November 24, 2022 — 6 a.m.
With three of the region’s top 5 teams in late February, the path to 3A-Region 1 supremacy was determined by going through District 2.
The district had largely been a two-team race between Flagler Palm Coast and Buchholz, at least until last year, and it’s the consistency that the Bobcats have maintained during that race that leads us to take them as the early favorites for district top honors.
Buchholz brings back the deepest group of experience from a year ago, with as many as 14 projected key returners coming back from last year’s group, which earned a top-20 state team finish to go along with a district runnerup (IBT) and region 4th. Junior Cavarius (CJ) Liddie (3rd at 126) was the Bobcats’ top individual performer, with senior Kason Nichols (182) and junior Jedidiah Brown (120) also both qualifying out.
But the graduation losses, including three state qualifiers and a pair of medalists in Venumadhava Mirel (7th at 132) and Aiden Moore (7th at 145), will have to be overcome by reserves from a year ago; the depth of the room will get a test.
Do not be surprised, therefore, if DeLand doesn’t emerge on top. The Bulldogs reaped the reward of extensive offseason work in the spring of 2022 with a Region 1 duals appearance, where they knocked off Creekside on the road and put a scare into Flagler Palm Coast in the sweet 16 region-semifinal round.
But the Bulldogs might be better in IBTs this year, with four state qualifiers returning from a year ago. Junior Marion (MJ) Smokes was the team’s lone medalist a year ago (8th at 220), with seniors Grady Bryant (113), Kellen Chapman (126) and Gavin Rodriguez-Cayro (182) also all bagging top-four finishes at regions.
If there’s anywhere DeLand needs to shore up, it’s in the middle of the lineup, and at the very top, where the graduation losses the Bulldogs did sustain — five post-season starters in all — will have to be overcome.
Flagler will still be in the mix this year, no question about it. New coach David Bossardet has as many as eight key returners back from last year’s Bulldog team, which romped to district and region dual and IBT titles, a state semifinal duals berth and top-12 individual finish. Included in that group are three state qualifiers in seniors Kole Hannant (6th at 120) and John Hald (126), plus sophomore qualifier Carson Baert (113).
But eight 2021-22 starters, including graduated 3A medalists Blane DeFord (4th at 170), Marcelo Gonzalez (6th at 182) and Garrick Sanchez (7th at 195), have moved on or transferred, and that will be a big loss to overcome. Flagler’s room from last year, the kids that were backups to the senior stars, will have to step forward significantly.
We’re looking at Seminole for the fourth spot. The Noles do have some significant issues to overcome, starting with a graduation class that included two state qualifiers and five multiple-year starters. That class racked up 151 wins last year, and provided a significant backbone in the middle of the lineup.
But Seminole has a solid coaching cadre that’s been around central Florida for several years. That staff will be working with at least six prospective key returners, led by senior state qualifier Ryan Culbertson (132). If they’re able to find some upper-weights, something the Noles have not had a lot of trouble doing in prior years, they could challenge Flagler for third.
Forest made the biggest move among the less-established programs in the district last year, and with a fourth in last year’s district dual series, the Wildcats, under new HC Eric Christiansen, are probably best-poised to break into the top half should any team in the top four falter. With returning state qualifiers Aydan Ruano (region champ at 106) and Cane Fernandez (285) highlighting a group of potentially as many as 11 key returners, the group has some individual firepower, but the team’s depth needs to raise its game.
West Port will bring 10 wrestlers back from last year’s team, a mixture made up mostly of sophomores and seniors, but the Wolfpack will have to overcome the loss of six key seniors, four of them starters in the post-season. Further, all but one of this year’s returners did not pick up wins at the region level in the tournament; several were engaged in a few offseason events, and that could help.
University (Orange City) fared better in May than it had the previous year, graduation-wise, both in terms of numbers and in terms of lost leadership, and the Titans can call upon a returning cadre of up to eight wrestlers with key impacts a year ago. But only one of those had wins at the region level (although he nearly qualified out). Lake Mary brings back, potentially, a decent number of returners (as many as seven) as well for new coach Tony Segretario, and didn’t lose anyone to graduation in May. However, the Rams also only bring back two region victories from last year’s group, and none of them reached the second day, so inexperience is going to continue to be an issue.
Projected finish: 1. Buchholz. 2. DeLand. 3. Flagler Palm Coast. 4. Seminole. 5. Forest. 6. West Port. 7. University (Orange City). 8. Lake Mary.
CAPSULES HERE: 3A-DISTRICT 2 CAPSULES