A year ago, we felt almost compelled against our will to put South Walton into the favorite’s role in 1A-District 1.
We needn’t have worried about the Seahawks being able to wrestle with a favorite’s tag, as they performed ably enough, bagging a double district title (both duals and IBT), reaching the “Sweet 16” in the FHSAA 1A dual region series and following that up with a top-10 finish in the 1A-Region 1 tournament, taking eighth.
And based on all available information to us as the season begins, the Seahawks appear once again to be the solid if not heavy favorite to repeat the double title again this season.
Graduation losses were low, at least in terms of numbers, at South Walton, which lost just two May graduates. However, one of them was three-time state qualifier Chase Maddox, who had two of those three 1A Kissimmee appearances in Seahawk singlets.
At the same time, South Walton has one of the bigger groups of returners in the district, with up to 16 potentially returning from last year. It’s the only team in the district with double-digit post-season starters (12) returning, 11 of those reaching the 1A-Region 1 tournament. And it has the only returning boys’ state medalist in senior Max Brewster (6th at 1A-120 in Kissimmee).
We’re projecting last year’s IBT runnerup, Rutherford, to return to that spot once again this year, and perhaps pull off the double in duals as well.
The Rams could have as many as 11 key returners from last year’s team, with seven of those 11 starting in the February post-season run and six getting to the region tournament.
The biggest thing this year’s Rams group will need to sort out right away is the leadership vacuum created by the district’s biggest May graduation loss, as five seniors, including three of the team’s four district champs, as well as four region and one state qualifier, have moved on. Should Rutherford sort through that issue quickly, they could issue a strong challenge to the Seahawks for district supremacy.
North Bay Haven is perhaps the team that’s most capable of making a big move within the district and the region. That’s definitely the case behind a first-year head coach that moved up from several years in the assistant ranks, most recently at NBH, plus just two post-season starters lost from last year’s group.
That new coach has the biggest group of potential returners — 19 strong at its most, all of whom will have familiarity with their new HC. Ten of those 19 competed in the post-season — a sign of how deep the room just might be — and seven competed at regions, led by super soph 1A state qualifier David Mercado (195 at Kissimmee in March).
Rocky Bayou Christian will still be very much in the mix a year removed from the Knights’ best team season in its history, a season that saw RBCA reach the region round of the FHSAA dual series, with a third in the district IBT. This year’s group is a smallish-looking cadre (nine returners, second-smallest in the district), and the Knights graduated three region qualifiers from the team of a year ago.
The positives, though, are that the Knights have several multiple-year starters that were post-season starters (seven in all) who can return. Six of those seven got to the region tournament, also a key point. However, just one returner got to the second day at that tournament.
Bozeman has several upsides heading into this season, with a fairly big returning group of returners (13) and losing none of last year’s team to graduation. But just eight of the 13 possible returners started the post-season last year, and only three got to regions, where that trio combined for just one win in the first day of the tournament. The big downside is, at the same time, an opportunity for the Bucks, as their general lack of experience can be remedied by getting more matches — although the group did not get as much off-season work as would be hoped. The hiring of a new coach may shake some things up on that front.
Bay could wind up the season anywhere between, I would think, fourth to seventh depending on its ability to bring in new blood. The Tornadoes lost just three May graduates from last year’s team, but only have seven key returners coming back. Six of them were post-season starters, but just four got to regions and only one reached the second day there. Should Bay fill in some more weights this year, a bigger room should help make everyone better.
Wewahitchka lost two of its top boys wrestlers to transfer, and while the transfer actually cleared up a logjam in the lower 2-3 weights for this year, the Gators still have several weights outstanding, even with up to seven key returners and five post-season starters. The main issue is experience; Wewa had only two boys wrestlers get to regions, with just one win there. The upside for the school, though, lies in a girls’ team that could finish in the top 20 statewide. The Lady Gators include four potential returners from a year ago, led by senior state medalist Kaylee Easter (5th at 126 in February).
Projected finish: 1. South Walton. 2. Rutherford. 3. North Bay Haven. 4. Rocky Bayou Christian. 5. Bozeman. 6. Bay. 7. Wewahitchka.
CAPSULES HERE: 1A-DISTRICT 1 CAPSULES