By MATMEN, Sunday, 6:05 p.m.
JACKSONVILLE — After a two-year hiatus (one year due to Covid, one year due to administrative issues), the Arlington Optimist Invitational returned to Sandalwood on Saturday.
And although paperwork issues beyond the tournament organizers’ control delayed the start of things, the delays both short and long were worth the wait for the host Saints, who took the team championship in a pitched battle with Baker County for the top spot.
Sandalwood outpointed the Wildcats, 162.5-160, behind three weight-class titles, one runnerup, one third and one fourth.
The hidden MVP?: With more experienced teammates Malik Wilson (170) and Duffy Mista (3A-4th at 195, competing at 220) winning the Saints’ other titles, it might have been the title run made by the Saints’ Justin Robinson at 120 that meant the difference between team victor and team runnerup.
Robinson made probably his best case for the title with what wound up to be his toughest match — his first — scoring in each period for a 10-5 quarterfinal win over the eventual 4th from West Nassau.
From there, Robinson pinned out to take the championship medal, with a quick fall over Mandarin in the semis, and a fall over Atlantic Coast’s Arjun Lamba in 1:48 for the title.
In contention: Baker County took some early hits, but rallied well enough to make Sandalwood sweat for the team title thanks to the power of its upper weights.
The Wildcats had three straight finalists between 152 and 170, another one at 195, with sophomore Keith Ratliff (152) earning the team’s lone championship medal.
Ratliff’s closest match of the day was a 9-7 semifinal win over St Augustine in the semis; otherwise, he had pins over Pedro Menendez and Mandarin, with a fall over Paxon’s Brendan Lawson in 3:58 to win the title.
If the Creek rises: Tocoi Creek was last year’s new kid on the block, and the Toros quickly became known for a small but dynamite girls team and an inexperienced boys side.
This year, the girls’ firepower moved on to new places, but the boys have picked up their experience game in taking third, with a pair of individual champions and a trio of 3rd-place finishes.
Newcomer to the Toro lineup Mark Coniker pinned his way to the 138 title, with falls over returning wrestlers from Keystone Heights (quarters), Baker County (semis) and Stanton’s Dean Holt in 2:26 for the title. That win followed one of the Toros’ returners, Willie Sims (132), who had four falls of his own in setting up the front half of the back-to-back Tocoi double.
Vote (depth) for Pedro: It’s also been tough sledding for Pedro Menendez in larger tournaments, as inexperienced groups have struggled against tough competition.
That the Falcons finished fourth on Saturday, therefore, was a step in the right direction for the program. That Menendez did so without a single finalist in the competition, as well, is a surprising step.
Pedro Menendez had five wrestlers finish either third or fourth on Saturday, with two new names — Eric Smith (132) and Tyshaun Thames (220) — joining returner Archer Bosick (145) as taking thirds, with the Thorn brothers — Matthew (132) and Nick (138) — adding fourths.
Solo dolo: It’s unclear — as of now — whether 8th-grader Matthew Braddock will remain at St Johns Country Day after this season.
But Braddock has already made an impact, providing the Spartans’ first individual victory, pin, and tournament title in scoring all of SJCD’s points.
Braddock pinned all four of his opponents in the first period of his respective matches, needing just 3:21 of combined mat time to fall wrestlers from Pedro Menendez, Providence, Tocoi Creek and Paxon, respectively. In each case, Braddock didn’t give up a single point, with six takedowns for the tournament.
That’s just Beachy: Many first-year programs struggle to find wins and any kind of success in that initial experience with varsity wrestling. Beachside, however, is proving to be the exception to that rule, with two dual victories and a solid 6th-place team finish, with many established teams following the St Johns Barracudas.
Beachside had four place finishes in Saturday’s competition, with Michigan transfer Grady Smith (145) bringing home the Barracudas’ lone title. Smith pinned his way to the final, with falls over Mandarin, Riverside and Sandalwood to get to the championship match, where he topped West Nassau’s Aidan Melson by a 9-4 count.
The Barracudas had an additional finalist in freshman Oliver Hayden (106), and two additional placers in Eddie Craig (3rd at 182) and Christian Sanchez (4th at 113).
Please check out our photo gallery from Saturday’s early round on the North Florida Matmen Facebook page. Results from the tournament can be found HERE.
Rankings courtesy of Matmen-endorsed Kabra Wrestling, https://www.kabrawrestling.com/rankings/class-3A