I know northern readers are going to be good Matmen followers and read several previews today. But for those of you from the central and southern parts of the state, welcome to 2A-District 2, where the north’s best 3A team the past several years, Fleming Island, invades new territory in 2A, where Lincoln has been the north’s most consistent presence atop the classification.
This is a district that graduated seven state medalists and returns an equal amount; it was already the strongest district in the north even before the Golden Eagles were classified here. That they moved here made the district one of the state’s most watched ones, and that should be the case throughout the year.
And we’re projecting the 2A newcomers to lead this year, as they have done in 3A for the past six years. But winning won’t be easy for any team here.
The Golden Eagles won their fourth district duals title — they’ve never lost at the region level, let alone district level — in duals in January, adding sixth straight district and region titles on the IBT side the following month. But state was another matter, as Fleming only just stayed inside the state’s top 10 at Silver Spurs.
The graduation loss was as it typically has been for the Golden Eagles: heavy. Fleming Island lost eight May graduates from last year’s team. Six of them were post-season starters, though the two that weren’t were lost to season-ending injury. All six made it to regions, with five getting out to Kissimmee, led by 2x 3A medalist Hunter Herrington (4th at 113).
Coming back are as many as 13 key returners from a year ago. Many of them served in depth roles for last year’s graduates and couldn’t ask for better competition day in and out, but seven did see post-season starting action. Senior Hunter Williams (4th in 3A at 195 in Kissimmee) will lead that group, with juniors Joshua Sandoval (170 in March) and Ethan Hoffstetter (285), plus sophomore Joseph Forte (106), coming back as state qualifiers. That group will be joined by incoming freshman Jayce Paridon, a two-time 1A state medalist at University Christian (5th in 2020, 3rd last year), who’ll join Forte in kickstarting the lower half of the lineup.
Standing before Fleming’s irresistible force is the immovable object that Lincoln has been. The Trojans have more 2A state dual semifinal appearances than any other team in the classification and match Fleming’s four district duals titles; Lincoln has a defense of its district IBT title as well.
And, the Trojans have the biggest returning group in the district, with as many as 19 projected key returners capable of coming back. A little more than half of that group saw post-season action (11), with all 10 returning boys getting to regions. Senior Cayden Bevis (3rd in Kissimmee at 182) is the Trojans’ lone returning Silver Spurs state qualifier, though senior Maggie Moss is also a returning medalist after reaching the 195 girls’ state final in February.
Lincoln does have to work through losing four May graduates from last year’s team, three of which were region qualifiers, including 2021 Kissimmee medalists Elijah Hendley (4th at 113 in March) and Wyatt Yown (6th at 195).
While the titans battle, Columbia will be flying underneath the radar, and that might suit the Tigers just fine. Columbia lost only one senior, a region champion, from last year’s team that was fourth at Region 1 in 2020-21.
This year’s group could have as many as 13 projected key returners back from a year ago, 10 with post-season experience. Of those 10, seven got to the region round and three return with state experience, as seniors Thomas Greene (152 last year), Joseph Rice (170) and Jaycob Jones (285) all got to Kissimmee in March and will try to do so once again next March. No one in the north wrestled more, in tough environments, than Rice did this off-season.
Chiles will have to rally from last year’s lower-than-expected IBT district finish (fifth), but the bigger rally will be the loss of two state medalists that made up half of the Timberwolves’ May cadre, as 2021 seniors Kyle McGill, an undefeated state champ at 2A-182, and Femi Egberongbe (6th at 138) moved on.
The pair of them helped Chiles build a 13th-place finish at Silver Spurs in March, and this year’s group will have to see if it can duplicate last year’s Region 1 runnerup team finish. The Timberwolves have 17 possible wrestlers eligible to return from that team, but only half (nine) competed in the post-season and five had Region 1 experience, so last year’s depth has to become this year’s starting experience to help out returning boys’ state qualifiers in senior Hunter Brown (Region 1 champ at 120 last year) and juniors Sam Tolomeo (106) and Garrett Marschka (113). Tolomeo was one of just three Florida wrestlers — anywhere — to reach the state tournament after not finishing in the top four at districts.
Middleburg has a new head coach, but one who’s been in Clay County already for some time, and the combination with a sizable group of returners makes the Broncos a team that could — should anybody falter — push its way into the top half of the district table. Middleburg lost just two May graduates, both Region 1 qualifiers, from last year’s team, and can bring back up to nine post-season starters from that team. Senior Riley Girgis (126 in March) and sophomore Grady Woodard (113) both were state qualifiers for the Broncos; the number in Kissimmee next March could be bigger.
Orange Park is another team that will be a curious one to watch. The Raiders lost five May graduates from last year’s team; the losses included three state qualifiers on the boys’ side and 2021 girls’ state champion Tayana Labady (220 last year). Orange Park’s returning boys number potentially as many as six, four of whom got to regions, but none have state experience. On the other hand, the four Lady Raiders eligible to return include senior defending state champion Andrea Smith (won HWT girls’ title, but wrestled most of the year at 220) and junior Jasmine Hecht (girls’ state 3rd at 154), so expectations for the OPHS girls will be high going into the season.
Ridgeview returns to Class 2A this year after appearing for the past two seasons in 1A. The Panthers will have a new coach and many questions. While the team only lost two graduated seniors that saw significant time in the lineup, one of them was four-time state medalist and 2021 1A state champion Matthew Rodriquez (132), who’s now taken his talent to Lehigh. Ridgeview does have the possibility for a large group to return, with as many as 15 wrestlers that had at least 10 matches, but only eight competed in the post-season. The Panthers do have a possibility for seven returners with region experience, led by returning Kissimmee 1A state medlalist Derrick Mosley (6th last year). Meanwhile, Leon is the only team in the district without double digits in terms of numbers of returners. The Lions lost just three seniors to graduation, with only one Region 1 qualifier (who didn’t compete), but return only four who wrestled in that tournament. As he has for the past two seasons, senior Nolan Zirgibel (2A state qualifier at 138) will lead the Lions’ group of returners.
Projected finish: 1. Fleming Island. 2. Lincoln. 3. Columbia. 4. Chiles. 5. Middleburg. 6. Orange Park. 7. Ridgeview. 8. Leon.
CAPSULES HERE: 2A-DISTRICT 2 CAPSULES