By MATMEN, Tuesday, 10:50 p.m.
KISSIMMEE — The main focus of 1A-Region 1 has been north-central Florida. It’s been that way for some time now.
But the Panhandle has been telling us they’re on the way. And, with two finalists in last weekend’s FHSAA 1A state tournament, it’s time to start believing the message.
Panhandle juniors David Mercado (220), of North Bay Haven, and Bay junior Derrick Williams (113), along with Palatka senior Mikade Harvey at 138 and Yulee sophomore Alex Smith at 195, all got to the finals Saturday evening at Silver Spurs Arena.
But only Mercado would take the top step of the podium, decisioning Mater Lakes Academy sophomore Damian Soto, the Region 4 champ, by a 6-4 count to win his school’s first state wrestling title and the third Panhandle wrestler to win state titles in the last four seasons (Pace’s Gabe Jacobs in 2020 in 2A and South Walton’s Max Brewster last year in 1A).
And he didn’t let a broken finger in his left hand slow him down against Soto, breaking open a scoreless tie behind an escape and takedown midway through the period. Soto would reverse out, but Mercado reversed back just as the period ended; that, and a strong ride for nearly all of the third, had to be enough to secure the decision, as Soto did close the gap with a late reverse out, but couldn’t get closer.
“I learned (from previous tournament experiences) that I had to watch how nervous I had been getting before,” Mercado, now a 3x state qualifier and 2x placer (4th at 195 last year), said. “It makes a difference in how you roll. Before, I would just be in a cold sweat, but this year I was able to distract myself, listening to music and talking to coaches. That helped a lot.”
Mercado’s offseason teammate, Williams, was the first of the finals quartet to go on the mats Saturday. A two-time placewinner (Williams was 5th in 2A-106 last year for Mosley), he took on Region 4 champion and Somerset Academy 7th-grader Jovani Solis, the younger brother of 3A-138 champ Elvis Solis of South Dade. Jovani Solis showed he had all the speed and chops of his older brother, taking Williams down five times in an 11-3 major. Solis scored in each period, riding for more than a minute and allowing Williams only three escapes in the match.
Harvey would be closer in his final at 138 against Cardinal Gibbons’ Nicholas Yancey; although he would have only escapes for the first 2 1/2 periods against the defending 2x state champion, Harvey would get a late takedown to close to within a point, but couldn’t follow up on the scoring move, falling by a 7-6 count and finishing his career with three state medals (6th-106 in 2021, 3rd-132 last year along with the second this year).
Smith faced off with Cardinal Gibbons freshman Michael Mocco in the 195 championship match; it was the first meeting they’d had since the 2022 1A quarterfinals at 182, when Mocco was at Coral Springs Charter; then, Mocco won by tech fall en route to a 3rd-place medal. This time, though Smith was able to force Mocco to go all six minutes, he still couldn’t put together any offense, as Mocco had five takedowns and a quick turn early in the third period for a 13-6 decision.
Teamwise, Suwannee had the top Region 1 finish, taking ninth with 68.5 points behind five medal-winning individual efforts. Yulee, with 56 points, was 11th, Florida High (39.5 points) 13th, Fernandina Beach (32) 16th, Bishop Kenny (28) 18th, and North Bay Haven (26) 19th.
Bay, with 21.5 points, was 21st, with Palatka 22nd (20 points), Wakulla & Wewahitchka T-23rd (19 each), West Nassau 27th (16), Liberty County 32nd (11), Episcopal & Raines T-35th (eight), South Walton T-39th (seven), Rutherford T-44th (six) and Union County T-52nd (three).
Jensen Beach surged past Somerset Academy in the finals round to take the team title with 177.5 points to Somerset’s 170, with First Baptist-Naples third (133.5), Mater Lakes Academy fourth (125.5) and Palm Bay fifth (109).
A brief summary of each weight class follows, along with a look at our predictions made pre-tournament. Look for the photo albums of Saturday’s action on the North Florida Matmen Facebook page (photos will be posted to Instagram later this week).
Championship: Mason O’Dell (Mater Lakes Academy) d. Jake Austin (Somerset Academy), 6-4.
Local how they fared: Florida High’s Jasper Croom was 5th and Wakulla’s Connor Brown was 7th. After an 11-5 consi-semi loss to Jensen Beach’s Ben Norris, in which Norris grabbed up four takedowns and a second-period turn, Croom reprised his quarterfinal pin in the fifth-place match, falling Chamberlain’s Uy’Kown Wimberly in 3:31. Aside from a mid-first period reversal, Croom had all the offense in the match with two takedowns and a reversal prior to the fall. That was the case for Brown, as well, in a 12-4 major over Weeki Wachee’s Nick Guy, as Brown avenged a round-1 loss by fall with four takedowns and a reversal after giving up first takedown.
How crazy were my picks?: We had six of the eight eventual placers named in the preview, so that’s not too bad. But we had only Barnes, along with runnerup Austin, put into the correct matches. Otherwise there was some shuffling along the way. Our champ pick lost by one in the semis to the eventual champ, so in all not great, but not crazy, either.
Championship: Solis md. Williams, 11-3.
(Additional) local how they fared: As far as this year’s coverage area went, Suwannee’s Justin Contreras was the only other medalist, taking 8th, while a St Johns County resident, Cocoa Beach’s Mario Del Vecchio, was sixth. In his only match, Contreras had a rematch with Gibbs’ Al’Zaveon Harris, and the outcome was the same, as he fell by a 5-2 count (Contreras had lost, 3-2 via ultimate tiebreaker, on Thursday), as Harris scored all five points he’d need in the second period. Rematches didn’t go Del Vecchio’s way on Saturday either, as he lost by fall (4:58) to Crystal River’s Blaine Reed in a rematch of the Region 2 final, and then lost by fall (:35) in the medal round to Sarasota Military’s Nate Varley in a rematch of Friday’s quarterfinal, which Varley had won by decision.
How crazy were my picks?: We had seven of the eight eventual placers named in the preview (3rd-place Gian Ortiz, the Region 4 4th whose only loss last weekend was to Del Vecchio in round 1, was the only one left off), and we had the correct final. We had Contreras in that 3rd-place match, and we had Del Vecchio going for 7th, so he moved up a spot. A solid if not spectacular effort.
Championship: Sebastian Degennaro (Jensen Beach) md. Jonathan Moder (First Baptist-Naples), 12-1.
Local how they fared: Suwannee’s Topher Pearson was 3rd, Liberty County’s Jay Brown 5th and Wewahitchka’s Jake Parker 6th. Pearson won twice over Region 1 rivals on Saturday, opening with a 14-3 major over Parker in the consi semis behind three scoring moves and an equal number of nearfall situations. Pearson would keep up the pressure in the third-place match against Hernando’s Jordyn Valle, staving off an early 5-point move to dominate the third period with 12 points on a pair of takedowns and two 3-point nearfalls to rally for a 14-8 win. Valle had advanced to Pearson behind a 9-6 consi-semi win over Brown, leading almost the entire way, with a 3-point nearfall early in the third the difference. In the fifth-place match, Parker had two first-period takedowns early to seize early momentum, but Brown would rally with late scores in the next two periods, a takedown in the final second of the 2nd period and then an escape with 12 seconds left to turn back Parker, 5-4, for fifth.
How crazy were my picks?: We had all eight placers in the preview, including the correct final, but we were off in some particulars otherwise. We had Pearson correctly going for third, Brown correctly going for 5th, but Parker was a spot higher than we thought after three consi-side wins (we thought he would not win against Lemon Bay in the consi quarters) and Valle was two spots higher; being a senior does sometimes matter.
Championship: Ryan Mooney (Jensen Beach) d. Matthew Velasco (Somerset Academy), 5-1.
Local how they fared: Suwannee’s Brody Boehm was 5th and the region’s only medalist. In the consi semis against First Baptist-Naples’ Asher Bacon, Boehm broke open a scoreless tie with an escape early in the second and made that lead nearly stand up, riding for more than 90 seconds before Bacon was able to reverse for a 2-1 win. In the medal round, though, Boehm put it on Lemon Bay’s Brycen Warren, with two scoring moves and four turns to win by tech fall (16-0 in 3:50).
How crazy were my picks?: We has seven of eight eventual placers named in the preview, with the championship match predicted; we had Boehm and Mater Lakes’ Ethan Tran flip-flopped (not really sure how we managed that, I’d have to look at my notes), and we missed on a consi-round 1 matchup. So for the most part, they were a pretty decent set of picks.
Championship: Gavin Nolan (Clearwater CC) d. Tristan Sainz (Somerset Academy), 8-5.
Local how they fared: Fernandina Beach’s Cael Kubatzke was the only Region 1 medalist, finishing 7th. Despite his Jensen Beach opponent, Charlie Armstrong, having the extra motivation of team points, Kubatzke was unfazed even after giving up first takedown, getting a reversal and eventual turn and fall in 1:46 to win his final match of the season.
How crazy were my picks?: We had seven of eight eventual placers named in the preview. But almost none of them, other than Sainz and Kubatzke, were put in the right medal matches. There were definitely some upsets, based upon the rankings, but we had the general idea about most of the placers.
Championship: Yancey d. Harvey, 7-6.
(Additional) local how they fared:
How crazy were my picks?: We had six of the eventual eight placers noted in our preview, including the correct championship final (which I did not think would be as close as it was, between a first-time finalist in Harvey and a returning champ in Yancey). The remaining medal-round winners (Palm Bay’s Ronald Theilacker for 3rd, Somerset’s Kevin Concepcion for 5th and Mater Lakes’ Eric Hodge for 7th) we had in the correct medal-match slots.
Championship: Jewell Williams (Jensen Beach) d. Michael Kersey (First Baptist-Naples), 6-0.
Local how they fared: Wakulla’s Jae T Thaxton was 7th and the only Region 1 medalist. In his only match of the day, Thaxton got first takedown just 11 seconds in and hit a big turn before the end of the first, adding a takedown and riding in the second, then adding a third before allowing a late reversal in a 9-2 win over Zephyrhills Christian’s Aiden Hutchins.
How crazy were my picks?: We had seven of the eight placers named in our preview, with the eighth placer, Hutchins, named as an unranked wrestler under the radar. But the how and why was kinda jacked up. Our instinct was to go with a defending champ in Williams, but we went against our instinct and we were wrong. We also put forward a defending champ in Florio, and he was knocked off in the quarters by Mt Dora’s DJ Richards, whom we had in the fifth-place match; he wound up there, but only due to injury after his semifinal loss to Williams.
Championship: Dylan Fox (Jensen Beach) p. Kalias Nazario (Mater Lakes Academy), 5:21.
Local how they fared: Bishop Kenny’s Roberto Cuartero was 4th and Suwannee’s Austin McKinney was 5th. Cuartero set the tone in the top consi-semi against Somerset’s Luis Bellon, with a 3-point nearfall in the second and a takedown in the third, plus a penalty point en route to a 7-0 decision. In the third-place match, with Palm Bay’s Nathan Furman, Cuartero struggled more, as Furman had a takedown in the first period and reversal in the second, riding after that and eventually winning by pin in 3:40. Furman also set the tone against McKinney in the bottom consi semi, also using a tough ride to win by pin in 3:46. McKinney would rally in the fifth-place match against Bellon, with two takedowns and a 3-point nearfall before taking the fall in 3:41.
How crazy were my picks?: We had six eventual placers noted in our preview, with Nazario knocking off McKinney in the quarters — which we did not expect — en route to the final, which was a rematch of the Region 4 title match. We had Cuartero in the right medal round, but we thought McKinney would fare better in the top half, though we only missed on what happened in the quarters.
Championship: Kendrick Hodge (Somerset Academy) d. Gavin Patton (First Baptist-Naples), 9-3.
Local how they fared: Fernandina Beach’s Enzo Gamba was 3rd, Suwannee’s Austin Howard 5th and Wewahitchka’s Conner Roberts 6th. Gamba was on point all day Saturday, needing just one takedown to take a fall in the consi semis over Howard (1:45), then holding Lemon Bay’s Nick Sheets scoreless in an 8-0 major behind three takedowns, plus an escape six seconds into the second period and a penalty point after two stall warnings on Sheets. Sheets fared better in the consi-semi against Roberts, with three takedowns for a 7-1 decision; from there, Roberts medical-forfeited to Howard in the fifth-place match.
How crazy were my picks?: We had seven of the eight eventual placers named in the preview. What we basically got wrong was the Patton win over Howard in the quarters (to be fair, it turned out a 1-0 decision) and the Roberts/Sheets consi semi; otherwise, we pretty much had it right. Sheets winning three matches in the consis after falling to Gamba in the quarters was our biggest miss; we’ll wear that, because we otherwise did well.
Championship: Kyle Grey (Lincoln Park Academy) d. Koen Hoffman (Lemon Bay), 3-2.
Local how they fared: Yulee’s Dylan Johns was 4th. Johns was entirely solid for all of the contested time he spent on the mat Saturday, with three takedowns — one in each period — for an 8-4 decision to move into the third-place match. There against Palm Bay’s Brycen Turner, Johns was pushing the pace, with takedowns in both the first and second period before an injury on the mat cut short his match, as he was forced to default to Turner.
How crazy were my picks?: Not much at all. We had seven of the eight eventual placers noted in our preview. We had the correct championship final; we had Johns, Gibbons’ Richard Tauriello and Mater Lakes’ Calogero Mazzrillo in the right medal round. We had McNabb beating Turner in the consi semis; the only one we didn’t account for was former Lake Weir wrestler Grant Kincannon, now at Villages, who was 8th.
Championship: Christian Moder (First Baptist-Naples) md. Chase Alden (Lemon Bay), 12-2.
Local how they fared: West Nassau’s Nolan McKelvy was 4th, Florida High’s Xander Hawkes 5th and Bishop Kenny’s Collin Hearn 6th. McKelvy fought off his back in the second period, with Hawkes securing a nearfall, to get a turn of his own early in the third before a second turn led to a pin over Hawkes in 5:48. McKelvy couldn’t manage more than three escapes in the medal round against Clearwater CC’s Carson Schiavello, who had takedowns in each period, the third as part of a 5-point move, in a 9-3 decision. Schiavello got to McKelvy with a second-period fall over Hearn (2:39); in the 5th-place match, there was a brief flurry, with a Hawkes takedown and reversals by each wrestler within a 24-second portion of the first period, with Hawkes taking the pin in 1:23.
How crazy were my picks?: We had six of the eight eventual placers named in the preview, including the correct championship final; what we didn’t expect (but were certainly glad for) were Hawkes and Hearn battling through enough rounds of consis to make podium. The state rankings certainly justified most of my conclusions on this point.
Championship: Mocco d. Smith, 13-6.
(Additional) local how they fared: Episcopal’s Christian McGarity was 8th. McGarity couldn’t get any offense started against Sarasota Military’s Caleb Dickerson, falling by a 5-0 decision. Dickerson had takedowns late in both the first and second periods, riding McGarity out for all of the third.
How crazy were my picks?: We’ll just say it. We did not expect Smith to make a run to the final this year, and him pinning our projected finalist in the quarters was not expected at all. That wasn’t me sandbagging the pick; that was all ‘The Hammer.’ And we also thought McGarity was also a year away; I expected a round-1 loss, so his making the podium proved me wrong. But we did have six of the eventual eight placers in our preview. Not great, because I underestimated the local guys.
Championship: Mercado d. Soto, 6-4.
(Additional) local how they fared: Florida High’s Collin Bishop was 6th and Wakulla’s Kohl Pippin 8th. Bishop had an uphill struggle Saturday after two Friday wins, with no points scored against Lemon Bay’s Ben Arnett (also the case in their round-1 meeting Thursday) before Arnett won by fall in 4:30, followed by a second loss by pin to Key West’s Ralph Riche (1:20), in which Riche needed just one takedown before winning by fall. As for Pippin, he couldn’t get untracked in the 7th-place match against Pinecrest Prep’s Nathan Chen, as one takedown was enough for Chen to secure a fall in 1:24.
How crazy were my picks?: We had six of eight eventual placers noted in our preview. From there, that’s when things went sideways. One of our finalist picks was injured in the quarters; the other (the #1) lost by a 5-4 count to Arnett. We had Mercado and Soto in the third-place match. We also didn’t have either Bishop or Pippin noted anywhere in the preview, so they both definitely proved us wrong by making podium. The picks, in short, were more than a little crazy.
Championship: Devin Williams (Hernando) d. Caleb Rodriguez (First Baptist-Naples), 4-0.
Local how they fared: Yulee’s Braylen Ricks was 4th and Raines’ Gregory Townsend placed 8th. Ricks needed just 46 seconds and one takedown to polish off Palm Bay’s Leonard Christian in the consi semis, but found himself on the other end of that arrangement in the medal round against Key West’s Andre Otto, as Otto — whose only loss was by a 1-0 count against Rodriguez in the semis — needed only one takedown to fall Ricks in 1:07. As for Townsend, he gave good scrap to Jefferson’s Carmine Morton in the 7th-place match, with two reversals and a nearfall, but Morton established control late in the second, taking a pin in 3:46.
How crazy were my picks?: We had the top five placers listed in our preview as being in contention for top-five spots, including the correct championship final (we did have Christian ahead of Ricks on the podium, MIGHT have been some thumbs on our prediction scales there), but we didn’t have a read on the depth of the medals, including Townsend, who won at least one more match than we expected (we thought he might beat Morton but in consi rd 1).
Final team scores and brackets for the 1A tournament can be found HERE.