By Shannon Heaton, Northeast Florida Matmen
NEPTUNE BEACH – Tradition paints a wide target on a young wrestler’s back.
#7 Fletcher faced that in its season-opening quadrangular meet at home Friday night. The Senators had some heavy graduation losses from last year’s Gateway Conference championship side, and that forced several inexperienced wrestlers into unfamiliar territory – starting and scoring big — this year.
Though there were a few anxious moments in the Senators’ duals against unranked Mandarin and #8 Fernandina Beach – in both, Fletcher trailed by 9 points with either two (Mandarin) or three (Fernandina) matches to go – both resulted in victories, as the Senators finished 3-0 on the night.
“We did put a lot of kids in to get experience. It was a calculated risk, but overall we came out well,” Fletcher coach Roy Fallon said. “We really weren’t trying to sweep as a goal, just get kids on the mat. I do think we need a lot of work in the upper weights.”
The Senators trailed a determined Mustang team, 27-15, with six matches left in the dual, which turned into a 39-36 Fletcher victory. Then, the hosts spotted the Pirates two 9-point deficits before rallying for a 45-36 victory. It was a bit of an easier go against Atlantic Coast, which gave up five forfeits Friday night, as the Senators never trailed en route to a 57-24 decision.
“One thing that has been killing us now is that a few years ago, when wrestling was going to be cut (in Duval County), a lot of kids just didn’t come back (after the sport was reinstated),” Fallon said. “That cost us a lot of depth. But I think we are starting to come back well.”
That’s what Fernandina Beach did in its last dual of the night, after fighting hard against the Senators only to come up short. The Pirates, which opened with a 57-15 performance against Atlantic Coast, nearly put the same hurt on the Mustangs in the finale, rolling to a 58-13 win.
“We feel like the night went very well,” Fernandina coach Joseph Monaghan said. “I think these boys have some real heart. They give it everything they have every time they step on the mat. We have some warriors on our wrestling team.”
The Mustangs demonstrated that too, particularly against Fletcher in the first dual, but seemed to start to flag physically by the third dual of the night.
“Part of it is them being a little bit tired, especially because guys have just come in from football and they’re in football shape, but give all props to Fernandina – they do the basics and they do them well,” Mandarin coach John Evans said. “The first duals, we fought pretty strong, and that gives us something to work on.”
The Mustangs took care of Atlantic Coast 52-20 in the middle dual, and though the Stingrays didn’t have a lot to cheer about – particularly with state-ranked wrestlers Ollie Dixon and Travis Hutchinson not in the lineup Friday night – they were able to get some much-needed experience.”
“The kids fought well, but we’ve got some work to do,” AC coach Mike Schmelz said. “We’ve got to work on our young guys.”
The four schools take some pretty divergent paths to their next competitions.
Mandarin will be at Bishop Snyder first thing Saturday morning for the North Florida Duals I event at 10 a.m., while both Fletcher and Fernandina Beach will next be up at North Florida Duals II at Bishop Snyder on November 23, though Fallon said the Senators may have a dual with University Christian on Wednesday. Atlantic Coast will return to competition on December 7 at the Columbia Tiger Invitational in Lake City.