Next up: Ridgeview
Season record: 6-20 in duals.
Tournament record: 10th at Bierbaum Invitational January 17, 6th at 1A-District 4 meet February 28, 20th at 1A-Region 1 meet March 6-7, T-70th at 1A State meet March 13-14.
Season in a nutshell: Numbers were always a problem for the Eagles this season, at least when it came to being able to contend in duals against fuller teams, and giving up forfeits in as many as seven weights (sometimes more if Episcopal’s middle-schoolers were held out), which made winning duals a difficult thing to do. One thing that Episcopal certainly did right with their dual schedule this year was to get more duals in. That was key, but what also needed to be done, I think, was that the Eagles could have benefited from a couple more invites. Having just one regular-season invitational doesn’t always prep kids to get ready for the nature of the post-season race as much as one would like. Just six kids suited up for 1A-District 4, but the Eagles did get four kids to regions, with one district champion that became a state qualifier. That, plus ongoing off-season work on the Episcopal campus, should keep the attention focused on wrestling, and get more kids out for the sport.
2014-15 MVP: Sometime betweent the middle of the season and the post-season, Conor Chepenik figured out a few things. He got stronger. He got faster. He worked harder. Probably most of, if not all of, the above. Whatever Chepenik did, he turned himself from a competitive if not-necessarily highly-ranked 220-pounder into a top-five ranking, a district champion and a state qualifier. Chepenik had an 11-match win streak at one point going from Terry Parker Army Duals into the post-season, during which time he was able to avenge earlier losses to a couple of other ranked or nearly-ranked 220s, and really put things together just before districts, where he might have had one of the most competitive weight classes, at least among north Florida 1A teams. Chepenik then avenged another earlier loss at regions, going on to place second. States was a different experience, as it often can be for first-time competitors, but in fairness he wrestled only eventual placewinners.
Projected returning starters for 2015-16: Kyle Hopkins (8th grader in 15-16, I had him at 13-3 at 106), Reid Hampton (8th grade in 15-16, I had him at 19-8 at 113), Connor Evans (junior in 15-16, I had him at 7-14 at 126), Christian Rickey (junior in 15-16, I had him at 17-9 at 160), Conor Chepenik (senior in 15-16, I had him at 29-9 at 220), Travis Williams (senior in 15-16, I had him at 15-10 at 285), plus Adam Foster (junior in 15-16, I had him at 5-10 at 126), Shane Pack (freshman in 15-16, I had him at 5-12 at 145).
2015-16 captain: Christian Rickey moved up three weight classes for this season; I remember being surprised at how much he’d grown from the beginning of his freshman year to the start of his sophomore season (I imagine his parents’ food budget was surprised, too). Rickey didn’t seem to be affected too much by the jump, improving from 11 wins in his freshman year to 17 this year. He also seemed to handle the competitive side of things a bit better, as it usually took someone with a great deal more experience to put a hammer down on him. Rickey does have some footwork and motor issues to work through, but the evolution on those fronts, compared to freshman year, is certainly on a good path. Also, the tremendous amount of off-season work should help significantly. That attention to detail should rub off on the other younger guys who come into the Eagle program, and possibly also attract some new blood.
Heaton’s Hero: This was a bit of an interesting choice, as this wrestler had no forfeit victories under his belt; all of his wins were contested. For Connor Evans, starting the year wrestling a good chunk of matches a weight up was a tall order to fill, but he did finish with five pins. His record was not as good as a year ago, when he was 8-7 for the Eagles at 120, but Evans faced a few more kids with more experience than him compared to what he had a year ago. He proved he could go six minutes, with majors and decisions both going his way and not, and stuck it out through the entire season with the Eagles, suiting up and making weight and going out there as one of just six Episcopal kids who competed at districts. Going start to finish in an Eagle singlet and giving his best shot along the way makes Connor Evans the Episcopal representative for the Heaton’s Hero nomination.