As we noted in our District 3 preview for 3A, the 3A-District 4 preview is one in which I am hoping for the best, but expecting literally anything to be possible.
Northern readers know what you in the center of the state will soon pick up: knowing a lot doesn’t mean you can make predictions about the future with tons of accuracy.
But I’m pretty confident in my choice to take the title in 3A-D4. Watch for Apopka, a double champion in each of the past two seasons, to duplicate the feat again this year.
The Blue Darters were District 3 champs each of the past two years, both dual and traditional, parlaying last year’s effort into an eighth-place finish at the Region 1 tournament and a top-half (nearly top third, at T-27th) effort in the 3A state tournament in Kissimmee.
Apopka lost five seniors to graduation (3 boys, 2 girls), with all of them wrestling in the post-season and May graduate Assenach Gregoire taking 3rd at 160 in the state girls’ meet.
Even with those losses, however, the Blue Darters have a solid amount of talent returning, with as many as 17 potential key returners back (11 boys, 6 girls). All six of the returning girls had state-tournament experience, with four taking wins. On the boys’ side, state qualifiers and seniors Ralph Sanchez (4th in 3A at 220) and Bonosky Fidel (132), along with Kissimmee-qualifying juniors Tamarion Kendrick (113 last year) and Ransom Randolph (145) are all back to lead a group that included nine Region 1 qualifiers.
There’s a gap between Apopka and the rest of the district, at least based on returners and resumes alone, but if Windermere can overcome the loss of four seniors, three of them post-season starters with Region 1 experience, the Wolverines just might advance to the region round in the FHSAA dual series for the third time.
Windermere lost just one region win from last year’s team to graduation; coming back, the Wolverines have as many as 11 key wrestlers returning, 10 of them boys that were on track to compete in the post-season, though three did miss the post-season. However, all of the other seven got to the Region 1 round, though they’ll want to eclipse the five wins collected there, with just one competitor getting to Saturday.
At the same time, expect to see the Wolverines in the state medal table at girls’ state, with senior Sophia Lahik (6th at 128 in 2020-21) coming back for one more go.
Should the Wolverines falter, West Orange might have the numbers to push past their geographic and district rivals, however. Although the Warriors have not advanced to the region round the past two years, West Orange did win a district duals title in 2019, and only lost two seniors off last year’s team, though one was arguably its performer.
Coming back are as many as nine key returners, seven of which reached the Region 1 tournament for the Warriors. However, that group combined for just five wins in that tournament, and will have to reach new levels to push for second, let alone challenge Apopka for district supremacy.
Dr Phillips may be projected for fourth in this race, but the Panthers will cast a long shadow, nevertheless, in the state scene. That’s particularly true for the defending girls’ team champion Lady Panthers. Although they lost six seniors to graduation, including state champs Armelle Oliantus (162 last year) and Skyy Gowan (197), runnerup Aaliyah Hyacinthe (2nd at 222), Zamora St Cyr (4th at 140) and Janecia Rayna (5th at 122), Dr Phillips’ girls’ side brings a lot of weapons back, including 13 state performers. That group will be led by senior returning state champion Juliana Diaz (117 in 2020-21), juniors Emily Rivera (4th at 172) and Amber Etienne (5th at 184), as well as three 6th-place finishers in seniors Sanii Porter (112), Emanuele Zumba (154) and Zaria Joseph (285).
And that’s not even counting, so far, the return of defending state champion (runnerup in 2020) and senior Gerald Greaves, who will headline a returning group of seven Panther boys, three with Region 1 experience. The DPHS boys lost only one May graduate, so an influx of new blood could push them up into the dual-series mix.
Ocoee is a team that might have a surprise or two in it, particularly if the Knights can keep senior 285 and 2021 3A state qualifier Jordan Phillips in the lineup. Phillips has gotten a lot of football looks last year and this off-season, and that will have an impact. He’s one of the Knights’ two returning district champs from a year ago, and while Ocoee had no graduation losses, numbers of returners (five from last year’s post-season lineup, four with Region 1 experience) don’t immediately mean a spot in the top half.
I might have moved Olympia up a spot or two, but the team’s top returner from last year, and Titans’ only district champ, transferred out of 3A-Region 1 during the off-season. As things stand, Olympia’s three competitors who left all left with region experience, but all five who remain from last year’s post-season lineup got region experience last year — three getting to Day 2.
Returning numbers with region experience are the biggest issues I foresee — at this distance, before the season begins — for Evans and Wekiva. The Trojans can bring back up to five projected key returners, but just three got to the region round (though at least one might qualify out) and Evans lost two of its three top competitors from last year to graduation. As for the Mustangs, Wekiva might have only graduated one key senior in May, but return just one wrestler with region experience. On the girls’ side, the Mustangs do have a returning state medalist back in junior Ramiyah Steele (4th at 197 in 2020-21).
Projected finish: 1. Apopka. 2. Windermere. 3. West Orange. 4. Dr Phillips. 5. Ocoee. 6. Olympia. 7. Evans. 8. Wekiva.
CAPSULES HERE: 3A-DISTRICT 4 CAPSULES