Entering Kissimmee: Top-of-the-podium dreams remain for 19 Hernando County grapplers

2A-II regional champ James Spencer of Springstead, bested Kevron Gadsen from East River. Photo by JOE DiCRISTOFALO
Springstead’s Dominic Nardini against Isaac Guillermo from Robinson at 113 pounds. Photo by JOE DiCRISTOFALO
Springstead High’s Christian Reynolds looks for a pin against Armwood High’s John Lombardo. Photo by JOE DiCRISTOFALO

STATE WRESTLING

Springstead’s Morales

has best opportunity to

become 48th state champ

By TONY CASTRO

HernandoSport.com

With two crucial days remaining in Hernando County’s 47th mat season, only 19 (21 percent) of this year’s 89 varsity grapplers remain alive entering this weekend’s 55th FHSAA State Finals at the Silver Spurs Arena, 1875 Silver Spur Lane, Kissimmee.

The county record is 20 grapplers that advanced to The Lakeland Center in 2012, now known as the RP Funding Center.

On Friday and Saturday, all five local mat programs will be represented at “The Show” including Spring Hill-Springstead, Brooksville’s Central, Brooksville-Hernando, Brooksville- Nature Coast Technical and Weeki Wachee.

Friday’s action begins at 10 a.m. and could run as late as 10 p.m. with two winners’ rounds and two consolation rounds.

Saturday begins with a third round of wrestlebacks beginning at 9:30 a.m. followed by semifinals and wrestlebacks.

Finals are slated to begin at 5:30 p.m. across on three mats.

The top six finalists in each of the 14 weight divisions earns a coveted medal in the Class 1A, Class 2A and Class 3A divisions.

Trophies will be awarded to the team state champions and state runners-up.

Lake Gibson favored to repeat

In Class 2A, defending state champion Lakeland-Lake Gibson is expected to repeat.

Danny Walker

Head Coach Danny Walker’s Braves arrive with 11 state qualifiers tying Fort Pierce-Central and Punta Gorda-Charlotte with the highest amount of qualifiers.

Fort Myers-Riverdale is right behind with 10 entries followed closely by Tampa-Jesuit (9), Brandon (8), Tallahassee-Lincoln (8) and Palm Bay (8).

The North Suncoast’s most dominant athletic mat program, F.W. Springstead, enters with five members including: seniors James Spencer at 285 pounds, Christian Reynolds at 220 and Chris Morales at 152, sophomore Dominic Nardini at 113 and freshman Joe Gallo at 120.

The Eagles have recorded 12 Top-10 finishes over the past 14 winters.

Chris Morales

Morales (38-2 overall, 28 pins) enters his third straight state tournament and is the lone returning state placer from 2018 (fourth).

The third-year Morales, who enters with 122 career wins, needs four wins leap frog two-time state champion Schuyler Swanton for 17th place all-time at SHS.

Another positive? Spencer (35-2, 24 pins), Reynolds (30-4, 19 pins) and Nardini (34-8, 11 pins) are all returning state qualifiers from last winter. That state meet experience will do nothing but benefit that trio.

Gallo (27-16, 20 pins) is a rare freshman district champion seeking to sow his oats in his initial state finals.

Eagle draws

In Bracketology 101, the Eagle with the most favorable draw is Morales.

Morales reached the finals of all six IBTs he’s competed in so far, winning a gold medal four times. In the other two, he settled on silver.

This time, the two-time regional champion opens against Doral Academy’s Daniel Garlin.

He’s expected to face Fort Myers’ Riley Hackworth in the quarterfinals.

James Spencer

Spencer, who hurt his ankle in his first state match last winter, is 100 percent healthy this time.

The defending regional champ opens against Viera’s Jackson Hatfield.

With a win, he’s expected to be confronted by Riverdale’s TJ Barfield, who bested him in the Lake Gibson Invite finals, 7-2.

Christian Reynolds

Reynolds opens against Bartram Trail’s Clarke Hamilton. With a win, he’ll be opposed by Charlotte senior Jose Valdez (50-1).

Should Reynolds win twice on Friday, he’d have a rematch with Robinson senior Devin Jandura in Saturday’s semifinals.

He bested Jandura in the Brooksville-Kiwanis Invitational finals, 3-2.

Nardini, who was submarined by one of the worst officiating calls last winter in the state’s Blood Round, opens the meet against Matanzas junior Shaun Culbreth.

Dominic Nardini

Culbreth won the controversial match year against Nardini, after Nardini was whistled for get this -fleeing the mat – on an escape attempt from the bottom position late in the third period.

With a win, Nardni would most likely face Jensen Beach senior Nick Davenport in the quarterfinals.

Joe Gallo

Meanwhile, Gallo opens against Olympic Heights’ Fabian Jaramillo. Jaramillo edged Kris Ortiz in the South Beach Duals, 2-1.

Fourth-year SHS skipper Mike LaRocca his troops are “good to go” health-wise.

As far as best bracket, “Morales is the best bet for a state title. Now, you can’t underestimate anyone, especially at this level. He lost two matches last year at states with two mistakes.

“As far as Spencer, it‘s his tournament to lose. He‘s able to be a state champion.

Mike LaRocca (right) with assistant coach Joe Gallo. Photo by JOE DiCRISTOFALO

“I really think all our guys could end up placing,“ stressed LaRocca. “Nardini was really dejected last year when he’d beaten four the of six guys that placed at states. That‘s driving his passion this year.

“… Reynolds has one of the most loaded brackets, but placing is doable. He’s wrestled well the entire season. He has to believe walking in that he’s the best to succeed.

“… As far as Gallo. He’s been the surprising freshman this winter. If he wrestles like her did on Day 2 at regionals, I have no doubt he’ll reach the podium Saturday night,” explained LaRocca.

HHS: Leopards aiming at four placers

Buoyed by back-to-back regional runner-up trophies in 2017-18, Hernando High has been deflated returning from states – the FHSAA’s largest stage – with zero state medals.

With that memory fresh in mind, seventh-year Leopard mentor David Pritz beefed up his 2018-19 schedule.

The Leopards – after its third straight regional runner-up finish – enter states with a school record nine state qualifiers.

Everyone in Class 1A is still chasing Orlando-Lake Highland Prep – with 13 state qualifiers – but Crawfordville-Wakulla and Ft. Lauderdale -Cardinal Gibbons are each packing 10 qualifiers.

Miami-Mater Lakes and Pembroke Pines-Somerset Academy along with Del Ray Beach’s American Heritage each arrive with nine grapplers.

The other nine times F.W. Springstead has brought eight or more to states, the Eagles have returned with a Top 10-finish. That’s one of Leopards’ most cherished goals this weekend.

The other?

Bronson Tafelski

To return to Brooksville with at least four state placers.

Alex Espinal

The Purple and Gold arrive with seniors Bronson Tafelski (38-12 overall, 24 pins) at 152, Fernando Valdez (44-6, 25 pins) at 170 and Alex “New York” Espinal (37-12, 28 pins) at 182, juniors Jonathan Britton (37-11-25) at 113, Michael Brown (36-12, 16 pins) at 132 and Qwenton Coney (32-11, 16 pins) at 220, and sophomores Billy Gould (35-10, 17 pins) at 120, Josh Pritz (38-6, 26 pins) at 138 and Sam Fleming (34-18, 22 pins) at 285.

Counting his eighth-grade season with Tampa-Citrus Park Christian, Pritz will be making his third state appearance.

Tafelski and Coney are returning state qualifiers.

None of this year’s Leopards, however, have ever returned home following a top-six placing at states.

Leopard draws

Jonathon Britton

Britton will open against Fernandina Beach’s Jeremy Mahoney. With a win, he’ll be opposed by Lemon Bay’s Bryce Taranto.

Billy Gould

Gould opens with a tough customer American Heritage’s Vincenzo Napalitano. With a win, he’d face Tampa Prep junior Collin Mojena.

Brown begins his initial state meet against Jupiter Christian’s Eric Barnes. In the quarters, he’ll most likely encounter Clay’s Cale Hokinson.

In perhaps one of the toughest weight divisions, Pritz will open with Derick Dagg of Lemon Bay before squaring off against South Walton’s talented Ethan Pickren in the quarterfinals.

Pickren topped Pritz during the Clay Invite finals, 10-4. A five-point move in the first period spelled the difference for Pickren.

Josh Pritz

Tafelski’s bracket is no picnic either.

Tafelski opens against American Heritage’s Joseph Myers. In the quarters, he most likely face Carrollwood Day School’s talented Jonathan Conrad.

Fernando Valdez

Valdez appears to have the best path to the semifinals. He’ll open against Middleburg’s Joshua Campbell.

With a win, he’d be opposed by Somerset’s Caleb Casas.

Espinal drew Tampa Prep’s Zach White to open. With the nod, he’d face American Heritage freshman Mikey Tal Shahar.

Coney opens against Godby’s best, Ja’Tyren Walker. With a win, he’ll most likely face Cameron Rosario of Bradenton-Southeast.

Fleming opens against Miami-Edison’s Umari Dixon Gordon. With a nod, he’ll be confronted by Zephyrhills Christian Academy’s mammoth Malik Jones.

David Pritz

Coach Pritz believes the state finals’ stage will not be too big for his team.

“That’s the reason we filled the schedule with some better IBTs,” noted Pritz. “We’d like to get as many guys as we can to the podium. Our goal all season has been to get four and place top10 at states.”

On the 1A team race, “Lake Highland easily wins, but there will be a nice battle for second place between Wakulla, American Heritage and Somerset,” added Pritz, a three-time state placer from 2003-06.

“With so many tough kids, we got to take it one match at a time.”

Three new Sharks at states

Though Nature Coast Technical introduced three underclassmen to states last winter, none of three oddly returned this winter.

No problem.

NCT advanced three new Sharks – all underclassmen – to the FHSAA’s biggest stage in Osceola County.

Jaxson Morris
Jonathan Dominguez

This time, the Brooksville mat program will be represented by junior Jaxson Morris (29-16, 21 pins) at 132, and sophomores Jonathan Dominguez at 113 (36-8, 25 pins) and Billy Fetzner at 138 (43-14, 29 pins).

None of the trio has ever been to states previously.

Two-time Georgia state qualifier Chance Phillips, the Sharks’ second-year coach, says they’re three types of wrestlers at states.

“They’re either hammers. They’ve won everywhere they’ve gone and beaten solid competition along the way or they’re excited to be state qualifiers or maybe they’re still deciding if they can place,” detailed Phillips.

Chance Phillips

He says his trio hasn’t decided if they can place.

“Dominguez has the best shot. He’s probably our best bet to medal,” noted Phillips. “Billy’s weight class is way too tough. There’s no where to hide at 138.

“… Now, Jaxson (Morris) can wrestle with anybody. The question is whether he’s locked in mentally before he steps out there,” emphasized Phillips.

Shark draws

Billy Fetzner

Dominguez opens against Tallahassee-Florida High’s Emil Ganim. With a win, he’ll most likely confront Somerset’s Skyler Caban.

Morris begins his initial state meet against Mater Lakes’ Omar Armengol. With a victory, he’ll most likely be opposed by Sarasota Military Academy’s Mason Marchbank.

Fetzner will open against a familiar face, Sarasota Military Academy’s Sean Cervin. Cervin has beaten him 2-of-3 times this season.

Should he solve Cervin, he’ll most likely be opposed by Somerset’s Ramiro Mosquera.

Straube represents WWHS

First-year grappler, junior Deacon Straube (25-14, 18 pins) at 220 will represent Weeki Wachee.

Deacon Straube

Out of the gate, Straube will be confronted by Wakulla’s Slade Watkins.

Should he win, he’s expected to face American Heritage’s Chase Thompson.

Dan Gigantelli

Straube is the Hornets’ first state qualifier since 2017.

“Deacon’s got a tough one out of the box,” noted third-year skipper Dan Gigantelli. “If he loses, I expect him to have a better chance to make something happen in the consolation round.”

Gigantelli is warning Straube against complacency.

“I don’t want guys satisfied by making states,” he said. “They can do it if they walk in focused.

“… He’s had a good week of practice. It’s a big stage at state; guys have to learn to adjust,” stressed Gigantelli.

CHS: Sorensen: Up hill climb

Central High junior Jesse Sorensen (29-7, 21 pins) is a first-time state qualifier for the Bears.

Jesse Sorensen

He’s attempting to be the CHS’ initial state placer in five winters.

He’ll open against Key West’s Stervens Dor.

Greg Climan

With a win, he be confronted by Wakulla’s Darius Wilkins.

“Jesse has a challenge right from the start,” described first-year CHS mentor Greg Climan. “He’s been super focused in practice. We’ve broken down the game plan for each period.

“… Winning the first match will be huge. With a win, he’ll be running into a couple of houses next,” added Climan. “I think he’s mentally prepared because of his regional experience. I don’t think the stage will be too big for him.”

AT A GLANCE

WHAT – 55th annual Florida High School Athletic Association (FHSAA) Wrestling State Finals.

WHO – Spring Hill-F.W. Springstead will be competing in the Class 2A Tournament. Lakeland-Lake Gibson is the defending Class 2A state champion. Four Hernando County programs will be represented in 1A event: BrooksvilleCentral, Brooksville-Hernando, Brooksville-Nature Coast Technical and Weeki Wachee. Orlando-Lake Highland Prep is the defending 1A champ. Both IBTs (individually bracketed tourneys) feature a double-elimination format.

WHERE – Silver Spurs Arena, 1875 Silver Spur Lane, Kissimmee.

WHEN – Friday-Saturday, Mar. 8-9. Friday’s action begins at 10 a.m. and runs until approximately 9 p.m. Saturday begins with a wrestleback round at 9:30 a.m. followed by semifinals and wrestlebacks. Finals are slated to begin at 5:30 p.m. across on three mats.

AT STAKE – Top six finalists in each of the 14 weight divisions earns a medal in the Class 1A, Class 2A and Class 3A divisions. Trophies will be awarded to team state champions and team state runners-up.

2019 Hernando County 1A-2A State Qualifiers (19)

– Compiled by TONY CASTRO

Chris Morales                          Photo by JOE DiCRISTOFALO
 

WGTK.

 

NAME

 

SCH

 

YR

 

W

 

L

 

.PCT

 

PINS

 

106

Nardini, Dominic**

SPG

10

34

8

.810

11

 

113

Britton, Jonathan

HER

11

37

11

.771

25

 

113

Dominguez, Jonathan

NCT

10

34

8

.810

11

 

120

Gallo, Joe

SPG

9

27

16

.628

20

 

120

Gould, Billy

HER

10

35

10

.778

17

 

132

Morris, Jaxson

NCT

10

29

16

.644

21

 

132

Brown, Michael

HER

11

36

12

.750

16

 

138

Pritz, Josh***

HER

10

38

6

.864

26

 

138

Fetzner, Billy

NCT

10

43

14

.754

29

 

152

Morales, Chris***

SPG

12

28

2

.950

28

 

152

Tafelski, Bronson**

HER

12

38

12

.760

24

 

170

Valdez, Fernando

HER

12

44

6

.880

25

 

182

Espinal, Alex

HER

12

37

12

.755

28

 

220

Reynolds, Christian**

SPG

12

30

4

.882

19

 

220

Straube, Deacon

WW

11

25

14

.641

18

 

220

Coney, Qwenton**

HER

11

32

11

.744

16

 

285

Spencer, James **

SPG

12

35

3

.921

24

 

285

Fleming, Sam

HER

12

34

18

.654

22

 

285

Sorensen, Jesse

CEN

11

29

7

.806

21

*** Denotes three-time state qualifier.

** Denotes two-time state qualifier.

All-Time Hernando County Wrestling

State Qualifiers/State Placers

(1972-2018/46 Seasons)

– Compiled by TONY CASTRO

 

RK.

 

TEAM

 

QUALIFIERS

 

PLACERS

 

.PCT

 

1.

Spring Hill-Springstead

216*

98*

.454

 

2.

Brooksville-Hernando

121

53

.438

 

3.

Brooksville-Central

54

12

.222

 

4.

Brooksville-Nature Coast Technical

28

14

.500*

5.

Weeki Wachee

11

3

.364

 

TOTALS (5)

 

430

 

180

 

.419

* Denotes Hernando County record.

All-Time Hernando County State

Wrestling Champions 1972-2018

(46 Seasons/47 Champions)

– Compiled by TONY CASTRO

Hernando Hall of Fame Mike Hamilton
 

NAME

 

SCH

 

YR

 

CLASS

 

WGT

Hamilton, Michael

HER

1982

3A

185

Hudson, Genard

HER

1987

3A

UNL

Lane, John

SPG

1991

3A

145

Kuhl, Brad

HER

1992

3A

135

Deason, Chuck

HER

1993

3A

125

Sang, Omah

CEN

1994

3A

171

Gordon, Reppard

HER

1995

4A

152

Hill, Corey

SPG

1996

5A

145

Mallin, Mike

CEN

1997

4A

189

Hill, Corey

SPG

1997

5A

152

Gant, Richard

HER

1997

4A

125

Stevenson, John

SPG

1998

5A

112

Swanton, Dustin

SPG

1998

5A

119

Swanton, Dustin

SPG

1999

5A

125

Smith, John

HER

1999

4A

152

Stevenson, Jim

SPG

2000

2A

125

Pritz, Robert

HER

2000

1A

140

Booker, Matt

SPG

2001

1A

130

DeCristofaro, Gerard

SPG

2001

1A

140

Chipoletti, Addison

HER

2003

1A

171

Chipoletti, Addison

HER

2004

1A

171

Chipoletti, Addison

HER

2005

1A

189

Rotunda, Windham

HER

2005

1A

275

Swanton, Schuyler

SPG

2007

2A

103

Swanton, Schuyler

SPG

2008

2A

112

Bliss, Richie

SPG

2009

2A

103

Bliss, Richie

SPG

2010

2A

103

Pritz, Daniel

HER

2010

1A

145

Toms, Virgil

SPG

2010

2A

125

Soto, Nick

SPG

2010

2A

130

Ross, Cody

SPG

2010

2A

135

Cox, Kenny

SPG

2010

2A

215

Bliss, Richie

SPG

2011

2A

103

Toms, Virgil

SPG

2011

2A

130

Soto, Nick

SPG

2011

2A

135

Ross, Cody

SPG

2011

2A

140

Landgraff, Shawn

SPG

2011

2A

152

Redman, Sean

SPG

2012

2A

145

Ross, Cody

SPG

2012

2A

152

Dreggors, John

SPG

2012

2A

285

Rivera, Jordan

SPG

2013

2A

138

Vovan, Brandon

NCT

2013

2A

160

McDonald, Michael

SPG

2014

2A

120

Rivera, Jordan

SPG

2014

2A

145

Gaudin, Jesse

HER

2014

1A

220

McDonald, Michael

SPG

2015

2A

126

Rivera, Richie

SPG

2017

2A

113

Hernando County With 8+ State Qualifiers

– Compiled by TONY CASTRO

Hall of Famer Bob Levija                                                                                                                                   Photo by JOE DiCRISTOFALO
 

TEAM

 

HEAD COACH

 

YR

 

SQ

 

PLACE

Spring Hill-Springstead

Bob Levija

1993

8

9th (T)

Spring Hill-Springstead

Bob Levija

1997

8

3rd

Spring Hill-Springstead

Bob Levija

1998

10

3rd

Spring Hill-Springstead

Bob Levija

2001

8

3rd

Spring Hill-Springstead

Eric Swensen

2009

9

3rd

Spring Hill-Springstead

Eric Swensen

2010

8

2nd

Spring Hill-Springstead

Eric Swensen

2011

9

1st

Spring Hill-Springstead

Eric Swensen

2012

12

1st

Spring Hill-Springstead

Sal Basile

2013

9

1st

Spring Hill-Springstead

Mike LaRocca

2018

9

8th

Hernando

David Pritz

2019

9

All-Time FHSAA Individual State Champions

1965-2018 (54 Years)

– Compiled by TONY CASTRO

Russ Cozart
 

RK.

 

SCHOOL

 

NO.

1.

Brandon

119

2.

Homestead-South Dade

70

3.

Orlando-Lake Highland Prep

45

3.

Miami-Southridge

38

5.

Fort Myers

31

 

6.

 

Spring Hill-Springstead

 

30

7.

Miami-Palmetto

30

8.

Fort Lauderdale-St. Thomas Aquinas

28

9.

Fort Lauderdale-Cardinal Gibbons

27

9.

Clearwater-Countryside

27

 

 

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