Personal Note

Thoughts On Saturday

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 appear — the seniors whose last high school match is the blood round at regions.

I’ve seen several blood rounds; it’s the worst to watch and, having experienced it as a track parent, it’s the worst to go through with your son or daughter.

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

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 have podiumed there.

I hear the moms and dads now: Why not say something about all the kids that lost in the blood round? It hurts for them, too. And I agree. 100%. For most, thankfully hwoever, they have a chance to come back and gain redemption in subsequent years.

But this is the cruelest of fates, because not only is it their last high school match in a year full of lasts, but also — for virtually all of them — it’s the last time they’ll step on the wrestling mat as a competitor. And that’s something they can’t get back.

That’s why I feel sorrow for these kids that follow in this list, because 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 find out the answers 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.

We begin with our list of kids we never saw once, never covered once. In the past couple of years, I learned everybody wants to read this and nobody wants to read their name, or their son’s name, in this story.

3A-Region 2: Devin Lanier. Canon LoCastro. Davian Rivera. Jacob Edwards. Stephen Kofron. Noah Myrick. Randy Trowbridge. Thomas Hayes.

3A-Region 3: Zachary Shapiro. Jonathan Sopher. Nate Olson. Peter Duffy. Kendrick Wright. Jake Blair. Reggie Cuesta. Elijah Cherelus. Matthew Cassio. Brandon Ibarra. Malankov Daceus. Ahmed Toom. Zachary Joseph.

3A-Region 4: Adrian Diaz. Ryan Cominsky. Gabriel Herrero. Michael McCallum. Hector Cruz. Justin Alari. John Graul. Edgar Barreiro. Daniel Cuevas. Gyani Mosi.

2A-Region 2: Mason Ringate. Ryan Kinsey. Danosky Decaillon. Rafael Rodriguez. Adrian Covington. Dante Castro. Dayshaun Albertorio-Medina. Nicholas Lyle. Elijah Abreu.

2A-Region 3: Nathan McGill. Ethan DiNottia. Avion Jackson. Eric Paul. Javier DelRosario. Nick At. Cole Forbes. Nathan Hampton. Jakary Edwards. Cody Triplett. Gael Sanchez. Hamlet Rodriguez-Pena. Grabiel Rodriguez.

2A-Region 4: Henry Petit. Blaze Holly. Isaac Badell-Riviere. Colin Gilbert. Leonardo Valsaint. Warren Powell. Kevin Dunbar.

1A-Region 2: Blaise Nelson. Brett Wilke. Makhia Davis. Jerclarion Hilton. Dante Johnson-Turner. Cameron Jung. Miguel Suarez.

1A-Region 3: Daniel Garcia. Kassim Johnson. Michael Arthur. Samuel Haertle. James Miril. Roy Reyes. Jakob Francis. Jeremiah Fernandez. Johnathan Leon. Raistlin Sievert. Antonio Zampino. Aydan Holloway. Aidan Larkin.

1A-Region 4: Roberto Gilbert. Blake Seskin. Elyze Rinville. Ryan Sezumaga. Keon Taylor. Colten Byrd. Julian Valdes. Weston Andrews. Grant Cooper. D’warren Gordan. Tyrrell Haggins.

So many names I know. Have seen many of your names in Brant’s rankings. Have seen you wrestle northern kids.

If I’ve noted you in the above paragraphs, and your name is mis-spelled, my sincere apologies. I spelled it exactly as it appeared on the Trackwrestling bracket. I tried to look up every kid that didn’t have a school year listed. I might have missed one or two of you. For that, I apologize.

Now for my local kids. And they are, in fact, “my” kids.

So many names I know. Have seen you wrestle northern kids.

If I’ve noted you in the above paragraphs, and your name is mis-spelled, my sincere apologies. I spelled it exactly as it appeared on the Trackwrestling bracket. I tried to look up every kid that didn’t have a school year listed. I might have missed one or two of you. For that, I apologize.

Now for my local kids. And they are, in fact, “my” kids.

Julian Fuentes. A first-year (at least to Florida) senior at a program that’s still deep in development doesn’t usually generate the 12th-grade year that ends with 30 wins. While qualifying fourth isn’t all that unfamiliar for wrestlers in those sorts of programs, they don’t usually enter their first post-season tournament with the wildest first-round match of the weekend (37 points! Most of Iowa’s college football games don’t generate that many points); after losing that match, they don’t usually rally back with two pins and then avenge a district-semis loss to a wrestlers who’s been ranked for most of the season. You gave Milton a chance to think differently about the sport, and that will mean a lot.

Christian Garcia. I don’t have any records for you prior to last season, when you were a part-time starter in the middle, but your talent isn’t measured by your career record. I got to see you at Orange Park for a lttle bit and you showed a good range of ability. In your first Florida post-season, you won a district title and got to one match from the state tournament — twice, with a good win over a fellow wrestler featured in this space as well. I hope that you’ll continue to develop your capabilities as life takes you in new directions.

Jason Callahan. Tocoi Creek has only been around for two years as a program, and this year there were several kids in the mix that could go and do some real damage after last year going through all of the usual growing pains of a first-year program. You were one of those kids; you improved so much from last year to this, and while the other kids who joined you at regions all get to come back next year, or for multiple years, they could all look to you as the anchor of the lineup up top. It took a risk to join this team, and that willingness to go through some things to achieve something will definitely come in useful for you down the road.

Scott Busey. I can remember a time, not even all that very long ago, where Episcopal wrestling was one kid one year, another kid another year, that was in the mix for the state tournament. I can remember a time when Episcopal had almost no wrestlers in its program — but the ones it did have were exceptionally good. I like this version the best, though, with kids at most weights being in the mix to qualify for state and a group that is dangerous as both a dual and an IBT team. The Eagles are getting very close to that, having won district duals and winning several titles. That took buy-in from the leaders, which you have been for a couple of seasons now.

William Lancer. Wrestling teams don’t work without the “glue” guys, the guys who move all around the lineup to wrestle where the team needs them most. There’ve been stars all around you during your four years — from Venu and Aiden to Max and Kason, they’ve needed you as a practice partner, someone to work through ideas and help them achieve their goals, and ther’ll be one more week of work for that. But it’s rare for the glue guys to get to shine on their own, and this weekend, you did. You went six-minutes plus with the eventual champion this weekend, you beat two very good competitors in the consis, and had a state qualifier on the ropes. That’s a very good tournament — for any guy.

Marshall Dixon. You took another step forward this season, moving one round farther than last year, your first to wrestle in the post-season. And I’m pretty sure you had the fastest pin of the 2A-Region 1 weekend this past weekend, but you just ran into two kids that were just better. You beat a formerly state-ranked kid this weekend and did almost everything you could to get yourself into #TheShow. Now, it’s time to get Andrew ready, for he will need you this week. We only got to see you for two seasons, but while you were here wrestling with us, you had a good win percentage. Use the lessons you’ve learned from a veteran coaching staff to build that kind of win percentage in your next adventures.

Colin Hadlock. I can remember a time when Union County didn’t have wrestling; this year’s senior group was the first one to have it all four years. For those of you in that group, some had a consistent evolution to growth and some seemed to just rise up all at once and this senior year seemed to be that year for you where everything started clicking. This weekend was not — 100% — one of those times, but it took two state qualifiers to beat you, the second one — like you — with a career on the line. There were team successes this year — the team’s first district title as a program for one — and you played a big part in that.

Ryan Culbertson. Four region appearances, three of them at the same weight and last year you were able to represent Seminole and qualify out. You know what it’s like to survive the blood round, to find a way or make one, and you know that sometimes this process isn’t always the fairest. You’ve been a district champion as well as a state qualifier, and what you’ve been able to learn in your four years as a starter is that a career isn’t defined by one weekend. The Noles have had higher-profile kids in the lineup while you’ve been there, but it was wrestlers like you that have made things go there.

Landen Solomon. For a while now, your role was to serve as the backups to some really good wrestlers, kids who moved on and graduated last year, and you were able to really only showcase yourself as a starter for one season. Being willing to put your own individual needs aside to be a part of a program like Clay’s, however, takes a lot of discipline. Discipline that will serve you well down the road. During this tournament, you defeated former state qualifiers, former multiple-time district champs, and a county rival, and it took only the effort of two multiple-time state qualifiers to keep you from states. Your place in the Clay tradition is well-secured.

Preston Pena. You’ve had excellent team and individual success since beomcing a full-time starter for the Bears. Two district titles, that’s no walk in the park to achieve. Two-time duals region qualifier and a team district title this year. Those don’t happen by accident. And not only have you made it to #TheShow, you bonus-pointed through to a region runnerup position last year in getting there, including two pins over very good seniors, one of whom we wrote about in this space last year. Now, it’s time to help Ethan with some strength work this week and there’ll be some time left to help Grady get next year where you’ve been.

Dean Wright. You’ve been around long enough to see the end of one era of Florida High wrestling and, this year, perhaps the start of another one. After years of being in the mix for the Noles, and a sophomore year where I didn’t have you wrestling, you were able to get to the state tournament last year. And this year, the Seminoles were on the cusp of returning to their former years in the late 2010s, the days of the Metcalfs and Cam and Will; you got to be a part of both. You’re the bridge between the programs, and I’m sure you will get so many more chances to succeed in future years.

Jayden Thomas. You’ve had to be the face of the team this year after getting to learn from the McGuigans three years ago and seeing Joseph excel by going everywhere for two years running after that. Last year, you didn’t get a chance to compete at this level. But this year we got to see you go out and giving some of the best wrestling we’ve seen from you since sophomore year, finishing up with three pins and losses only to two multiple-time state qualifiers. Not the fairytale ending some get, but you got to finish your career giving your best effort; remember that as you move into new ventures.

Andy Delva. I haven’t covered Ocoee for very long — only two years closely, and kind of loosely before then — but I’ve seen enough to know how much work you’ve put in over the years, what it’s gotten you, and what that work has meant for your team. I firmly believe the Knights are a team that’s right on the cusp of breaking out, and a lot of that is going to be due to the work that you and Keniel have done, not just this year but over all four years. Now it’s time to get Donnell some speed work that he’s going to need this week to get him ready to take things to the next step.

Keniel Carrasquillo. I saw how much getting to state mattered to you in your consi quarter match on Saturday. In attempting to get a takedown you went into the wall of the DeLand gym. You did what it took in sudden victory to find a way in that round, but sometimes you get the guy and other times the other guy — with as much to gain and lose as you — gets you. But the grit and determination you showed don’t walk away as you walk away from the mats. They will stay, and perhaps the next time, it will be you that achieves what you are seeking. Journey, not destination.

Elijah Stillgess. It feels like I have been writing about you for nearly a decade now, even when I was writing about you and putting in Zander’s or Xavier’s name, or when I was writing about them and putting your name down. But it’s been fun to give it a try to be accurate. It’s been a tough couple of years to see the post-seasons end in this way; once is hard to do, but two is really difficult. But Bay getting out to the region duals round and winning a team district IBT title, those are real accomplishments. You winning your first district title, that is a real accomplishment, and those accomplishments will stay with you.

Conner Wright. Creekside has representation in the state tournament, and unfortunately you are not getting to join in next week, but everything the Knights are — quietly consistent, willing to take direction to improve, steadfastly relentless to the work of the sport — has been you. You deserved a better fate than two years coming up short in the blood round. But showing up, doing the work, committing to doing it well, those are qualities that are going to sustain you long beyond the wrestling mats. I am certain in that future challenges, you will be successful because of what’s happened these last two years.

Jhalill Richardson. Raines had a tough year this year. Had to go back to the drawing board on finding some new kids to come out, and it was good to see you be one of those, because when the Vikings have been able to fill a lineup, good things have tended to happen with the coaching staff that you’ve got. But it was definitely a year of growing pains, and it was starting to show, in my mind at least, that you and Gregory were starting to grow through them and out of them. This week, he’ll need you to help him get ready for states. I hope you’ll remember that it isn’t when you start something, but it’s what you bring to the table as you do it. Because you’ll continue to have a lot to bring.

Ben Helton. I won’t go into the whys and wherefores on moving from one program to another, but I am sure it was for the right reasons at the time, and you certainly seemed to benefit from it during the regular season and losing only to one of the state’s top-ranked kids in the district round. But it’s tough to fall in the blood round once again, especially when the last time was two seasons ago. Just know that I saw you being a good ambassador for the sport, not only for your team this year, but also for your former team; because even when one changes singlets, one doesn’t change personalities. You’re going to be good people for a good long while.

Nathan Hatch. Been a long strange trip. Promising start as a freshman but then you weren’t in the post-season lineup two years ago. Last year, everything clicked in getting out to the state tournament. Things got tougher this year, with Deltona being moved into 2A and into the region with perhaps the most starpower of the state. No matter; you buckled your chinstrap and just went to work, winning a district title. During your career, you won two of those. Your team got to the region round twice and won a district title in the past two years, and you were a huge part of that.

John Fernandez. One of the things that I have wanted to do with this site, and simply have not been able to find the time to not only start but bring to fruition, is to use the site to highlight the “other things” that the kids who do this crazy sport do besides wrestle. Because you’re one of dozens of examples of that. In your particular case, you’re a theater kid, and that means something to me personally, because I have two of them who deeply identify with that culture and two others who, like me, dabbled in it. I hope theater will take you everywhere you will want to go and that wrestling will buoy your efforts in getting there.

Nate Weber. You qualified for state in solid fashion, with a decent tournament there after getting to the region final in your freshman year, and we thought big things were in store for your career. Sophomore year, we have records for you but nothing in the post-season and we don’t have anything at all for last year. I thought you had perhaps moved; it happens a lot in the Panhandle. But you came back this year, bigger (expected, you’re a senior after all now), and with a 40+ win season that included three wins this weekend. I’m personally glad you came back and gave this thing one more shot.

Grady Bryant. Before being one of the emotional leaders of the best 3A team in the north this year, you were one of the best leaders on another team. When you moved over to DeLand, you didn’t just become part of a good team, you elevated it. It showed in the grit the Bulldogs have had these past two seasons. It has showed in the teamwork, the spirit, all of the intangibles that have made the success of this year happen. All those trophies that the group won this year wasn’t just because the group worked harder, it worked together better. The team success has been your success, because of what you brought. And your successes are not done, they will elevate.

Caden Kubatzke. It’s never easy to rebuild a program from the ground up, and it’s never easy to be a coach’s son. You’ve had to deal with both in your four years. This was a successful year, though, with 100+ career victories achieved, on top of a year last year that saw you get to state. As importantly, these four years, you’ve been part of a program that has returned to respectability after, five years ago, was barely able to fill even half a lineup. It took this year’s senior group — which you certainly helped lead — to buy into that vision, and it’s doubled in the efforts of Enzo, and Gauge and Cael, and now it’s time to take that work and put it into them, but I’m sure you’ll be able to do it. Kids with Geneseo roots don’t know how to not work hard.

Alexander Davidson. I know this weekend is a bitter pill. You found a way in round 1 over a former state qualifier. You beat a district champ in the quarterfinals. But a loss that doesn’t go your way, where you can’t mount an offense in a sport where you’re used to being the successful attacker, can be a difficult thing to overcome. So, too, can facing an opponent that has revenge on the mind — and just as much to lose as you. This sucks. I feel for you. But I am quite certain that you’re going to face these kinds of situations, not on the wrestling mat maybe, but in another arena where being experienced with adversity is going to matter, and your insight you’re gaining this weekend will serve you well.

The Elliott boys. Cody and Dillon. I’ve been a parent to an athlete who put in thousands of hours into his craft, only to come up short, so I think I have some understanding of what your house must be like today — but for it to be doubled? That is an exceptionally tough thing to happen. As, essentially, the bigs for the Timberwolves the last couple of years, there was a lot of pressure on you in duals to perform, because either there were two forfeits following you or very inexperienced kids following you. This was not an overnight success story. I had Cody at 5-2 his freshman year, 8-1 sophomore year, in part-time roles. Junior year, Dillon came on board and got to Saturday at regions, while Cody got more starts, but not in the post-season. This year was the shot for both of them. And you both gave all you had to get the fairy-tale ending, and it didn’t work out. One day, you both be far stronger for having gone through this.

Sam Tolomeo. Your first year as a starter, in the 2020-21 post-season, you were 5th at districts. A year before, that fifth would have meant that you’d’ve been working tables for Coach Marschka at regions. Instead, you got a chance to move on as an additional qualifier, and you made the most of it. You won four matches on your home mats and you qualified out for states. Next year, in the toughest district in Region 1 (any class) you were fourth. Got to the semis. Lost in the blood round to the crosstown rival. This year. District runnerup (your best finish). Three bonus-point wins this weekend. Rematch with the crosstown rival, in the blood round, once again. Battled. Fell short. But ever since you got in to regions and used your second chance to make it state, your story has mattered to me. Your story is the reason why having additional qualifiers matters (and, to be fair, it’s also the reason why there should be a match for true 4th at the region level). Your story is why I do this article and this website, because, sometimes in life, we don’t get a second chance, y’all; nothing is guaranteed.

So please remember these young men, wherever you happen to be where you read this. Remember Sam Tolomeo. Because the second chance can mean everything, in a world where nothing is handed to us.

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One reply on “Thoughts On Saturday”

Thank you so much for writing on the individual wrestlers whose love of this crazy sport ended in heartache. This was the year of the dream, that both boys would be state qualifiers and complete Dad/coaches dream. We all know that wrestling is a very unforgiving sport. Thank you for taking the time to reach out to each individual wrestlers story. Wrestling made Eric the man he is today and I hope his boys learn the same.

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