#TurkeyNWrestling2022-23: 3A-District 1

November 24, 2022 — 6 a.m.

It’s star power vs consistency in the revamped 3A-District 1 title chase this year.

It’s also proven winners vs perennial oh-so-closes.

But I’m a big believer in consistency up and down the lineup, and thus I’m looking at Bartram Trail — at least in the duals side — to (finally) break through and take the district this year.

With 12 returners back from last year’s team, led by senior state qualifiers Ethan Vugman (3A runnerup at 120 last year), Preston Pena and John McNames (both one match from medaling at 145 and 170, respectively), the Bears have three 4-year starters that can lead the way to a title.

The Bears also have traditionally put together a schedule that not only fully exercises its stars like the senior trio, but also gets the whole group ready for post-season.

But aside from Vugman and one other post-season starter, Bartram Trail could be a bit vulnerable in the lowers, and, further, the Bears have to prove they can close the deal on what it takes to win districts; it’s not the first time they’ve been close enough to be predicted to do it.

So, if the Bears falter down the stretch, look for Fletcher to step forward to claim the crown (and it wouldn’t surprise me for the Senators, even at full strength, to win the district IBT).

Fletcher’s got as many as 11 eligible-to-return key competitors back from last year’s team, led by senior heavyweight and state medalist Toby Matson (3rd in 2A at 285 a year ago). The Senators also return no fewer than five 2022-or-earlier district champions from last year’s lineup.

But the Senators did lose one state qualifier and two 2022 district champions, and their lineup even last year varied greatly in talent and experience. If Fletcher’s less-experienced kids put in the off-season work, the Senators could put forward a formidable challenge at tournament time.

We’re really not being down on Creekside by putting the St Johns Knights in the third spot here, although losing half its 2022 post-season lineup, including three state qualifiers, could be enough of a reason to put them there this year.

The Knights shouldn’t finish lower than third, though, mainly because their consistency year-over-year suggests they won’t. Creekside does have nine key eligible-to-return wrestlers back in the fold and one thing that the Knights have not faced recently, if ever, is an inability to fill the lineup.

Nease is the smart play for fourth, but the St Johns Panthers could go anywhere from third to sixth, as they more or less did a year ago (3rd in IBT, T-5th in duals). On the plus side for Nease is the possibility of up to 11 key returners from last year’s team.

The downside the Panthers may face, however, is getting kids to advance in the clutch. While Nease graduated just one post-season starter with a region victory last year, none of last year’s eligible-to-return wrestlers reached the second day of the region tournament. The group is deep enough that upgrading its competition might need to be in order.

Mandarin is the wild card of the district. The lineup the Mustangs had in December was strong enough, between numbers and talent, to finish as high as third in the district, but the lineup was a patchwork down the stretch; there was some individual success, though, as demonstrated by now-graduated 2x 3A state medalist Tony Carter (5th in 182 last year). There’s returning ability in the upper weights, but new coach Benjamin Wales will have a task to find more lowers.

Sandalwood combined transfers, first-year starters and older wrestlers and cobbled that together into a fourth-place showing at Gateway and T-5th at districts, led by senior state qualifier Duffy Mista (3A-195 in March). With nine returners, plus a another active recruiting class, the Saints just might have enough in the tank to surprise people in February.

First Coast had five first-year starters make some level of impact last year, but the graduation losses that the Buccaneers took in 2021 could not be overcome by last year’s team in its return to Class 3A. But a largely-youngish group could learn together, and if more numbers can be recruited, they could make a push for the top half. Atlantic Coast did something that neither the Buccaneers nor even projected top-half team Nease could, last year, in reaching the 3A state tournament, but that qualifier is graduated now, and the Stingrays are still facing the same lack of mat time and low numbers of key returners (three) that they faced last year.

Projected finish: 1. Bartram Trail. 2. Fletcher. 3. Creekside. 4. Nease. 5. Mandarin. 6. Sandalwood. 7. First Coast. 8. Atlantic Coast.


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