November 24, 2022 — 6 a.m.
I won’t be surprised by anything that happens in 1A-District 4 this season. This one was probably the toughest district to select a champion, and I can talk myself out of any order of finish among the three teams I’m looking at for top spots.
But pick an order I must, because that’s what we do here. Predictions are the business this time of year.
And right now, I see Union County as best positioned, here in late November, to take the title, particularly in duals format.
The Tigers, in their fourth year of existence as a program, lost just one May senior to graduation — albeit their most consistent competitor over the past two season — and that will be very helpful from a continuity standpoint going into this season.
While Union County will have to fill a couple of weight classes up top, the Tigers do have as many as 12 projected key returners back, with all of the lower weights covered by returning talent, and eight returning wrestlers who got to regions. Just one reached the second day of regions, however, so there are levels still to go.
Program-wise, Baker County might be a little further along than the Tigers, but the graduation losses that the Wildcats sustained in May are significant, not only for the wins lost, but the leadership that graduated, and that is probably the main reason I have them starting in second.
Four upper-weight multi-year starters moved on in May from BCHS, led by 1A state medalist Toby Kinghorn (6th at 195 in March) and a second state qualifier. That kind of leadership is difficult to replace, especially when it leaves so many upper-weight slots open.
The Wildcats will be stronger in the lower-weight half of the lineup, with a group of 10 projected key returners back for this season. Just two of those 10 had wins at regions, however, and that group is going to have to find new levels on the mat and in the room. It could get there, however.
I’m reluctantly putting Palatka in the third spot, but losing a state medalist to graduation like Brandon Lewis (3rd at 138 in 1A last March), and two additional post-season starters from last year’s team is going to be tough to overcome, particularly in a duals context.
But the Panthers will still have a solid state IBT presence, what with senior 1A two-time state medalist Mikade Harvey (3rd at 132 in March) back. Harvey heads up a cadre of as many as eight projected key returners. That group might have one more state qualifier besides Harvey come out of it this year. If the Panthers can get more upper weights, they may contend a little stronger in duals.
Tocoi Creek battled through the difficulties facing every first-year program — to be fair, it was a first-year everything for the Toros as a school last year — and completed the year with 15 duals on the itinerary, as well as appearances at three tournaments.
Though it was the TCHS girls that got most of the attention last year, the Toro boys this year have as many as 12 projected key returners back, with no graduation losses. However, this group did not pick up any wins at regions, but that will probably change this year.
Bishop Snyder might be a team that proves me wrong with their finish, as the Cardinals had a built a team by season’s end that looked very much different from what they’d started the season. But Snyder did lose a multiple-year starter and the team’s top competitor to graduation; however, the Cardinals do have as many as 10 projected key returners back, and just two seniors this go-round. With a lot of sophomore returners, this might be a group that builds together.
Keystone Heights might be another team that’s tricky to project, with their third HC in the last four seasons, Shaun Goetzman, taking over this year. The Indians do lose three multi-year starters from last year’s team to graduation, but none of them got to the region round in February. This year, Keystone can call upon as many as seven projected key returners, three of them with Region 1 experience; however, none of the trio got to the second day.
After not competing in Region 1 three seasons ago, and not at all two years ago during the height of Covid, Florida Deaf & Blind returned last year with a mixture of wrestlers ranging from juniors down to 6th grade, and all of them fairly inexperienced. The Dragons did take some lumps as a result, but enter this year with a potential lineup that includes as many as nine projected key returners, but only one of them won a match at districts.
I look forward to Beachside perhaps also proving me wrong with their actual finish compared to predicted, but it’s difficult for first-year programs to find their footing in most instances. The St Johns Barracudas do have one wrestler with region experience (second day in 3A-Region 1) via transfer, and they also have an experienced coaching staff, with former Episcopal and Mandarin HC Lance Day finding a home in St Johns.
Of the two teams at bottom, both are rebooting after some absences. Baldwin did not compete last year, but did have two seasons together and would have a couple of available kids under former Terry Parker assistant Michael Echevarria that were still in middle school when they last wrestled for the Indians. Interlachen’s been away the past two seasons and did not compete in post-season competition in 2019-20, as the Putnam County Rams engaged in three events during the regular season only. They’ll also have a new coach, in Brett Richards.
Projected finish: 1. Union County. 2. Baker County. 3. Palatka. 4. Tocoi Creek. 5. Bishop Snyder. 6. Keystone Heights. 7. Florida Deaf & Blind (FSDB). 8. Beachside. 9. (tie) Baldwin & Interlachen.
CAPSULES HERE: 1A-DISTRICT 4 CAPSULES