#TurkeyNWrestling2022-23: 1A-District 1

November 24, 2022 — 6 a.m.

There are a few teams that you learn to trust in the north, even after sustaining some heavy losses to graduation.

South Walton, in 1A-District 1, has become one of those teams to trust, season in and season out. The Seahawks have emerged as the Panhandle small schools’ top performer, and with good reason, having won two straight district duals titles and a pair of IBTs as well.

And it’s that recent run of success that’s the reason to trust the Seahawks to make a return to the top of the district standings, although for several reasons it might be tough to expect this group to duplicate its 5th-place region and 15th-place state efforts.

The biggest reason is a large group of seniors, seven in all, that moved on in May, led by 2022 1A state champion Max Brewster (120). All seven of those Class of 2022 Seahawks reached the region tournament.

While South Walton has just six projected key returners back, the Seahawks are the only team in the district with more than one returning state qualifier, as senior Nick Lee (8th at 285) and sophomore Isaac Brinson (126) both have Silver Spurs Arena experience from March. One thing the group has shown is an ability to develop new young talent, as the development of Brinson and other younger Seahawks has shown.

If you’re a believer in larger numbers having the key in supplanting a district favorite, look no further than North Bay Haven.

The Buccaneers were very young last year, and had a lot of returners coming back, but last year’s still group still saw a few new faces make the lineup. The result is a room with potentially up to 14 key returners back from last year’s fourth-place (IBT) group, with only two key seniors lost to graduation, including one post-season starter.

Junior David Mercado (4th at 1A-195, returning region champ) headlines the returning group, which has eight wrestlers that reached the region level last year. Experienced returners man each weight class as well, so the only thing that might hold NBH back might be its relative youth at a couple of those weights.

Bay improved a lot over the previous two seasons in 2021-22, reaching the individual state tournament for the first time since 2018-19. And with just two graduation losses to overcome — albeit including the Tornadoes’ lone state qualifier — the future does appear to be be bright.

Bay can call upon as many as 11 projected key returners this coming year, six of them with region experience. Three of those six — all in the lower weights — got to Saturday’s second day at regions, and lowers will again be a strength for the Tornadoes. That strength was augmented with the transfer of junior — and 2A state medalist in March — Derrick Williams from Mosley (5th at 106). If the Tornadoes can add a couple more upper weights, they will challenge the leaders.

Don’t be surprised in the slightest to see Rutherford in the mix for even top-of-the-table position in the district when the season ends, although I think duals, which might be the Rams’ better strength, might be a bit too soon in the schedule for them to push through. Rutherford lost just one May graduate from last year’s group, so that’s a positive step.

This year, the Rams have as many as 14 potential key returners, led by senior state qualifier Romero Black (138 last year). Rutherford has six returners with Region 1 experience, so the Rams will need some of their depth in last year’s room to step forward and take another step in order to become a bit more competitive.

If any teams falter that are projected for the top half of the district, I would maybe look to Bozeman to become the wild card of the district. The Bucks began the school with a max of seven projected key returners due to come back, just one of those seven with victories at the region level. But Bozeman picked up a pair of transfers that will help the numbers situation somewhat and the Bucks’ leadership position quite a bit; if they can add some more numbers after losing just one starter to graduation, they could move up.

After losing five region qualifiers from last year’s region-qualifying (duals) team to graduation, the ride could be bumpy for Rocky Bayou Christian this year, as the Knights have no established wrestlers that wrestled above 152 a year ago. But, the lower half of the lineup is experienced, with four region qualifiers in all (team has five coming back). None of the eight projected key returners are seniors, which is a plus.

Wewahitchka lost four starters from last year’s team, between graduation and transfer, and while the Gators do have eight returners (four with region experience, two of those four with second-day experience), they’ll need to once again prove themselves capable of recruiting after adding several very young first-year starters in 2021-22. Freeport is a new Walton County program, headed up by former Seahawks coach Carey Nick, and having that kind of experience is going to be invaluable as the fledgling Bulldogs get off the ground in 2022-23. We’ll have to see how things develop, as they’ll have a dual right away next week.

Projected finish: 1. South Walton. 2. North Bay Haven. 3. Bay. 4. Rutherford. 5. Bozeman. 6. Rocky Bayou Christian. 7. Wewahitchka. 8. Freeport.


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