GREEN COVE SPRINGS – With three battering runnerup finishes to South Dade High to warm up their season, the Fleming Island High wrestling team, led by a championship win by senior Briar Jackson, roared to a Friday day one lead in the Clay High Green Cove Springs Rotary Wrestling Invitational then cruised to a team title on the second day with three champions crowned in Saturday’s action.
The field at the prestigious Clay High tournament included three state runnerups from the recent state duals tournament; Fleming Island in 3A to South Dade; Charlotte High in 2A to Lake Gibson and Wakulla in 1A to Lake Highland Prep. From the list, the tournament brackets highlighted a slew of state medalists, defending champions and past state meet qualifiers in one of the more power-packed Rotary tournaments in recent history.
“We had to compete because the lineup was pretty good with the other state runnerups in there and Clay always prepared,” said Fleming Island coach P.J. Cobbert. “Even without Luke Chop (finger injury) at 152, the young kids stepped up and got themselves into championship mode. We have had tough meets all season and this was just another one.”
In the end, Fleming Island emerged as the team champion with 312.5 points with Charlotte second at 278 and Wakulla at 190 in a final three not surprising to anyone in the Clay High gym. Clay, with a massive graduation loss this year and new head coach Hunter Hill, finished a strong sixth with 112.5 points with Oakleaf 24th and Middleburg 29th, both competing with diminished rosters due to injuries.
Jackson, the defending 3A champion at 113, has been bruised up this year with noone in the state not coming to the center of his wrestling matchups not knowing his capability.
“I know I’m not sneaking up on anyone,” said Jackson, who entered the tournament with seven losses in 50 bouts. “I’ve had some tough matches that I’ve had to regroup and come back from. Some I lost, some I won in the end, but I think a
champion has to have that mentality of not letting little things get to you. I was on my back in the final today, but fought out of it for the win.”
Jackson, after storming through his preliminaries rounds with two pins and a major decision in the Saturday morning semifinal, was set to faceoff with Charlotte High’s Donovan Cataldi, ironically, the Class 2A champion at 113 pounds with a 51-0 record last year.
Jackson attacked Cataldi in the second period with an attempted fireman’s carry takedown attempt that Cataldi deftly defended and had Jackson in a near pin situation, but Jackson fought the attempt to end the scramble with no points to either wrestler, but Cataldi up 4-3. Jackson would get an escape point to tie the match at 4-4 with 40 seconds remaining in the second period.
“My mindset is right at the right time,” said Jackson. “I’m doing everything I can to be ready to defend my title. Coach P.J. Cobbert was a four-timer and knows that the repeat is more mental than physical.”
In the third, Jackson answered a Cataldi takedown with a spin reversal that tied the match at 6-6. Midway through the third, Jackson attempted two Easton backtilt moves that Cataldi fought off gallantly, but Jackson hit the third one to take a 9-6 lead. Cataldi attempted two Granby escapes; a somersaulting escape attempt, that Jackson was able to fend off to win 9-7.
“He’s smart and tough,” said Cobbert, of Jackson. “He knows he’s got to be the guy to lead the team. The young kids feed off his energy and he gives it back by being in their corner.”
At 145, Gannon Jackson lost a 7-0 match to Wakulla’s Noah Wilson in what has become a gauntlet of finals matches for the Nease High transfer who went one win, one loss recently with matchups with South Dade’s Eric Temes.
In Fleming Island’s next championship bout, Tanner Hill, at 160, got an early warning call against him for overtly slap-handing Bishop Kenny’s Andrew Slade, but Hill battled to a 7-5 win.
Locked at 2-2 into the second period, Hill went up 3-2 with a stand-up escape from the referee’s down position then continued his physical attack on Slade with a single to double takedown for two more. Up 5-2,
Slade came back and got a two point take down to close the gap to 5-4 with 32 seconds left in the second period. Slade tied the score at 5-5 just before the end of the second period to set up a dramatic third period.
Up 7-5 with a single takedown at 45 seconds to go, Hill had Slade locked up in a front cradle, but could not get the turn to get the win at 7-5.
At 195, Fleming Island’s Chad Nix scored a 2-1 win over Charlotte High state qualifier Anthony Andou while at 220, Jeffrey Lascano, who has been a surprise powerhouse for Cobbert, lost by pin to Charlotte High’s Jose Valdez, the 2A runnerup at 182.
“Chad lost to that guy at Knockout (Christmas tournament),” said Cobbert. “They had some great competition here and I told the boys this was not going to be easy.”
For Clay, Luke Davis took sixth at 126 and Cale Hoskinson took third at 132 with a win over Lawrence Russo of Matanzas after losing in the semifinal to Bartram Trail’s Nicholas Vugman, the eventual champion who was third in 2A at 120 last year. Justin Byler was eighth at 113.
Oakleaf High’s David Parkes took eighth at 145 after matching up and losing in his second match to eventual champion Noah Wilson of Wakulla.
The rest of the Fleming Island roster included Hunter Herrington, third at 106; Riley Holton, third at 113; Ryan Hobson, fourth at 126; Dalton Baysinger, fifth at 132; Tyler Williams, third at 138; Connor Rogers, fifth at 152; Gavin Smith, fifth at 170; Anthony Breeden, fifth at 182 and Raul Gonzalez, fourth at 285.