Next up: Episcopal
Season record: 26-6 in duals.
Tournament record: 18th at Palm Coast Rotary January 9-10, 4th at Lincoln IBT January 31, 2nd at St Johns River Conference IBT February 7, 1st at 2A-District 3 meet February 27, 3rd at 2A-Region 1 meet March 6-7, 26th at 2A State meet March 13-14.
Season in a nutshell: Getting started under a new coach was a bit of difficulty in getting the Raiders started out this year, particularly given that coaches do most if not all of the scheduling. Orange Park went 5-2 at Matanzas, won Englewood’s Super 6 dual event and put together some pretty solid dual efforts (winning seven in a row at one point, 11 of 12 at another). But there were occasional times when key competitors were out, and that partially explained the less-than-ideal 18th at Palm Coast. Still, after a significant amount of plug-and-play to find the right mix at the right weights, it all came together by the post-season, with a district title and a strong third-place effort at regions. I don’t know that states went the way the Raiders had hoped, but a lot of teams would have liked to get five wrestlers there as Orange Park was able to do. Not a lot of teams would survive losing eight seniors — all of them region qualifiers, including four district champions. Four of the Raiders’ five state qualifiers are set to graduate literally any day now, if they haven’t already. And yet, Orange Park looks next year to still be quite formidable at least up to 160, if everybody returns and can sort themselves into weights. The Raiders are still going to be a force next season.
2014-15 MVP: Marcus Reid took another step toward ultimate success this past season. After finding himself one match short of the state podium following district and region titles as a freshman at 113, Reid returned this season staying at the weight class, and jumped out a 12-0 start, losing only twice in the regular season, falling to American Heritage Delray’s Tyler Difiore at the Viper Duals and then by one point to north Florida rival Jacob Geiger (who won’t be around to darken his shadow anymore). Reid won 13 straight after that, taking districts and then forfeiting to Geiger in the Region 1 final. Reid then reached the state semis, dropping a 3-0 decision to eventual state champ Caleb Smith of Lake Gibson. Reid then finished sixth after a DQ in the consi semis. I think Reid will return to region-champion status and should go higher on the podium. What we in the larger community didn’t know until a few weeks after was that Reid suffers from epilepsy and yet performs at such a high level. Reid was first-team all-area by the Times Union and was our #2 at 113. Depending on how it falls next year, he’ll be in line for a local top ranking.
Projected returning starters for 2015-16: Frank Sawyer (sophomore in 15-16, Trackwrestling had him at 23-10, I had him at 25-9 at 106); Marcus Reid (junior in 15-16, Track had him at 36-6, I had him at 35-6 at 113), Victor Perez (senior in 15-16, Track had him at 15-10, I had him at 15-9 at 120), Dashner St. Vilus (junior in 15-16, Track and I both had him at 15-11 at 138), Nartorian Lee (junior in 15-16, Track had him at 21-18, I had him at 20-18 at 170), plus Jeremiah Watson (senior in 15-16, I had him at 7-3 at 120), Saeid Ejmali (sophomore in 15-16, I had him at 15-6 at 120/26/32), Reed Danielson (sophomore in 15-16, I had him at 3-6 at 145), Caleb Zaccheo (sophomore in 15-16, I had him at 7-5 at 160/170) and Tyler DeHart (junior in 15-16, I had him at 5-2 at 220).
2015-16 captain: With so many seniors leaving the lineup (by my count using my win totals, 247 wins graduate, and that was just the starters that appeared at districts this year), the key might not necessarily be so much reloading the lineup as it might be finding experienced guys capable of leadership. On the mat, Reid will do that well enough, but there’ll be a need for seniors next year. The only junior in 2014-15 who wrestled at districts was victor Perez, and the Raiders may need him to provide that senior leadership next season. Perez was a part-time starter through the first part of the season, but seized the job midway through and put together a decent campaign, going 5-3 in the district semis with one of Ridgeview’s top kids and then coming back with two falls to place third in that meet. Perez then went 13-12 with eventual state qualifier Tahj Brennen of Gainesville in the first round of regions, eventually winning a match before being eliminated. It might not be how far he gets next season that matters, it could be how well he can help motivate everyone else to go far.
Heaton’s Hero: We chronicled, as recently as last night, the often-repeated tale of younger, less experienced wrestlers having to move up a weight as others make their drops in weight downward. The case of Nartorian Lee is a twist on that scenario. Lee didn’t just have to go up one weight when senior and district finalist Ricky Torres took over at 152. With state qualifier Skyler Taylor well-entrenched at 160, Lee had to go up two weight classes and suit up for the Raiders at 170, which did solve Orange Park’s issue of finding a consistent presence there. And, Lee did just about as well with going up two weights as he might have by staying at 52, taking third at districts after losing in the first round by fall and then taking out three decent opponents in succession. Lee then won a match at regions before concluding his season. He didn’t exactly struggle, with 20-21 wins (depending on the record-keeping) to his credit, but he did take one for the team this year. For that, Nartorian Lee is the Heaton’s Hero representative for Orange Park.