round two match to face Fleming Island for the region final.
“The difference this year is that these kids are busting their butts to win the state title from top to bottom,” said Cobbert. “Last year, we had some hammers that won everything, but the rest of the team did not go in expecting to beat South Dade. This team got emotional after the loss and that says a lot about their toughness. They are expecting to win the state title.”
South Dade, with a handful of returning state champions; at 195, 170 and 132 was expected to get those points in hand from the start, but Cobbert anticipated his depth to be his strength.
“We got two or three guys that I know can step in at different weights and be strong,” said Cobbert. “I learned a lot from my coach Jim Reape (retired Clay High coach) about shuffling the lineup and I’ve been around a while to know which kids match up. We got some outstanding performances from kids South Dade was not anticipating. And, we’ll shuffle the deck even more the next time we get them.”
Fleming Island opened with senior Luke Chop pulling out a 1-0 win at 152 and Tanner Hill blasting Ralph Clemente at 160 with a 16-7 major decision to set the tone for the Golden Eagles.
“They started the other matches at 145, but told us 152 was going first in the final,” said Chop, who has won 20-plus straight matches thus far. “I got an escape in the final period and just wrestled on top of him to get us started with a win. Tanner came in next and knocked his guy out and that pumped up the team.”
At 170, three time state champin Brevin Balmeceda ran into Gavin Smith and found out how tough Smith was unwilling to get pinned and give South Dade six points back. Balmeceda won 17-0 for five team points.
“That was the first victory of the night,” said Cobbert. “We train so hard in positioning and getting out of bad spots. Gavin has been strong all season.”
In one of Cobbert’s biggest shuffles of the night, Anthony
Breeden in at 182 popped off a 30 second pin that exploded the Golden Eagle bench.
“He was pumped up to wrestle one of their best guys; Todd Perry at 195, the 170 champion last year, but I told him this was about points and not individual,” said Cobbert. “I told him he could wrap this guy up and he did.”
Perry, against Nick Janssen, did his duty with a pin, but Chad Nix got a forfeit six at 220 to set up a light Jeffrey Lascano for a 285 showdown that took normal heavy Raul Gonzalez out.
“Jeffrey is that pitbull on the team,” said Cobbert. “He is mentally tough and he just irritates guys who look at him and think he is easy.”
Lascano gutted out a 5-3 win over a much-heavier Kenneth Crouse to push the Fleming Island lead to 22-11 lead before Hunter Herrington at 106 continued the pile-on with an upset 2-1 win over Adrian Morales.
“His best match of the year,” said Cobbert. “He’s the guy that gets jacked up by the crowd around him.”
At 113, Riley Holton lost a 10-5 decision that was more a victory by only allowing three points as defending champion Briar Jackson, at 120, stormed to a 9-2 win to push the Fleming Island lead to 28-14 with four matches to go.
“They had three studs in a row coming and we needed just a little luck to stay ahead,” said Cobbert.
A 23-8 win by 126 runnerup Tyler Orta over Ryan Hobson at 126 added five and a pin by 120 champion Bretli Reyna over Garrett Cole at 132 added six as Fleming Island would turn to 138 state qualifier Tyler Williams (0-2) at 138 against 132 third placer Joshua Swan and Gannon Janssen at 145 against South Dade newcomer Eric Temes to stave off the South Dade surge.
“We knew Tyler’s match would be a battle and we needed any kind of win to
win,” said Cobbert. “Gannon was going to be the wild card if Tyler lost.”
Williams lost an 18-4 major to add four points to put the score at 29-28 for Janssen.
“Both the 1A and 2A matches were over and the whole gym was around our mat to watch,” said Cobbert.
In an action-filled first period that saw Janssen get the first takedown and Temes answering with a quick escape setting up two more Temes takedowns and one more Janssen escape, the score stood at just 5-3 for Temes.
“I started thinking about my match when Hunter got done (at 106) and I was just trying to stay focused,” said Janssen, a recent transfer with brother Nick from 2A-Nease High School. “I was confident I could wrestle with him, but I made a mental mistake that he got two points off and that was the difference.”
Janssen got out quickly to open the second period and Temes was tagged with a stall caution as the score stuck at 5-4 going into the final period.
“We had a some chances,” said Cobbert. “Gannon was wrestling tremendous and keeping the match intensity very high. We train for that kind of effort.”
From the bottom position, Temes escaped to go up 6-4 with just 18 seconds off the clock and both wrestlers battled to a scoreless effort to keep the score at 6-4.
“I told Gannon to keep his chin up,” said Cobbert. “Kids like him take the loss very hard, but his effort was way above anything he could ever believe he could do. Both teams got a little taste of what championship level wrestling is all about.”
In Class 1A, Clay lost 59-4 to Wakulla in that semifinal with Wakulla losing to Lake Highland Prep in the final; the second in a row for Prep. Sophomore Cale Hoskinson at 138 was Clay lone winner against Wakulla.