BY SHANNON HEATON
North Florida Matmen
PONTE VEDRA — Zach Sanford caught himself looking over at the Ponte Vedra side of the gym Wednesday night. It was a familiar sight.
“I feel like they’re about where we’ve been (a year ago),” Sanford said of the Sharks. “Look at their side, all those kids. They’ve got numbers. That’s the hard part.
“I’m a fan of Ponte Vedra 99% of the time…just not tonight.”
And Wednesday night, Sanford’s Flagler Palm Coast Bulldogs wrestled like the group that was ahead on experience, racking up 10 weight-class wins, eight of them by fall, in a 55-20 victory over the Sharks in Ponte Vedra’s dual-season debut.
“I liked the heart we showed, kids coming back in matches we were losing, especially our freshmen,” Sanford said.
The Bulldogs (6-0) jumped out to a 12-0 lead on pins from Timothy King (145) and Blane DeFord (152), but Ponte Vedra (0-1) made an initial bounce back, cutting that lead to 12-9 on Ethan Baur’s 9-4 decision win at 160 and Rett Maritato’s third-period fall at 170.
Flagler would re-establish a double-digit lead on a third-period fall from Jayden Austin (182) and second-period pin from Dalton Schell (195), but neither of them were easy, and both of their Shark opponents had plenty of opportunities to score and pin. And Harlan Nikolov’s fall at 220 pulled Ponte Vedra back within nine, 24-15, halfway through the dual.
Then the blizzard hit. In 73 seconds, as the Bulldogs recorded falls from AJ Cinelli (285, making his season debut), Kole Hannant (106) and Joseph Rizzo (113), taking a dual that appeared up in the air and turning it into a 42-15 lead and clinched dual in favor of FPC.
Sanford said the difference in approach wasn’t about heart and attitude being there this season and not last year.
“Quite the contrary; that’s all we had last year, was heart,” he said. “Now we have technique and mat experience. Now we have tools. We know what to do. We have moves. We’re looking forward to the next two years for our sophomores and freshmen.”
The teams essentially traded points, with Brendan Buckles (9-1 major at 126) and Andrew Dance (8-7 decision at 138, a weight class up) in a standoff against Jackson Shewey’s first-period fall just before time expired at 132.
And it was back to the drawing board for the Sharks, coming off a title performance at the Arlington Optimist Invitational last weekend.
“We really have to focus on fundamentals. Guys went out fighting, but we lost our heads in the heat of battle. We have to stay cool,” Ponte Vedra coach Josean Gonzalez said. “The most disappointing part is that we didn’t execute.
“The crew that we have can definitely improve, so that’s good. We’ll only get better from here.”
Results from the dual can be found HERE.
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