November 24, 2022 — 6 a.m.
Everything old is new again in 2A-District 3.
Oakleaf’s back. Middleburg’s back. Ridgeview’s back. Orange Park’s back. Ed White came back last year. The district has a very 2014/2015ish feel to it.
But one thing that is new is Oakleaf’s preseason position as favorite, after the Clay County Knights reached the 3A region duals round and came away with the District 1 IBT title in January and February, respectively.
The Knights did lose three seniors to graduation, all of them region qualifiers and one of them a state qualifier. That’s not great.
But Oakleaf does bring back as many as 16 projected key returners for the 2022-23 season. That includes seven region qualifiers, led by senior 285 Jordan Mitchell, 2A’s top-ranked heavyweight heading into the 2022-23 season (4th at states). Junior Keon Barrientos (126 last year) is a returning state qualifier, and senior Isaiah Shevchook (195 in December) qualified for Silver Spurs in 3A in 2021, putting up an unbeaten record after not competing in January and February.
Oakleaf doesn’t have a lot of room for error in attempting to win its second straight district (IBT) title, however, because Middleburg is roaring up the ladder.
The Broncos posted a sixth-place finish at regions a year ago after a fourth in duals and fifth at districts. Middleburg lost just one Class of 2022 wrestler to graduation from that team.
And, the Broncos have a sizable group of projected key returners back — 16 strong in all. Filling all 14 weights will not be a problem for this group. Leading the charge for that cadre will be a trio of returning state qualifiers, all of them with at least two more years of eligibility. Junior Grady Woodard (113 last year) and sophomores Jackson Hornback (106 in 2022) and Wyatt Leduc (120) all return this year, and assuming they all make it back, probably won’t be the only ones to get to Silver Spurs in March.
We’re looking at Ridgeview to complete a trifecta of Clay County teams at the top. Like the Broncos, the Clay County Panthers come over to District 3 from District 2, where Ridgeview finished in the top 25 at states. That was due solely (at least at Silver Spurs) to graduated 2A 220 runnerup Derrick Mosley, the team’s lone district champ last year.
Competing in the most loaded district in the north a year ago, Ridgeview had just one state qualifier, but an additional seven region qualifiers (six of which are back this year). I’d expect a few others in the Panthers’ projected up to 15-strong returners group to get out this year, and there could well be more than just one state qualifier in March.
Last year’s district runnerup, Westside, might be the top Duval County team in this year’s version. The Wolverines made it to the region duals round last year, finishing second at both duals and IBT for districts thanks to a cadre, made up largely of up to 11 projected key returners, including returning 2022 state qualifier Olleon Hickmon (138 last year).
Westside lost just two seniors — both region qualifiers — to graduation in May, and between that and the returners group getting bigger each season, it’s possible that the Wolverines could very well be a tough contender for third in what is a deeper district these next two years.
We see Terry Parker as the midpoint of the district this year. The Braves tied for third in the district last year, before the new imports came in via reclassification, and have as many as 10 projected key returners from a year ago, eight of those earning region spots, and losing just one graduated senior in May.
While the outlook is largely positive, the Braves still have some steps to take before they can compete at the top of the district. Of the returners last year, only three had region victories at Chiles, and only one got to Saturday’s round of competition.
Ponte Vedra lost just one Class of ’22 wrestler in May, and the Sharks are in the mix for something close to a full team, with as many as eight projected key returners back. But of those eight, just one had a win in last year’s region tournament in February. The returning group has been having a hard time attracting bigs, as they did during last season, when as many as five upper weights were forfeited.
Ed White’s lineup size varied from double digits down to around four or five at times last year. The Commanders lost three Class of 2022 wrestlers to graduation, but will bring back as many as six projected key returners. Three of those six were region qualifiers, as were all of the ’22 grads, but two of the returners were Saturday qualifiers and one Commander did reach the blood round.
In the years when Riverside was Lee, the Generals tended to have a very large amount of wrestlers out every year, and always seemed to have a large number of returners coming back each season. This year, while Riverside lost no one to graduation, the Generals are still short-handed, with just up to six projected key returners from last year. Riverside did get four of those six to regions, but only two took wins there.
Returning numbers could also hold back Orange Park and Englewood, in comparison to the rest of the district, though certainly if either team recruits very well, there’s enough base there to move up some. Orange Park lost two key seniors to graduation, while the Raiders have as many as four projected key returners back, led by senior and 2022 state qualifier Trevion Sermons (160 last year). The others, though, had no wins at districts. As for the Rams, they will also have two lost to graduation — including their lone state qualifier — and as many as four projected key returners back. However, none of them had a win at last year’s region tournament.
Projected finish: 1. Oakleaf. 2. Middleburg. 3. Ridgeview. 4. Westside. 5. Terry Parker. 6. Ponte Vedra. 7. Ed White. 8. Riverside. 9. Orange Park. 10. Englewood.
CAPSULES HERE: 2A-DISTRICT 3 CAPSULES