November 24, 2022 — 6 a.m.
A year ago, District 2 in 2A was predicted to be the powerhouse district in north Florida when Fleming Island squared off against Lincoln, with an additional third team finishing in the top six at regions.
This year, it seemed that the center of power may very well move to 2A-District 4, where two of the state’s top 10 teams in 2A, joined by a perennial 1A powerhouse in Clay.
But if we learned anything last year, we learned that Fleming Island not only was fully back, the Golden Eagles weren’t going to be going anywhere for a long time, and thus they still have to be considered the heavy favorites to win district titles in January and February.
Losing just one senior off of last year’s 2A state duals semifinalist and 3rd-place IBT finisher, the Golden Eagles will bring back as many as 15 projected key returners this year.
Included in that group are 2022 state runnerups in senior Jhoel Robinson (182 last year) and sophomore Jayce Paridon (113 in 2022), along with 2A medalists Joshua Sandoval (senior, 4th at 170), Christopher Chop (junior, 5th at 152), Ronan Bozeman (senior, 6th at 160), Matthew Kotler (junior, 6th at 145), Laird Duhaylungsod (sophomore, 6th at 120), Ethan Hoffstetter (senior, 7th at 285), Kaden Schaefer (junior, 7th at 138) and Shane Duhaylungsod (sophomore, 8th at 106). Six of the state medalists also won region titles.
The one gap that only the most elite of teams could exploit a year ago against the Golden Eagles was that there were a couple of weights that still had potential to reach in their wrestling. If their younger and less-experienced starters took steps to fix that — and with the room Fleming works in year-round, it’s difficult to guess they didn’t — they will be even more formidable this year.
Prior to reclassification, Matanzas was looking very much to being kings in the southeast corner of the coverage area and a heavy, if not overwhelming favorite, to take the district.
And, although the Pirates will lose three May graduates from last year’s 9th-place (IBT) 2A team statewide, including state runnerup (at 152) Tyson Mills, who is now on mission in Fiji, Matanzas still has a lot on which to draw upon in furtherance of its goals this year.
The Pirates can match Fleming’s number of up to 15 projected key returners, and, while the list of state hardware isn’t quite so long, it does begin with the return of junior state runnerup (170 last year) Jordan Mills, and a returning state qualifier in senior Landon Wright (195 in 2022), plus a returning former (2021) state qualifier in senior Carter Wilder (113 last year).
Do not think that Clay will be outgunned simply by jumping up to 2A. The Blue Devils don’t have that in their vocabulary, but after losing seven state qualifiers to May graduation, including 2022 1A champion Garrett Tyre (220 last year) and medalists Maverick Rainwater (7th at 120), Luke Boree (7th at 138) and Ethan Larsen (7th at 170), they will be testing the theory that traditional reloads rather than rebuilds.
Clay does have a number of weapons back, led by a pair of state medalists in senior Dominic Martin (5th at 182 last year) and sophomore Braden Glavin (8th at 113), along with returning state qualifiers in senior Kedtric Wilbourn (195 last year) and sophomore Jacob Bucci (106). The Blue Devils do have one of the deepest rooms in north Florida, and this year, they’re going to need it.
Just two years ago, New Smyrna Beach had pushed its way through to dual district and region titles and was looking to establish itself as a solid power in the north among 2A teams. After sustaining the loss of nearly half its starting lineup to May graduation (including 126-6th place Jamey Bruner, and two additional state qualifiers), however, the Barracudas are also having to reload.
NSB does have seven projected key returners back under new head coach Isaac Bernard, and should be solid in the lowers, with five region qualifiers. Senior Dylon York is the Barracudas’ lone returning 2A medalist (6th at 195), with junior Sawyer VanRider (182) a fellow returning state qualifier, but the Barracudas will need fresh faces in the upper weights in order to hold fourth.
That’s because both Belleview and Mainland will take opportunities to push up the ladder. The Barracudas have a number of returning wrestlers, with just one senior, a state qualifier, lost to graduation in May. Belleview will have as many as 11 key returning qualifiers back, and also may be able to welcome back senior and former 2021 state qualifier Andrew Davis as well after his junior season was cut short.
Mainland did lose its top wrestler from last year via transfer, plus three additional region qualifiers via May graduations, but the Buccaneers do have a solid schedule in their favor — in just the program’s fifth year — and they do have seven projected key returners back, including five region qualifiers. That isn’t a huge group, but Mainland has proven itself capable of recruiting new blood into its lineup. It’ll need to do that again this winter.
Seabreeze reached the FHSAA region duals round, its first trip to that round since winning this district duals title in 2018, but the Sandcrabs won’t find the district in the same place as it was before the team’s sojourn into 1A last season. Seabreeze lost two seniors to graduation, and could have as many as nine key wrestlers returning, all nine with post-season experience.
I’m not 100% convinced that the St Augustine city teams are consigned to bring up the rear in the district, but numbers — either in a lack of mat time or wrestlers back — suggest it. Pedro Menendez lost just one senior to graduation in May, and has as many as nine projected key returners back this year, but none of those set to return were able to reach the second day. The Falcons’ crosstown rival, St Augustine, have talent returning that may be able to get to states — even out of this district, with four projected key returners. But the Yellow Jackets lost six seniors to graduation in May, including two state qualifiers, and they will be a difficult loss to replace.
Projected finish: 1. Fleming Island. 2. Matanzas. 3. Clay. 4. New Smyrna Beach. 5. Belleview. 6. Mainland. 7. Seabreeze. 8. Pedro Menendez. 9. St Augustine.
CAPSULES HERE: 2A-DISTRICT 4 CAPSULES