Personal Note

Thoughts On The Weekend

Two years ago, the girls’ state tournament was a very different thing.

You wrestled all season — largely against boys, as there were very few girls’ only tournaments — and then the girls’ state tournament was the final weekend of the regular season.

There was no qualification process. Could you make weight and make the trip and have coaches on hand? Then you could compete at state. Some made the trip. Others didn’t. Some competed in both the girls’ state tournament and the boys’ state series. I myself often wondered why more solid girls in my coverage area didn’t compete at girls’ state. I guess we can never really know why, now.

This isn’t to criticize that tournament, I point this out merely to highlight the difference between THEN — a very-recent then — and NOW.

Now, there is a growing cycle of girls’ tournaments throughout the season. There is a culture within the culture that is certainly growing at a rapid rate, if not already developed or both.

I’ve gone to three girls-only tournaments this year, and there is definitely a different vibe, a vibe that I appreciate. A vibe that reminds me of the first couple of seasons I covered the sport, back in Iowa and Wisconsin, more than half a lifetime ago.

This weekend, for some, there was very real pain inside that vibe, both for some girls who didn’t move on to state, and for me.

Girls that — in some cases — have found a home and an identity in this crazy sport now will face an end. For the 12th-graders whose names follow in this piece, it’s a page-turning end in a year that is full of ends. Some will compete at the #NextLevel. Many more will not, and for them, it’s a career that ends almost as soon as it began, as many teams competing this weekend didn’t have individual girls on their roster two years ago, let alone full teams that a few schools have grown out of whole cloth.

For the past six years, Thoughts On Saturday is the article everyone wants to read.

It’s also the article in which no one wants to be listed. We didn’t do one on the girls’ side last year because, quite honestly, I had (and still very much have) so much to do that I didn’t think about it.

So this is the inaugural Thoughts On The Weekend. Has to be weekend because Region 2 was contested Friday.

As I have said in each TOS…

“The intensity of the emotion, no matter the venue, never changes.

No less a philosopher than the legendary Terry Brands (of course I’m going to name-check an Iowa wrestler) said about this sport, “You get what you earn.”

That’s true, and it’s not true.

Many of these kids should be at states. A few of them have been. One or two has podiumed there.

I hear the moms and dads now: Why not say something about all the kids that lost in the blood round, whether they’re seniors or not? It hurts for them, too.

I agree and you have a point. However, most, thankfully, have a chance to come back and gain redemption in subsequent years. But this is the cruelest of fates for these few (and yet, always, too many), the seniors who have their high school careers end in the blood round. For virtually all of them, this is their final moment for them. My son had a similar fate in track and field four years ago, in his senior season of HS, and between injuries sustained in college and Covid, he never got to compete in the sport again. So I get it, a bit.

It’s carnage out there. I hate it. And I can’t stop watching it. I’m never going to forget those emotions, the highs and the lows. They’re absolutely beautiful, and they’re absolutely shattering. THAT is why I cover this sport.

That’s why I feel sorrow for these kids that follow in this list. Precious few teenagers are willing to step up and do what it takes just to even say that they are wrestlers, let alone be good enough to have a chance to test their ability on the state stage. Precious damn few.

I know how hard they’ve worked, and, at the same time, I will never, ever truly know.”

And there’s one more thing to add. These seniors, especially, have INVESTED in the well-being of their younger teammates. On the mat. Off the mat. And those younger teammates have bonded to them as though they were the older sisters that, in several cases, they may not happen to have.

So this is not just the seniors’ loss of opportunity. It’s a loss for their teammates as well. And, perhaps we’ll see this as this FHSAA series continues to grow legs under it, these losses may provide fuel for those younger teammates to find new levels in their own work ethic and reach that state stage, to stand upon the shoulders of those who strove, and came up short.

We begin with the list of seniors we might never have seen once, never covered once.

Region 2: Nyla Rocke. Erica Diroche’. Shelby Mills.

Region 3: Alanis Cosme. Jessica Hill. Angelina Castro. Faith Casso. Carin Abdelnour. Kaitlyn Alvarez.

Region 4: Kylie Castro. Shayana St Cyr. Maria Sanfiel. Annabelle Guillaume. Daniella Flores.

Some names I know from following what, for me, is the official state rankings on Kabra. Some, I’ve seen wrestle northern kids. I hope your name is spelled correctly here. I start with the region brackets, then go into the rosters on Trackwrestling (which has not been a sure bet of late for accuracy in names). I tried to make sure that I didn’t miss you. I hope I did not; if I advertently did, I sincerely apologize (especially to South Dade’s Aviatzi Gonzalez, who’s a senior in the R4 bracket and a sophomore on the original roster).

Now for my local kids. And they are, in fact, “my” kids (this is always the HARD part).

Deanna Walker. You impressed me yesterday. You wrestled someone that, at their school, is considered the strongest girl on the team and in many ways you out-stronged her. I’ve been watching Baker County girls wrestle for years. I had hoped you’d join Makayla. Now you have to cheer her on these next two weeks, and cheer your brother on next week at Wewahitchka.

Kiona Upegui. It seems like you’ve been a Bobcat forever, you and Talia both. I was seeing your JV results even before girls’ wrestling was sanctioned. I hope your example will be one that brings more Buchholz girls into the sport, more city of Gainesville girls into the sport, more Gainesville kids into the sport. The sport needs kids like you, especially Gainesville kids like you.

Megan Dathe. It’s always a tough thing when you have to go through two wrestlers who are likely to make state podium and that’s your road to get to state. But you’ve had good practice partners in your time at Hagerty, excellent and upstanding coaches that have helped shape you, and you have had an excellent place to grow in this sport. The lessons you will gain from the sport will ultimately be very rewarding.0

Jana El’harake. After falling in the state blood round last year, I saw big things for you, and it was your leadership that has built this really nicely-growing program that Oviedo’s starting to generate there. It’s hard to beat someone in the blood round when your last memory of her is a very quick pin. But you have had an excellent, excellent career and this will just be a page to turn.

Yosselyn Flores. Your boys teammates have had an awful lot of success this year, and that’s a bit of extra pressure to put that DeLand singlet on this year, because the opponent may not know you, but if they’ve followed the sport, they know DeLand. And you made history this year! You are the first Lady Bulldog to ever win a district wrestling title. That’s yours. FOREVER.

Vanessa Stobe. There’s so much talent on your team. And they’re only going to get better, and there will be more talented girls coming. The virtue you brought is that you brought everything you possibly could to the table. Remember how you outlasted your opponents that you’ve beaten this year. You worked exceptionally hard on the mats, and your teammates will remember that work ethic next year.

Katherine Lundgren. I’m not sure what kept you away from the NBH lineup for a couple of seasons, but I’m very much glad you came back this year. It’s been cool to see the development of the Lady Buccaneers’ program; it’s going to go places in the next few years. Like I said about Yosselyn, you’re the first girl to win a district wrestling title (and you beat a region champ in doing it).

Degriece Coleman. I’ve been to your school often enough to know some things. Resources are tough to find. Support is hard to come by. Sometimes, it feels like Wolverines against the world. But you’ve made The Show in your time. You were, are, and forever will be part of the original Westside girls’ wrestling team from its inception. And Karla will need you these next two weeks to keep her sharp.

Jayden Dodge. When I left Matanzas on Saturday, I was hoping your shoulder would be able to hold up well enough to make it through, because not only have you been good enough to make #TheShow, you were good enough to podium last year. You’ve had a lot to live up to, being part of the unofficial “first family” of Ocala-area wrestling in recent years. But you’ve been a two-time district champion; I don’t know who would have been the last West Port wrestler to do that; I do know no other girl has done it. You’ve built your own story within your family’s treasure trove, and your school’s history, of wrestling accomplishment. And it will last for a good while to come.

Phia Mallon. I know you didn’t compete this weekend, and therefore some might wonder why you’re here. You’re here because I heard you. At the two PVHS girls’ invites I’ve been to. At Ponte Vedra BOYS’ duals. At Clay Rotary. At Lake Mary. And definitely Saturday, albeit in street clothes. And I heard you not just for your high school teammates, but your neighboring rivals too. Go back and re-read that paragraph about investing in the well-being of your teammates. You’re not the most talented senior on your team. But that girl up there in that paragraph? The girl that Erin and Natalia and Sofia and Donavanne, and the rest of the freshmen look to for support, the shoulders they stand on? That’s you. And that’s why you’re here.

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