November 24, 2022 — 6 a.m.
After 2A-District 2 became one of the epicenters of statewide interest after last year’s reclassification, this year, things have largely returned to normalcy in the district.
Gone are the Clay County teams; back are Gainesville, Mosley and (for the first time) Arnold. What remains, and should reassert control, is Lincoln.
After falling out of the FHSAA dual series at the district round, and then finishing second at both districts and regions, the Trojans put together their best state performance in some while, with a 13th-place showing at Silver Spurs Arena in March.
Duplicating that showing this coming March won’t be easy. Although the Trojans lost just three seniors to graduation in May, two of them were state medalists (195 runnerup Cayden Bevis and 220 6th Omarion LaRoach) and the third also qualified out for states. As a result, Lincoln’s got three upper-weight classes up top to fill.
But the Trojans have solid depth returning that should build another double-title effort. Lincoln has as many as 13 projected key returners from a year ago, led by three returning state qualifiers in senior Connor Edwards (152 last year) and juniors Vaniel Caceres (113) and Jashawn Washington (120).
Chiles advanced to the region duals round last year and we’re going to project the Timberwolves to make it back there once again in January. And if Lincoln falters in any way, they could take a district title.
Chiles does have five multiple-year starters or wrestlers with key appearances in 2021-22, to replace, as they’ve graduated. That cadre includes 2022 state medalist Hunter Brown (8th at 132), along with four other Class of 2022 members that were starters last year or starters in prior seasons for the Timberwolves.
But coming back this year are as many as 13 projected key returners, many of whom have multiple years as starters themselves. Senior 2022 state qualifier Garrett Marschka (126 last year) leads that group; it does contain six kids who did not start in the post-season last year, so the ask for that group — which performed ably in complementary roles — will be to find new levels as the 2022-23 season unfolds.
A year ago, we hyped Mosley as a strong threat, and though the Dolphins had a very good closeout to the season, they had a quick exit in the FHSAA dual series, and had some up-and-down efforts in regular-season IBTs. Still though, Mosley finished in the top 20 among 2A teams and only Lincoln finished higher at states.
The Dolphins did lose four seniors to graduation in May, including multiple-time state medalist Nick Hejke (3rd at 152 and Bay County’s all-time wins leader), and lost their top performer from last year, junior state medalist Derrick Williams (5th at 2A-106), who’s transferred to Bay. However, Mosley will bring back as many as 14 projected key returners. Numbers are in the Dolphins’ favor, and that keeps them in the mix for third in the district, but new leadership will need to step forward.
Columbia took some hits to its chances both during the regular season, due to injury, and after, due to graduation, with the loss of state medalist Joseph Rice (7th at 170) and three additional Class of 2022 wrestlers that have made a significant impact upon the Tigers’ program.
As a result, Columbia will need a rebuiilding effort in 2022-23, as only two Tigers have multiple years of starting experience. There will be as many as five projected key returners in the room, and of those, only one had a victory in the 2021-22 region tournament. But, Columbia has had history of consistent success; though the 6th-place district and 16th-place region IBT finish was lower than recent history would have projected, the Tigers have been in the top 40 or so at states each of the last four years.
Arnold had to completely remake its lineup last year after transfer and graduation from May of 2021 had their impacts, and the Marlins were able to do so, with as many as eight possible key returners back for another year; with just one senior in that group, the Marlins — though they did lose their top competitor to graduation in May — survived last year well and could look for a midpack finish.
The bottom two teams in the district both face the same issue — both Leon and Gainesville each have one projected key returner, and in both cases, that returner is a senior. Both teams will need new wrestlers, urgently so, and schedules that cultivate the development of those wrestlers as they learn the sport. The difference, though, in the programs is that Leon has a settled coaching staff inside the building, while Gainesville will have a new staff after the college graduations of the previous administration. At least, it is hoped that there will be a new staff; as of this writing, a candidate has emerged, but background checks have not been completed by the school as of this writing.
Projected finish: 1. Lincoln. 2. Chiles. 3. Mosley. 4. Columbia. 5. Arnold. 6. Leon. 7. Gainesville.
CAPSULES HERE: 2A-DISTRICT 2 CAPSULES