The race for the Region 1 title could very go through District 2 this year. And last year’s top two teams, Buchholz and Flagler Palm Coast, are poised once again to return to the top of the heap; only, this year, the fight for first might not only be for district but region honors as well.
We’re looking toward the Bulldogs, who ran second in both dual and traditional District 2 events last year, with a fourth at Region 1 and T-15th at states — the top finish in Kissimmee last year among District 2 teams. With one caveat, FPCHS is best-positioned in 2021-22.
After all, the Bulldogs had no graduation losses to overcome this past year. The biggest difficulty — here comes the caveat — that Flagler Palm Coast had a year ago was sorting out its lineup, which had three weights missing throughout the year and had several pieces that were in and out as the season waxed and waned. That caused some problems in duals.
But as things stand now, the Bulldogs have six returning state qualifiers back, led by senior returning medalists Blane DeFord (4th at 160, 3rd in 2020) and Bryce Dodge (5th at 170).
DeFord and Dodge headline a group of Kissimmee 2021 qualifiers that include seniors Timothy King (152 last year) and Marcelo Gonzalez (182), plus juniors Kole Hannant (113 in 2020-21) and John Hald (120), plus a former state qualifier (2019-20) in senior Kyle Peacock. In all, the Bulldogs can call upon up to 16 key returners, 13 of whom had current or prior Region 1 experience.
But maybe it’s too soon to put Buchholz in the runnerup spot; after all, that happened last year, and the Bobcats went on to sweep the district titles, taking third at Region 1 as well.
Buchholz also has a sizable group back, with up to 14 potential key returners back, and all their weights are or probably could be covered with returning talent. Ten of those 14 had Region 1 exposure last year, and four — seniors Venumadhava Mirel (126 last year) and Aiden Moore (145), junior Kason Nichols (160 last year) and sophomore Cavarius Liddie (106) — got to states.
However, the Bobcats do have a sizable if not insurmountable graduation loss to overcome, with four May graduates — all four with with region experience and two state qualifiers — that do have to be replaced. The returners, though, may be able to fill in the gaps.
DeLand finished 2020-21 third in duals and fourth in the traditional District 2 event, and while the Bulldogs are not projected to move up, that’s a function more of the level that the top 2 teams might have reached. DeLand lost only four to graduation in May, three of those part-time starters and the fourth having region experience.
Meanwhile, the Bulldogs have a larger group incoming, with as many as 16 possible key returners coming back. Four of those 16 didn’t compete at all in the traditional series, and another five didn’t compete in Region 1 after qualifying out; only two region qualifiers had matches at Flagler Palm Coast. But, with all that decent depth, DeLand won’t be a pushover in the district.
Newcomer to the district Lake Mary has moved over from District 3, where the Rams were third in both duals and traditional format, going on to finish sixth at Region 1 and 14th at state. But. This is a new year, and Lake Mary had one of the largest graduation losses in the region. The Rams had 10 key competitors move on, nine via graduation, including state medalists Jared Purcell (3rd at 160, Region 1 champ), Alex Vazquez (5th at 152, Region 1 champ), plus two additional state qualifiers and girls’ state medalist Farida Marcidno (4th at HWT).
Lake Mary can bring back as many as four key returners from last year’s team, just two with Region 1 experience, and while there’s a solid youth program in Seminole County that brings the Rams new blood each year, the lack of returning experience just doesn’t allow us to project higher than a midpack finish, and there’s at least one team in the district that will challenge even that.
Forest is under new management this year, with a couple of the Wildcats engaging in extensive off-season competition. Their graduation loss was not too severe, with just two May graduates, neither of which reached the region round of competition. As things stand, the Wildcats could welcome back as many as nine key competitors, but only two had Region 1 experience (and those two engaged in the most offseason action).
University (Orange City) is also under a new head coach this year, and the Titans have to rebuild from a solid graduation loss (five May grads, including three District 2 champs and one state qualifier). On the boys’ side, UOC has seven key returners back, but only two with Region 1 experience. On the girls’ side, the Lady Titans are going to push hard to return to the top 10, with five state competitors, two of them medalists in Katie Roche and Trinity Evans (T-6th at 106 & 172, respectively.
Seminole and West Port are still works in progress under second-year coaches (at least, at their respective schools). The Noles graduated five key seniors in May, including girls’ state medalist Valerie Vega-Castillo (3rd at 197), and have as many as eight key returners back, six with Region 1 experience, along with a returning girls’ state medalist in junior Brianna Pena (5th at 117). West Port’s graduation loss was less, just one May graduate with Region 1 experience, but the Wolfpack also could bring back eight with post-season experience. However, just two of those eight won matches at Region 1.
Projected finish: 1. Flagler Palm Coast. 2. Buchholz. 3. DeLand. 4. Lake Mary. 5. Forest. 6. University (Orange City). 7. Seminole. 8. West Port.
CAPSULES HERE: 3A-DISTRICT 2 CAPSULES