The battle for supremacy in 1A-District 2 has been a foregone conclusion in previous seasons. This year, however, the battle for top honors could very well come down to which one of 1A-Region 1’s strongest teams, out of its strongest district (at least at the top), can fill out a complete lineup.
We’re tabbing Wakulla’s experience in making this happen in prior seasons, with the War Eagles defending a run of 11 straight district IBT titles and four consecutive district dual championships as well. The War Eagles won their third straight Region 1 duals title as well, with a runnerup finish in the region IBT and 14th-place finish at states.
But the May graduation loss the War Eagles sustained is a heavy one, with seven graduates gone from this year’s team. Six of those seven made the region tournament (the 7th would have as well, were it not for injury) and five got out to state, led by Kissimmee medalist and region champ Raymond Hatchman (5th at 120 in 1A).
Wakulla does bring back 11 wrestlers that saw significant time last year, but a few in that group were backups last year, battling last year’s seniors in the practice room. Wakulla has eight 2021 post-season starters back, with all of them reaching the region tournament. Three War Eagles — seniors Isaiah Wilson (6th at states at 126), Julian Harvey (106 in March) and Hayden Reeves (145) — all qualified for states.
But Suwannee will make it a fight. Expect that. The Bulldogs will want to rally from a 2021 post-season start that saw them finish second in duals (but not compete in the region round) and finish fourth at district IBTs. However, the “familiar” Suwannee rush was put on at the region tournament, where the Bulldogs were fourth, going on to finish 17th at states.
A graduating class of four May graduates that all were 2021 or prior state qualifiers will be difficult to overcome. That group included March Kissimmee medalist Timothy Jolicoeur (5th at 126).
But the Bulldogs do have as many as 10 projected key returners, seven of them post-season starters that all reached the region tournament. Four of them would go on to states, led by sophomore 1A medalist Austin McKinney (6th at 113). Senior Tyson Musgrove (138 in March), junior Austin Howard (152) and sophomore Topher Pearson (106) also all were Kissimmee qualifiers and will be threats to podium.
Florida High will not be finishing any lower than third in the district this year, but whether the Seminoles can reach for second (or first) might have depended on how much off-season work the returning group did as a whole, following a district runnerup IBT finish, a T-5th at regions and a T-15th at states.
Only Wakulla’s graduation class is larger than Florida High’s, which included five May graduates, region qualifiers all. 2021 Seminole grads Tyler Reeve (region champ & state runnerup at 126) and Emil Ganim (6th at 1A-138) both medaled at Kissimmee and fellow grad Micah Perdue was a region champ (at 195).
The Seminoles’ group of as many as 12 projected key returners is the biggest, numbers-wise, in the district, but with just seven post-season starters, there’s a lot of returning depth that needs to make a jump to becoming the stars they’ve seen in the FSUS lineup. All seven did get to regions, with sophomore Xander Hawkes (160 a year ago) qualifying out for state in March.
Marianna is right now the default choice for fourth, but the Bulldogs can’t rest on that default position. They should be better than a year ago, when four of their six potential returners didn’t compete in the post-season at all or didn’t compete after districts for a variety of reasons.
Marianna does have three returning region qualifiers, one a 2020 state qualifer in senior Ethan Heinemann, who was hurt at districts. The Bulldogs also have no graduation losses to overcome.
Liberty County is the newest team in the district — in fact the region — and is the biggest question mark of the bottom four in the district, but the questions are positives. With two region qualifiers coming over via transfer, the Bulldogs (yes, there are three schools in the district with that nickname) can lay a base down from which to get more kids out. There’s a strong chance that Liberty County could have state representation in its first year.
Of the teams lacking massive amounts of numbers, Godby’s the one with the most experienced “traditional” program history, but the Cougars have to be able to build on more than one projected key returner, which is what they have back for this season. Being in-town, with a coach inside the building and perhaps able to pull some football kids in, could help the Cougars kick-start things this year.
We learned earlier this week that Graceville, which competed independently last year starting in January, would not be fielding a team this year, which is unfortunate for the two kids that lost their sport.
Projected finish: 1. Wakulla. 2. Suwannee. 3. Florida High. 4. Marianna. 5. Liberty County. 6. Godby.
CAPSULES HERE: 1A-DISTRICT 2 CAPSULES