Before I spend what will be tomorrow writing about the kids who get out, I have a couple of thoughts about those who didn’t.
I started this piece four years ago while covering the 1A-Region 1 finals at Clay. While we are a burgeoning if not behemoth media empire now, and we have a million demands on our time and attention every time we go to regionals, I did try — in the pell-mell, foot-through-the-floorboards speed of the second day at Bolles — to just watch a little bit.
The intensity of the emotion, no matter the venue, never changes.
No less a philosopher than the legendary Terry Brands (of course I’m going to name-check an Iowa wrestler) said about this sport, “You get what you earn.”
That’s true, and it’s not true.
Many of these kids should be at states. One or two of them have been.
And many wrestlers have their seasons end in the consi semis. Most, thankfully, have a chance to come back and gain redemption in subsequent years. But this is the cruelest of fates for these few (and yet, always, too many), the seniors who have their high school careers end in the blood round.
It’s carnage out there. I hate it. And I can’t stop watching it.
As I’ve written before in prior versions of this story:
<<I’m never going to forget those emotions, the highs and the lows. They’re absolutely beautiful, and they’re absolutely shattering. THAT is why I cover this sport.
That’s why I feel sorrow for these kids that follow in this list, the seniors whose careers ended in the blood round on Saturday, because precious few teenagers are willing to step up and do what it takes just to even say that they are wrestlers, let alone be good enough to have a chance to find out the answers on the state stage. Precious damn few.
I know how hard they’ve worked, and, at the same time, I will never, ever truly know.>>
We begin with our list of kids we never saw once, never covered once. This thing has gotten legs after last year’s publication went semi-viral, and so — maybe because it’s my birthday, maybe because wrestlers everywhere feel this — my salute goes out all over the state to 12th graders coming up just one match short of their dream:
3A-Region 2: Finnegan Dame. Lane Best. Connor Tootle. Jalen Williams. Juan Ramirez. Mohammed Bakkali. Ian Combs. Jeremy Roberts. Mateo Craig. Andrew Bentham. Benjamin Carranza. Schneider Babier. Damian Opitz.
3A-Region 3: Eddie Burgess. Jacob Bartkowiak. Justin Jean Baptise. Josh Mannix. Cooper Galvin. Charles Allison. Matt Miller. Claude Mathieu. Roody Ulysse.
3A-Region 4: Kyle Cannon. Hector Zumbado. Angel Fernandez. Omar Corrales. James Blanchard. D’Angelo Romero. Jaurice Seymour. Justin Jensen. Jason Munoz. Jose Cardenas. Nathan Budier. Daniel Padron.
2A-Region 2: Hoang Phan. Jack Evans. Braden Stewart. Dmytriy Snitko. Jonah Roa. Savion Spaights. Jake Koener. David Senior. Adrian Ramallo. Ian Leonard. Trent Ifamilik. Jarod Scott.
2A-Region 3: Zach Stolze. Ernesto Barraza. Joshua Martinez. Will King. Cole Henry. Pedricio Santiago. Michael McKenzie. Shanard Tyre. Benjamin Cash. Maurice Foster. Miguel Tosado.
2A-Region 4: Patrick Diaz. Alexsander Cardenas. Jagger Gaucin. Joel Sanchez. Guillermo Ramos. Joseph Lenis. Nick Burress. Michael Delgado. Chance Gorman. David Descheene. Franco Webb. Dan Michel.
1A-Region 3: Coty Meadows. Colby Gonzalez. Parker Carney. Erik Tello. Carson Allman. Jacquez McCrea.
1A-Region 4: Requan Walker. Herlandy Leon. Arnaldo Alvarez. Jesse Diaz. Christian Estrada. Will Andrews. Austin Cooper. Jordan Martin. Josh Hartman. Jason Valce.
1A-Region 2 (outside our coverage area): Keith Germain. Jacob Reynolds. Forest Tilson. Jonathan Cardona. Aidan Mayberry.
3A-Region 1 (outside our coverage area): DJ Perez. Brandon Vargas. Jagdesh Persaud. Malik Tyrell-Crittington. Chris Labrecque. Zach Hanks. I saw a couple of you at Osceola for region duals and I may have walked past you on Friday at Flagler Palm Coast.
So many names I know. Have seen you wrestle northern kids.
If I’ve noted you in the above paragraphs, and your name is mis-spelled, my sincere apologies. I spelled it exactly as it appeared on the Trackwrestling bracket. I tried to look up every kid that didn’t have a school listed. I might have missed one or two of you. For that, I apologize.
Now for my local kids. And they are, in fact, “my” kids.
Ryan Piersza. Your future was always elsewhere; wrestling was not an end, but a means to another end, and hopefully that end will mean we get to see you apply what you’ve learned in the squared circle on the football field on Saturdays, and perhaps one day Sundays as well.
Morgan Cole. I know this is a tough night. I know you’re replaying it, comparing it to districts. What did I do right? What did I do wrong? What could I have done differently? Sometimes this sport is cruel in how it doesn’t seem to make any sense. But that prepares us for what’s coming later in life, and one day, you’ll be better for this. Not today, but one day.
Jordan Colubiale. In just 11 matches and a partial season, your season might have made you, even as short as it was, into one of the area’s most improved kids this year; what a full season would have brought, who can say. But the Buccaneers took real strides this year, and they will have your example to look to next year.
Thomas Viens. It’s a rough way to go out. One-point loss Friday. Fall on Saturday. But you contributed three pins to this region title this weekend. That’s not nothing. And your fall at #Uncivil will go down in Blue Devil lore along with those who came before you, those who are still remembered fondly.
David Arcieri. You showed me so much over the last two years. But both years wound up in this space. Last year, might not have hurt so much. This year, maybe a little more, even with the guy who turned you away a year ago getting the same fate this year. Took a state runnerup to knock you out.
James Houck. It’s fitting, perhaps, that I have you and Arcieri back-to-back in this, since I only got to cover you for two seasons. Christian’s the star of the team, but you were the engine that made it go each of those two seasons, and it took two very good kids to keep you from the mats next weekend.
Robert Harrell. We’ll probably never know what this damned pandemic fully took from us; from you, on the mats, it took the opportunity to travel outside of the city to see what else was out there. Hopefully the work ethic you’ve showen over, especially, the last three years will help keep the Cougar program going.
Caiden Patton. I know how much energy and passion you brought on the mat, and sometimes it was all you could do to keep it in check. Trust me, as somebody who used to let my frustrations show athletically (in other, lesser sports), it’s a process and it does (sometimes) get easier. Seabreeze did some great things with you as a very big part of it in the last couple of years.
Calvin Wells. What your friend and teammate brought to last year’s group was incalculable for the future of the program, and you and Luke have been the first results of that worth. You got to help the Knights take steps not before conceived by the so-called “experts” like me.
Amarrie Harris. I’m certain that Cam loved the fight that you brought to the mat every single time. You were never afraid to scrap for what was yours, and you showed us that again this weekend. Now, Micah will need you one more time to help him get ready for next weekend. Never lose that fighting spirit.
Cleon Johnson. There were so many partners that helped you grow and get better in your first couple of years in the Buccaneer lineup, and graduation took some of them in new directions. You guys turned some heads in the Gateway this year, with a new coach, and without some of the kids you expected to be with you. You’re a district champion, nothing today changes that.
Blaine Howard. The draw did you no favors, but in true Suwannee fashion, you squared up to the line, buckled your headgear, and gave the kid across the line as much fight as you possibly could. I know the last two years have been a downer, but now it’s time for the biggest responsibility of a big brother: making Austin better, and you already have.
Cade Vaughn. You led your squad in just its second year of competition and first year in this tournament series. You had three pins this weekend, two of them over multiple-year starters from very established programs, and this year was just your first at UCH. I can’t wait to see what the Tigers bring because of you.
Craig Harper. Unlike several of these guys, you got a shot at The Show last year, and I know that was a great experience to get to compete there. Your lessons learned in becoming a wrestler helped a great deal in completing in your high school experience, but what you learn in becoming a man will become even more valuable, and soon.
Malique Hargett. It was brought to my attention this is your senior year (Trackwrestling hasn’t had a grade for you for a couple of years now). That you are a senior this year, and have made this much progress in just your second year in the sport, is even more eye-popping to me (I really thought that’s why you were at most a junior).
Sean Jones. We’ve been seeing results for you for four years and I know that you had hoped that this might be the year. Sometimes, though, the results just don’t happen in the post-season, and it’s tough when you open your tournament with a state qualifier and end it against a state qualifier. But bigger things are over the horizon.
Nathan Bremer. Forget last year; that was difficult in ways we’ll probably never know. You gave the program a second shot, and while it probably wasn’t the redemption you were hoping for, exactly, it will turn out to be the redemption you needed. Your ability showed others the way, and they broke down the door.
Drew Lewis. It’s tough to follow in the footsteps of an older brother in the sport, and it’s also tough to do competitions where, depending on the situation, you’re 220 for one match and 285 for another, and back again. But it was your one-point win, don’t forget, that secured the Bobcats’ district duals title this year. You made a major impact.
Delton Nealy. DJ, you’ve seen your brother-in-arms in this space last year. You had a really deep bracket this weekend. You had to soldier on after your workout partners moved on to what’s next, and as they did for you, it fell to you to mentor some younger kids. The sweat equity you put into them is only starting to take root.
Garrett Cole. Wearing that singlet is an automatic target. You get everybody’s state-tournament effort every single time you go out on the mat, and yet you never shirked it; you carried yourself with dignity and even a quiet grace, and while you may not have had the talent of some of your teammates, I feel you understood the privilege of standing by them and with them.
Mathew Flores. It’s tough being “the other guy” in a very small program with two very powerful resumes that are part of it. A lesser kid would have been OK with just coasting along, just resting in their glow. But you transformed yourself over the past couple of seasons, in very dramatic ways, and won a lot yourself, too.
Joseph Cortez. Just a very tough way this season ended. You were the engine that made things go in Pace getting to the first day of the dual state tournament, something no Panhandle team has ever done before your Patriots did it. Coach Allen has such high esteem for you; I know you will do great things, no matter whatever’s next for you.
Brody Andrews. I know you had hoped for more after seeing the previous result go the way it did. Like Joseph, you always just brought heart and fight and spirit to the mix. Look at the way you responded to the one-point loss on Friday. Pin. Pin. Pin. You already have a sense of this, but that’s how you the two of you deal with adversity.
Carlos Quintanal. It’s a tough thing to have to try to go through the top kid in the region in the quarterfinals and then have to go through a multiple-time state qualifier in the blood round, far from home, probably the furthest the team has been away, but you held down a middle spot in a rising lineup, helped make Brayden better and helped him get out.
Logan Gilbert. Probably the toughest one for me out of the 3As, because you and Trevor and James had to become this year’s team leaders. Last year, Oakleaf got to surprise everybody by being second in the district. That’s easy. It’s so much harder when everybody’s gunning for you. but you shouldered it well, even with a lot of new blood coming into your weight class.
Darryl Sam. Nobody worked harder to try to get better after a sophomore year on the mats that I know you’d rather forget. You made so many strides from then to now. It’s the journey, not the destination, that makes each of us what we are, and there are so many more improvements in store for you to come.
Kaydon Lester. I swear you have been at Mosley for at least six years now, seems like, and I really hoped you would have the opportunity to put things together and make the Show. But the improvement I’ve seen in Dalton’s wrestling this year, I would bet, has had a lot to do with you as a practice partner.
Gabriel Galloza. I looked up the district results for St Augustine in 2018, your freshman year. I know you’d rather not think about that year. It was not great. But you made yourself into something so much more. You helped build a team that had been a doormat into a real threat to win not only a district but also a region title. Be proud of that transformation.
Jared Jackson. Just coming back this year after how last season ended might be seen as a victory in itself. In time, for you, it will be. It’s tough when a guy you got a couple of years ago comes back and gets you. Not a lot of these guys had the successes on the mat that you’ve had, and you’ll use this lesson for your good one day.
Josiah Mossor. As a former Stanton kid, you always were going to hold my attention even if the success you generated over the past two years at FCHS had never happeend. I know it’s tough to be on the outside looking in two years in a row, particularly after all the work you’ve done. You’ve made yourself better, in innumerable ways, for having done it, I assure you.
Malachi Santiago. Three years ago, you were 0-2 at districts. You made some changes, became a 30-match winner, became a team leader. Won a team district title. Won an individual district title. Nobody but you and your family, and perhaps your coaches and teammates, know the journey that you took in making that change, but it will pay off one day.
Noah Meyer. Know that Brevan’s gutted you didn’t make it out. Know also that the way you comported yourself after the loss — to a three-time state qualifier and prior placer — reflects not only the goodness you’ve shown to all your younger teammates, and man are there many, but also what you’re going to become.
Dalton Huckelberry. You made history last weekend, you and Savanna together. No brother/sister combo will ever, EVER, be able to say they were the first in north Florida to make it to regions together. You did it together and you did it first. You’ve helped Mav get better. You helped Gunner while he was in the lineup. You are Clay wrestling.