Fleming Island warms up for Tussle with Clay Rotary win

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GREEN COVE SPRINGS - With the annual Tussle of Muscle dual clash between Fleming Island and Clay high school wrestling (Wed., Feb. 12), Fleming Island ran a middle weight gauntlet with Gannon Janssen’s explosive behind-the-back pin that, coupled with an equally-explosive pin by Luke Davis over Fleming Island’s Ryan Hobson in the semifinals, made the annual grappling festival one of the more intense days of competition in recent wrestling folklore.

“They (Clay) wrestle scrappy and it’s in their house, but we wrestle more bigger meets,” said Fleming Island coach P.J. Cobbert, referencing meets with South Dade, Lake Gibson and Lake Highland Prep, all state champion teams. “Charlotte (second to Fleming Island and above third place Clay, is a top ranked Class 2A program and they came to wrestle hard. We’ll see what happens Wednesday.”

Fleming Island, who lost to South Dade in the Class 3A state semifinals in the state duals tournament, won with 288 team points with Charlotte, a Class 2A duals region finalist, at 217 and Clay,  a Class 1A region finalist, at 175.5. Middleburg finished 29th with 32 points. Clay had maneuvered from fifth place early in the tournament to their third place finish behind Charlotte and ahead of Wakulla with just Davis and Cale Hoskinson’s second place finishes as top placers. Fleming Island bested Charlotte (third in Class 2A last year by just 10 points to Tampa Jesuit and 40 points to Lake Highland Prep) for a second year with Wakulla taking third last year and Clay seventh.

In 2018, Clay won the Clay Rotary over Springstead with Charlotte third.

“Saturday’s performance allows the guys to recognize to keep trusting the system,” said Clay coach Hunter Hill. “It takes time to get to that elite level. We are on the rise.”

Janssen, 52-5 and ranked third in Class 3A at 145 behind South Dade three time champion Bretli Reyna, fought off a near-pin hold by Wakulla’s Noah Wilson (45-4, fourth in 1A at 145 last year) in the final 53 seconds of the second period of their 145 championship match before surviving and then capturing Wilson with a roll through bar and half nelson pinning combination.

“I had one arm free when he turned me at the end of the second and knew he would not be able to secure the pin,” said Janssen. “I knew if I just held there and stayed patient, the period would end or the referee would call stalemate.”

Down 7-2 because of the near-fall points of the move, Janssen shocked Wilson off the referee’s whistle after Wilson attempted the same combination only to have Janssen stop the move’s advance and pin Wilson with his back laying flat on Wilson’s chest.

“The move is stopped if the top guy posts his arms out and stops the roll,” said Cobbert. “We teach our guys to walk backwards once the roll stops and he controlled his guys hands and got the pin. That’s college level stuff right there.”

Davis, who had never won a Clay Rotary title, got the better of a tumble with Hobson with an opportunistic roll into a hard cradle in the semifinals of 120. Hobson was a state qualifier last year while Davis lost in region 1-1A’s consolation semifinal.

“This is my fourth Rotary and my second with Clay (transferred from Creekside) and I’ve always been beat in the semifinals,” said Davis, a senior. “This is a big confidence boost for the Fleming Island dual match, but I know Ryan (Hobson) will be ready to go on Wednesday just as hard.”

Davis lost in last year’s semifinal at 126 to Florida High’s Tyler Reeve before losing a 6-1 decision to Hobson in the consolation rounds. Hobson finished fifth.

In the 120 final, Davis lost via major decision to Ethan Mojena of Tampa Prep, 16-3. Mojena was Class 1A runnerup at 106 last year as an eighth grader and had beaten Clay’s Tazz Hampton 11-3 in the semifinal. Hampton wound up fourth.

As the Clay Rotary meet surged from a lively first day to thrilling semifinals, it was Fleming Island sending nearly an entire team to the semifinals with Hunter Herrington, Riley Holton, Tyler Williams, Janssen, Tanner Hill, Luke Chop and Chad Nix making the finals with Williams, Janssen, Hill and Nix earning titles. Herrington, at 113,  lost 7-6 to Charlotte’s Andrew Austin (40-1, fifth at 106 in 2A last  year); Holton, a state qualifier at 113, lost 3-2 to Matanzas’ Shaun Culberth (sixth in 2A at 113 last year) at 126 and Chop, at 160 (ranked second to South Dade’s Steven Villalobos), losing 3-2 to Cody Rice of Charlotte (39-4, fifth at 145 in 2A last year). Chop was third at 152 in 3A last year.

Hill took on the top of the Clay starting rotation at 152 with Cale Hoskinson and fought to a 3-1 decision in a match that will be key in Wednesday’s rematch.

“He stayed in front of me and just held on,” said Hoskinson. “I’ll wrestle smarter Wednesday.”

Both Hill and Hoskinson were early outs at last year’s state meet; Class 3A for Hill, 1A for Hoskinson, with Hill third in region 1-3A and Hoskinson the 132 region 1-1A champion.

“Traditionally, Fleming Island has been outstanding handfighting and really hard to score on,” said Hill. “We didn’t get to see much of Fleming Island with just two guys in the finals.”

Williams, wrestling at full strength this season, built a 15-0 lead off a series of three straight Easton’s in the final period to take a technical fall over Mosley’s Jaylan Griffin.

For Clay, Joe Grelli won in overtime at 195 over Ricardo Camay of Key West for third while Dominic Martin finished fourth at 145. Luke Boree finished fifth at 132, Garrett Tyre was fifth at 220 and Derrek Mosley was fifth at 285.

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