#TurkeyNWrestling2022-23: 1A-District 3

November 24, 2022 — 6 a.m.

Clay had cast a very long and, for most 1A teams in the northeast at least if not the entire northern expanse of Florida, impenetrable shadow over small-school wrestling at the geographic top of the state.

But away the Blue Devils have gone into 2A world, at least for the next two seasons, and, as nature abhors a vacuum, the move offers some opportunities for 1A teams in the northeast to build and push forward their own ambitions.

One such team just might be Yulee in District 3. The last time the Hornets lost in the district duals round was 2019, when…Clay was there. Since then, Yulee has been a double-district champion, and we’re looking to push the Hornets into the top spot once again.

Graduation losses were not insignificant, but also not widespread. Yulee lost just two key seniors from last year’s double-title team, one of those a post-season starter (and former state qualifier, though not last year).

The Hornets have a large room that will include as many as 14 potential key returners from last year’s 4th-place side at Region 1. Senior Dylan Johns (1A-145, 8th at states) leads that group, along with three Yulee wrestlers that each took a win at states in March, including juniors Christopher Aud (195 last year) and Braylen Ricks (220), as well as sophomore Alex Smith (182). The group, which includes 11 Region 1 qualifiers, also saw three more wrestlers reach the blood round at that tournament, so it could take a substantial group to Silver Spurs Arena next March.

We’re looking to push Bishop Kenny into the runnerup spot, but we’re cautioning from the outset that the margins between the Crusaders and rivals Episcopal and Fernandina Beach should be razor-thin, which would mean some entertaining competition in the district duals coming off the holidays.

The Crusaders do have to replace four graduated seniors from the 2021-22 that finished second to the Hornets in IBT competition (BKHS did not compete in district duals). That includes a pair of February district champs; all four were region qualifiers and two got to the second day.

But what pushes Bishop Kenny past the Eagles and Pirates, at least at the November vantage point we have now, is its returning group of as many as 10 projected key returners. Senior Roberto Cuartero (4th at 152 last year), after reaching the 2022 state podium, is very much in the mix for state-title contention. Fellow senior Luke Ghannam (170 in March) and junior Christopher Hampton (132 last season) also are returning state qualifiers, and senior Collin Hearn (160 last year) got out to Silver Spurs in 2021, falling in the blood round in February.

We thought that Episcopal might be a team that could really break out last year after the Eagles engaged in offseason work in what seemed to be the first time in a long while, at least as a group. But injuries seemed to be a problem throughout the season, and — despite earning a spot in the region duals round — the team struggled more down the stretch, dropping a spot in the district IBT.

But after losing just one May graduate, Episcopal brings back a very big room, with as many as 15 projected key returners (plus a key kid or two that were short simply on matches) coming back this year, with a year more of experience. Sophomore Turner Glenn (106 last year) was the Eagles’ lone presence at states, and he’ll be joined by a group that included 10 additional region qualifiers.

Fernandina Beach amped up its schedule a little bit last year, but not being able to consistently field a full team did hurt the Pirates some in regular-season competitions. Fernandina did lose a pair of post-season starters, but should be able to weather that.

That’s because the Pirates do have a group of as many as 12 projected key returners back for this year (and do have a couple of kids that have eligibility to return who were seen as key returners a year ago). Leading that group is junior state medalist Enzo Gamba (region champ, 7th at 160 in March), along with fellow state qualifiers in seniors Caden Kubatzke (126 last year) and Lucas Crawford (182). Fernandina could add to that total this year.

There’s a bit of a gap between the top four and West Nassau, but there’s also a bit of a gap between the Warriors and the rest of the district. With no graduation losses from May, there’s a good chance for the Warriors even to make a move up.

Senior and 2022 state qualifier Blayden Tharpe (120 last year) headlines a cadre of as many as eight projected key returners, five of them region qualifiers and three just a match away from joining Tharpe at states. The Warriors’ returners as a group are solid, but they need more help up top to make a really good move.

Wolfson had a disappointing slide in the 2022 post-season, not that far removed from a region duals visit in 2020 and a more-typical mid-pack post-season effort in 2021. The Wolfpack had a handful of starters last year that missed out on the post-season series, and that played some small part in last year’s ninth-place district finish. This year’s returning group, including six potential key returners, is a nice mix of youth and experience, and some solid recruiting should return Wolfson back to mid-pack form.

Paxon should be close to the middle of the pack once again this season, even after losing a pair of multi-year starters in May to graduation. The Duval Golden Eagles have slowly stabilized their program after seeing it depleted down to almost nothing four years ago, and are looking at four multiple-year starters back for another year in a mix of up to six projected key returners. They’ll need fresh faces to move further up the leaderboard, but seem to have pulled the program back from the brink.

Stanton had no graduation losses to contend with last year, and that’s a good thing, as the Blue Devils drop back to Class 1A for the first time in some great while. Stanton will have as many as eight projected key returners back from last season, and while that is a good thing (plus the fact that none of them are seniors), just one Blue Devil had a win at regions, and none of them had enough matches last year.

For the bottom third of the district, it’s all about rebuilding, starting with Raines, which has to replace a pair of multiple-time state medalists in 2022 graduates Jamari Watson (1A-220 state runnerup) and De’Quon King (5th at 120 last year). The Vikings have two projected key returners back, but clearly need a lot of new blood to contend more capably in the district race.

Like the Vikings, University Christian will be starting over, of sorts, as two first-year wrestlers — one graduated, one not — were last year’s top wrestlers. The Christians will call upon former multiple 1A state qualifier David Trigg, who’s returned to his alma mater, with the main order of business simply to build a fuller lineup and getting those who join it to stay. Bolles has had some giant presence on Jacksonville-area wrestling over the years. This is likely not to be one of those years, with the Bulldogs losing three multi-year starters, including two-time state medalist Jack Pyburn (6th at 285 last year), to graduation. Bolles will have one projected key returner back, but could add a couple more if some former kids come back to the team.

Projected finish: 1. Yulee. 2. Bishop Kenny. 3. Episcopal. 4. Fernandina Beach. 5. West Nassau. 6. Wolfson. 7. Paxon. 8. Stanton. 9. Raines. 10. University Christian. 11. Bolles.


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