Felice returns to the Weeki Wachee mat program he founded

WRESTLING

In 5 years, the math

instructor guided the

Hornets to a district title

By TONY CASTRO

HernandoSport.com

Joe Felice

The lone Weeki Wachee High School mentor to ever guide a male Hornets team to a district championship – Joe Felice – has returned the Vespa Way campus.

Felice, who’ll turn 45 this year, recently transferred back to Weeki Wachee High School from Central High to fill the vacancy left by Dan Gigantelli.

Dan Gigantelli

Gigantelli departed just after the school year ended to take the head coaching wrestling position and assistant football coaches’ slot at Hudson-Fivay.

Gigantelli guided the Hornets to back-to-back-back winning campaigns over the past thee winters.

The former Mitchell High head coach improved from 29-19 in 2016-17 to 32-14 to 36-6 this past season.

His 95-39 won-lost record (71 percent) was highlighted by back-to-back-to-back district runner-up crowns in the Class 1A, District 6 Tournaments the past three campaigns.

Gigantelli’s grapplers helped set a new Hernando County record for most dual meet victories (36) in a season.

The year before, Gigantelli set the mark with 32 wins.

Across three seasons, Gigantelli’s forces hoisted three tournament championship trophies in 33 events. His teams captured the Hudson-Fivay Duals twice and TD Talbott Duals at The Villages.

Gigantelli’s troops won two events this season – which had had never been done before on the Vespa Way campus.

But in a sport heavily scrutinized by the number of state qualifiers and state placers, the dual meet-first Hornets lacked under Gigantelli.

All told, WWHS was represented by four state qualifiers in the last three Class 1A State Finals at Silver Spurs Arena in Kissimmee.

Those four Hornets without walked without one state placer.

Felice returns

Felice, who began his teaching career at WWHS, will teach mathematics and is ESE certified as well.

Felice is a familiar face.

He graduated from F.W. Springstead – under Hall of Famer Robert “Bob” Levija in 1993.

Bob Levija Photo by JOE DiCRISTOFALO

He and his wife have two children – though neither participates in athletics – and reside in Spring Hill.

Felice was the founding architect of the Weeki Wachee mat program.

From scratch, the former Eagle grappler guided the program’s reins from 2011-16.

Felice’s teams seemed to follow the Soviet Union’s five-year plan for success.

From 5-15 in 2011-12, the Hornets climbed to 15-20, 18-17, 26-13 and 27-6 in 2015-16.

During the Class 1A, District 6 Tournament at Holiday-Anclote, Felice’s troops achieved history.

WWHS stuffed Hernando by 50 points, 221.0-179.0, to capture the school’s first-ever boys district title.

Low and behold, that standard of excellence has not been duplicated since.

When the US-19 mat team won in West Pasco County, the Hornets dominated the event with a school record seven district champions.

That too, has not since happened.

In five winters, Felice’s troops pushed a school record 13 Hornets to the FHSAA State Finals and returned home with four state placers, highlighted by Dante Padilla 6th, 2014), Brandon Smith (4th) and Dean Brooks (6th, 2015) and Donte Yung (6th, 2016).

The district title, however, came with a huge price tag.

That 2017 1A-6 crown snapped an 0-for-49 tournament streak for the Hornets.

Felice’s teams won one of his first 51 events that he entered.

After that season – after spending over 200 days of the last five years with his squad – Felice went back tending to his children’s needs.

But after three seasons away the program, the opportunity to return to the program he built from ground zero was too much to pass up.

Joe Felice

Asked why he returned now, “It’s the program I started,” explained Felice. “I got to know it and the kids. When the position opened up, it seemed like the right time and right fit for me for a possible return.

“I knew (athletic director Patrick McHugh) from the early days when Weeki Wachee was initially built. We had a good working relationship then and now.

“Even through I wasn’t a head coach (the last few years), I never really got out of it,” added Felice. “I followed the kids. I was honestly thinking of helping Coach (David) Pritz at Hernando just before his job opened up.”

On the current condition of the program, ‘I give Coach Gigantelli credit, he did what he does best: he got kids out and involved. That kinda fit his style. That was good – that’s why they won so many dual meets.

“I’m more of a technician. I think our kids need more technique than anything else,” he stressed. “We don’t have a whole lot of time with this group. There are a lot of juniors on the team. We’ve got some athletes in the building, my job is to turn them into wrestlers.“

Cupboard isn’t bare

Coach Felice indicated the WWHS cupboard is far from bare.

Deacon Straube

The team’s lone state qualifier, senior Deacon Straube at 220 pounds is back.

In his first varsity season, Straube finished 26-16 with 18 pins.

Though graduation claimed 10 Hornets, Felice expects juniors Keith Germain (41-14), Aidan Mayberry (35-12) and Cole Vedder (32-20) to compete for district titles.

Keith Germain

“I can’t believe that Straube kid did as well as he did in Year 1,” noted Felice. “I wish I would have had four guys like him when I coached before. The key any time you have a new coach is how much buy in will you get from the guys.”

On his short-term plans, Felice is emphasizing discipline and building technique.

“We’ve got the football kids out for now, but soon they’ll be gone,” shared Felice. “We’ve got to show them as much as we can now before they come back and retrain them later.”

Felice also stressed, the last time he guided the Hornets – they won the district championship – not Hernando. Overtaking the Leopards will be job 1.

David Pritz

“Give David (Pritz) all the credit in the world, because he deserves it. He too started a program from square one and now he’s won three in a row. Well, I didn’t come back to hand him or anybody else a championship trophy. We’re not doing this to be bridesmaids,” grinned Felice. “Their kids have bought in and you see the fruits of their labor. We know they’re the top dogs right now.”

But Felice warned, “We were the top dogs once. If our guys want to be the best, we’ve got to prove it on the mats. We’re not gonna beat Hernando or anybody else because we have a handful of guys that are bigger or stronger. We’re gonna beat people because we’re better wrestlers.

“As a coach, you have to believe your system will work. Well, it did in the past. The changes in technique aren’t gonna show up today or tomorrow – they’ll be gradual – and the kids need time to see what will work best for them.” 

By the Numbers:

Weeki Wachee’s Joe Felice (2011-16)

– Compiled by TONY CASTRO

Joe Felice
 

YEAR

 

W

 

L

 

.PCT

2011-12-16*

5

15

.250

2012-13

15

20

.429

2013-14

18

17

.514

2014-15

26

13

.667

2015-16

27

6

818

 

TOTALS

 

91

 

71

 

.562

Tournament Titles: (1)

Class 1A, District 6 Tournament @ Holiday-Anclote

2011-12: 0-for-8

2012-13: 0-for-10

2013-14: 0-for-11

2014-15: 0-for-11

2015-16: 1-for-11

Lifetime: 1-for-51

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