By MATMEN, Monday, 1:30 p.m.
KISSIMMEE — Winning the War Eagle Classic a year ago was one of Seminole’s regular-season highlights of the 2021-22 year.
The Noles couldn’t defend their title on Saturday at Poinciana HS, however, as Vero Beach came in and cleaned up, with 163.5 points. Seminole did hold off host Poinciana for second, with 116 points to the War Eagles’ 112.5 in an eight-team IBT event.
Leading the charge for Noles with weight-class wins were Onel Esquilin (126), Ryan Culbertson (17th-3A at 132, competing at 138) and Jerome Johnson (285).
Esquilin won three 6-minute matches en route to his 126 title; after a quarterfinal win over Vero Beach (13-3 major) and a sudden-victory semifinal win over Poinciana (3-1), Esquilin took on top seed Kaden Wheeler of Sebastian River in the final. Wheeler couldn’t hold Esquilin down on the mat, as he reversed out in the first period, got two escapes in the second and was able to get out a fourth time for a crucial escape en route to a 7-6 win.
Culbertson had been in the state rankings until this week, but made his case for a return by opening with a 15-3 major over Vero Beach’s Kevin Benjamin (13th-3A at 138) in the quarters; after an 8-2 win over Auburndale in the semis, Culbertson faced off against Melbourne’s Kendrick Wright. Heading into the third and the score tied at 2-2, Culbertson got an immediate reversal, then added an insurance turn with 5 seconds left to hold on for a 6-2 decision.
Johnson pinned his way into the final, with falls in the quarters over Vero Beach and in the semis over Poinciana, taking on another War Eagle 285, Chafrantzley Dumesle, in the final. A late takedown in the first period got Johnson’s offense started; in the third, Johnson seized control with a pair of takedowns, going on for a 7-3 decision for the championship.
At 182, Seminole’s Jack Caissie reached the final after a 5-3 semifinal win over Melbourne, but he couldn’t hold off Auburndale’s Amir Coston (11th-2A), who took a win by fall in 58 seconds.
Adding thirds for the Noles were Andres Sanchez (145), DeShawn Bristow-Harris (170) and Jeremiah Williams (195).
War Eagle girls: Seminole’s Hailey Meadows (140) was second in girls’ roundrobin competition, while the Lady Noles’ Rylee Queene (140) and Chaunti Clark (235) both took thirds.
Meadows was 1-1 in the 140 bracket, with a 14-3 major over Queene in the first match before losing to Vero Beach’s Shyonte Stinson by fall (5 minutes). Queene also took a loss by pin to Stinson (1:23), going 0-2 on the day.
At 235, Clark was 1-3 in a five-person bracket, with a pin (:50) over Melbourne. Three girls in the weight class were 1-3, with Melbourne and Poinciana also in the mix; Clark lost to Poinciana, 3-2, and took losses by pin to eventual champ Hayeni Costa of Celebration and also to Auburndale.