Just three years ago, Matanzas was the king of 2A-District 4, with a double title, two region runnerup finishes and a district IBT win the following year.
While last year was a slight hiccup for the Pirates, who finished third in both duals and IBT format, we are tabbing them as the possible early favorites for this year’s titles, with a group of potentially as many as 18 key returners (10 boys, eight girls) as the 2021-22 season opens.
Graduation losses were substantial — six May graduates in all — but they affected the Lady Pirates a bit more, with 2021 girls’ state medalists Riley White (runnerup at 117), Morgan Morrison (5th at 162) and Nakeisha Marcellus (6th at 222) all moving on. Junior Isabella Tietje (6th at 134) will lead this year’s Lady Pirate group, which should still be a solid threat.
But we saw last year that the boys’ side was moving along quite nicely, and the Pirates could have nine post-season starters back, including three of their four district champs from a year ago. Juniors Carter Wilder (106 last year) and Tyson Mills (152), along with sophomore Jordan Mills (160 in March), all got to the 2A state tournament in Kissimmee, with the Mills brothers both reaching the Region 1 finals at their respective weights.
Still, don’t think that defending district and region champion New Smyrna Beach is just going to fade into the woodwork after a wonder season that saw them take the Region 1 duals as well as IBT titles, becoming the first District 4 team to get to the state semis since now-3A Creekside did it in 2018.
The Barracudas could bring back 12 wrestlers from that side, eight as post-season starters, and all eight getting to the region tournament. Seniors Jamey Bruner (126 last year, district and region champ) and Jace Engberg (132 a year ago, district champ) both got to Kissimmee and will lead that very experienced group.
If there’s a downside for the ‘Cudas, it’s the loss of four very important wrestlers via graduation or transfer, including 2020 state medalist Michael Shannon (who moved over to The Master’s Academy) and May graduate Doug Dittmer (5th at 2A-195 in March). If NSB can overcome that experience loss, they could well retain hold on the district.
If there’s a new group that could maybe break into the top two in the district this year, Belleview might just be that team, even after losing three post-season starters, all region qualifiers, two of which got to the second day.
This year’s Diamondback group could number as many as 10 returners from a year ago, including seven post-season starters. Six of those got to regions, indicating the team’s potential for depth, but only junior Andrew Davis (138 last year) was able to break through to the 2A state tournament, reaching the region final.
In terms of returners, only the district favorite Pirates have more potentially coming back this year than Mainland, which could call upon up to 14 key returners from last year’s team (eight boys, six girls). Mainland lost just one post-season starter from last year’s team, a region qualifier, and three total May graduates.
On the returning front, the Buccaneers have seven boys’ post-season starters back; however, just two have region experience from a year ago. On the girls’ side, however, the Lady Bucs should be well-positioned for a solid girls’ state team finish, led by a pair of returning medalists in senior Aniya Dixon (285 girls’ state runnerup) and sophomore Cheyenne Wigley (4th at 222 in February).
St Augustine just might be the enigma of the district. At this writing, the Yellow Jackets’ coaching situation was not fully settled, and, further, they had to battle through the biggest graduation loss in the district, losing seven key wrestlers from last year’s team, which took second at districts and nabbed a strong third at Region 1. All seven of those May graduates reached the region level, with two getting to states. St Augustine has the second-smallest returning group, with as many as seven key returners, with four competing in the post-season and three getting to regions. Senior Clint Griffin (160 last year) reached the 2A state field at Kissimmee a year ago, and will lead this year’s group.
Pedro Menendez jumps up from 1A to 2A this season after a 2020-21 campaign that saw the Falcons lose three May graduates, all Region 1 qualifiers. Menendez has a big group back, with as many as 12 potential returners, nine of which competed in the post-season and got to the Region 2 tournament in 1A. However, just one of those nine Falcons got to the second day of regions, so the group will have to take some steps to make their returning size count in a 2A environment.
Gainesville makes the move out of what was a pretty murderous District 2 eastward, but most of the Hurricanes’ key experience from a year ago has graduated, including a pair of region qualifiers. Just one GHS key returner of the possible four in play had any post-season experience, though he did get to the region round. More numbers are going to be needed and quickly.
Projected finish: 1. Matanzas. 2. New Smyrna Beach. 3. Belleview. 4. Mainland. 5. St Augustine. 6. Pedro Menendez. 7. Gainesville.
CAPSULES HERE: 2A-DISTRICT 4 CAPSULES