By MATMEN, Tuesday, 9:05 p.m.
KISSIMMEE — In the 2016 FHSAA 2A state tournament, Gainesville’s Traevon O’Neal shocked the world by clamping the Ryland Wagner-trained cradle upon Lake Gibson’s Diamante Perry — a future Division I wrestler — in the 113-lb championship match.
O’Neal was the last city of Gainesville state champion in the sport.
Until Saturday night, that is, when the city could claim not one, but two champs. And, next year, one of those two will be returning.
Buchholz senior Kason Nichols (195) and junior Cavarius Liddie (132) both ran the gauntlet of Class 3A wrestlers in their respective weight classes to bring state championships back to Gainesville after mounting the top step of the podium at Silver Spurs Arena.
But the Bobcat pair were not the only state champions to represent Region 1, as Bartram Trail’s Ethan Vugman brought back the first St Johns County state championship, on the boys’ side of the sport, since the late Shane Carpenter did so for Creekside in 2013.
Vugman was the first area wrestler to take the big stage in the 126 final, where he had a rematch of last year’s 120 final against Steinbrenner’s Colin Bradshaw. Where last year the match was wrestled at Bradshaw’s pace, Saturday night was almost exclusively at Vugman’s direction, with an offseason victory over Bradshaw certainly informing his approach. After a scoreless first period, Vugman scored first with a reversal 11 seconds into the second, and he then applied a tough rider for the rest of the second and most of the third. Bradshaw was able to get out, but Vugman had the superior strength advantage, and used it for a 2-1 win and his first state championship, to go with being a four-time state qualifier and three-time placer (4th at 113 in 2021 to go with the runnerup finish last year).
“This time, I was more used to the moment,” Vugman said of his more-composed approach in holding off the lankier Bradshaw’s attacks. “I knew I had the ability to win that match. I’d watched last year’s match over and over again. Winning in the offseason 100 percent made me understand I’m better than this kid. Winning this title and getting 200 (career) wins (during the course of state weekend), it’s the best thing ever. I’ll be going to (the University of) Florida and wrestle on the club team, and I’m excited for that.”
A couple of weights later, it would be Liddie, now a three-time qualifier and two-time placer (3rd last year at 126), who took on defending 3x placer and 2020 champion Danny Martinez of Southwest Miami in the 132 final. Liddie got first takedown 18 seconds into the match and held the lead into the second, only to see Martinez briefly surge ahead with a takedown of his own. Liddie would reverse out, and take the lead on an escape early in the third, but Martinez would regain the lead with 1:20 left and appeared to be on his way to a second title, but Liddie took advantage of a tiny opening to reverse out for the lead, then riding for a 7-6 win.
“Monday (before state),” Liddie said, upon being asked how soon he felt like a title was really possible. “Coaches texted me, telling me, ‘you could win a state title, and I believed them. He (Martinez) pinned me in the first period at Danny Byron. It was my first loss of the season, and getting that first loss really does something to you. Teammates and coaches and family, they all believed in me, they all said I could do it, and I became more confident every match.”
Later in the evening, it would be Nichols’ turn to try for the Bobcat double. After three earlier attempts (2-2 and Saturday qualifier at 132 in 2020, 0-2 at state 160 two years ago and a loss in last year’s blood round), with some good results but not some of the spectacular showings he flashed in his freshman year, he came back more re-energized for his final post-season, capping it off with an 11-5 decision over previously-unbeaten John Roberts of Vero Beach, in which Nichols had four takedowns and a quick turn late in the second period, allowing Roberts only escapes.
“This year I was finally able to push past the boundaries I’d set for myself, I was more able to unlock what I could do,” Nichols said. “After only going 1-2 (at state) last year, I knew I had to change my perspective. It took a lot of work. It was more mental than physical work, honestly, but I’d been OK with winning matches 2-1. I needed to work to dominate, to go after it, score more points, hit more scoring moves.”
The two championship runs, plus the performance of the rest of the Bobcats’ state-qualifying group, did enough to push Buchholz into the top 10 in the overall team standings, as the Bobcats were eighth with 58 points.
Hagerty, with 48 points, was 11th, while Vugman’s title run pushed Bartram into a T-12th finish, with 46. Winter Park, with 23.5 points, was T-22nd, while DeLand was 27th with 19. Lake Mary and Sandalwood tied for 29th, with 15 points, while Fletcher was 32nd with 14. Flagler Palm Coast and Timber Creek each were T-34th, with 12 points, with Lake Brantley 38th (10), Mandarin 39th (nine), Apopka T-40th (eight), West Orange T-47th (five), Evans, Oviedo & Windermere T-54th (three), and Nease & West Port T-63rd with one point. First Coast, Forest, Ocoee and Wekiva all had an entry but did not score.
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: Andrew Punzalan (Cypress Bay) d. Nathaniel Overman (Bloomingdale), 4-2, TB-1.
Local how they fared: No Region 1 wrestlers medaled.
How crazy were my picks?: I picked seven of eight wrestlers to medal that eventually did medal, with the correct championship final projected. We also had the eventual 3rd correctly slotted into the third-place match, but the other four medalists we had sprinkled into different spots in the medal round. Not too bad, all in all.
Championship: Tyler Washburn (Palmetto Ridge) p. Christian Vazquez (Doral Academy), 6:30, SV.
Local how they fared: Timber Creek’s Marlo Clark was 7th. Clark only had to weigh in, in order to finish 7th, winning by medical forfeit over Riverdale’s Charlie Smiarowski.
How crazy were my picks?: We had seven of eight placers correctly earning medals, as noted in my preview, and we had Clark correctly slotted into the the 7th-place medal match. Washburn, Southridge’s Fredrick Mitchum and South Dade’s Guillermo Jaramillo all were picked into the correct medal round as well. So it wasn’t in all too bad.
Championship: Luis Acevedo (South Dade) d. Blaine Taranto (Venice), 8-6, SV.
Local how they fared: No Region 1 wrestlers medaled.
How crazy were my picks?: We had seven of the eight eventual placers noted in our preview (the only one we had listed was former Oakleaf wrestler Egan Gustilo, now at Tohopekaliga). We had the correct champiopnship final, and three other wrestlers (Wellington’s Sam Marvel, Osceola’s Evan Martinez and Columbus’ Brandon Villa) all in the right medal-round match.
Championship: Vugman d. Bradshaw, 2-1.
(Additional) local how they fared: Lake Brantley’s Dario Duany was 5th and West Orange’s Raymond Cavey 8th. The day didn’t start off well for Duany, even after getting first takedown and building a 3-0 lead, as Doral Academy’s Julian Montero erased that lead and rode effectively in the third period, securing a pin in 4:53. Things turned Duany’s way in the fifth-place match against Olympic Heights’ Adriel Pina, as Duany had a takedown and established control from there, with a pin in 1:30. As for Cavey, he was tied through the first 90 seconds with Southwest Miami’s Angel Delgado, but Delgado then got a takedown, adding a second-period reversal before pinning Cavey in 3:37.
How crazy were my picks?: We had five of the eight eventual placers noted in our preview, including correct placements in both the championship and third-place matches. We also had Duany as an unranked under-the-radar wrestler, and his winning of four consi-side matches to make podium certainly was unexpected by me.
Championship: Liddie d. Martinez, 7-6.
(Additional) local how they fared: Hagerty’s Nikolas Blake was 4th and Flagler Palm Coast’s Kole Hannant was 7th. Blake largely dominated his consi-semi match against Strawberry Crest’s Frank Font, with a takedown and later nearfall in the first period, plus a pair of reversals in the second before pinning Font in 3:56. But the shoe was on the other foot against Harmony’s Rey Ortiz, who needed just one takedown to take the pin a few seconds later, in :57. In his final high school match, Hannant didn’t allow a single point against Riverdale’s Zachary Balma, with takedowns in the first and second period, and a reversal early in the third, from which he was able to pin Balma in 5:43.
How crazy were my picks?: We had the top five wrestlers noted in our preview, with the correct championship and third-place finals and seven of the eight overall placers. We didn’t have Hannant on the medal stand, however; he beat the guy we thought (or MAYBE intentionally picked against Hannant) would make it out. So they were not too bad, all in all.
Championship: Elvis Solis (South Dade) md. Aaron Lanster (Miami Beach), 11-3.
Local how they fared: Apopka’s Tamarion Kendrick was 6th and was the region’s only medalist. In taking two losses Saturday, Kendrick opened with eventual 3rd Nicholas Romero of Riverview, a former champion, and while Kendrick avoided any turns, he did give up a pair of takedowns and a penalty point in a 6-0 loss. The battle for fifth was tighter against Freedom’s Eric Aja, as neither had a takedown, but Aja did score an escape and forced a penalty point in the third period for a 2-0 win.
How crazy were my picks?: In a battle of state champions, we picked the wrong one in our projections, though otherwise we had the top six correctly placed with Lanster and fourth-place Shawn McCallister (Harmony) in the right medal round, plus I correctly picked the fifth-place match.
Championship: Anderson Heap (Osceola) d. Misha Arbos (South Dade), 3-1.
Local how they fared: Winter Park’s James Gonzalez was 5th and Evans’ Tyran Schanck 8th. Gonzalez hung in on mostly equal terms in the consi semi against Blooomingdale’s Jose Milord, but Milord grabbed a takedown late in the second, adding an insurance takedown for a 5-1 decision. Gonzalez then won by injury default in the fifth-place match over Steinbrenner’s Reid Noble. In his only match Saturday, already having secured Evans’ first state wrestling medal finish since 2001, Schanck held off Wellington’s Randy Lancaster for most of the first period before Lancaster had a pair of takedowns and a quick turn, which was enough to keep Schanck’s late reversal and earned stall point at bay in a 6-4 decision.
How crazy were my picks?: We had the top five correctly picked to medal, although we didn’t predict Arbos to defeat Noble in the semis, so the pair were reversed. We did have Schanck as an unranked wrestler under the radar, and any time such wrestlers made podium as Schanck did, that’s a win for us. But otherwise, we struggled with the depth picks in this weight class.
Championship: Cooper Haase (Osceola) p. Alexander Soto (Riverdale), 1:12.
Local how they fared: Winter Park’s Joey Parker was 5th and was the only Region 1 medalist. Parker hit some struggles against multiple-time finalist Gavin Balmeceda of South Dade; Balmeceda took advantage, with four takedowns and a quick turn midway through the third for a 12-3 major. However, Parker rallied against Ft Pierce Central’s JT Apicella in the fifth-place match, with a goahead takedown late in the first and a mid-third period insurance takedown good for a 4-1 win.
How crazy were my picks?: As it turned out, not too crazy at all, as we hit on seven of eight eventual placers, and, further, we had each of the championship, third-place and fifth-place medal rounds accurately picked. We only missed half of the 7th place match; our guy lost by one point in round 1, which was the wrong way to go, because Apicella was in his way.
Championship: Adrian Ochoa (Southwest Miami) d. Cordell White (South Dade), 3-0.
Local how they fared: Hagerty’s Kamdon Harrison was 3rd and Fletcher’s Josh Daltro 8th. Harrison completed a set of all pins in getting back to the medal round after an 8-6 loss in round 1, opening with a 57-second fall over Wellington’s Mac Andrews, in which Harrison needed just one takedown. Overcoming Palm Harbor University’s Joseph Cuttitta in the third-place match was tougher, especially after giving up first takedown, but he later escaped and had a takedown of his own, adding a quick turn in the second period in taking a 7-4 decision over Cuttitta. Daltro couldn’t get untracked in the medal round against Southridge’s Julian Mayorga, giving up one takedown that Mayorga used to assert control and take a pin in 1:08.
How crazy were my picks?: We had seven of the eight eventual placers noted in our preview, including the correct final. We had Harrison correctly going for third (though not via that path), we had Cuttitta and Mayorga essentially in reverse, while the wildcard of the tournament, who knocked off Harrison in round 1, we thought Daltro would get to that round.
Championship: Lawrence Rosario (South Dade) p. Roman Garcia (Palmetto Ridge), 2:22.
Local how they fared: No Region 1 wrestlers medaled.
How crazy were my picks?: First off, have a weekend, Lawrence Rosario! Beating a former state champ and placer in back-to-back rounds isn’t easy. As for the picks, we had seven of eight projected placers make the medal stand, but none of the seven we had placing wrestled for the medals at which we had projected them, but we had a a basic — some might say very basic — idea of what was going to happen.
Championship: Franklyn Ordonez (Southwest Miami) d. Dominic Joyce (North Port), 4-2.
Local how they fared: Hagerty’s Hunter Tate was 6th, Bartram Trail’s John McNames 7th and Sandalwood’s Malachi Mista 8th. Tate opened his day with Cypress Bay’s second-ranked Zach Weidler, and Weidler needed only one takedown to assert control, taking a pin over Tate in 1:53. Tate was able to go six with South Dade’s Chris Sanchez in the medal round, but still gave up three takedowns, one in each period, and a pair of third-period nearfalls in falling, 12-2, to take sixth. In the all-local 7th-place match, McNames started fast against Mista, with a pair of nearfalls in the first period in building a 7-0 lead, which largely held up at the of McNames’ fall in 3:25.
How crazy were my picks?: In some ways, our picks were pretty good. We picked the correct third place and half of both the championship and fifth-place matches (we missed on Sanchez, having him in the final). And we had two additional locals in the 7th-place match, neither of which we projected would better. So…”some maybe good, some maybe sheet.”
Championship: Nichols d. Roberts, 11-5.
(Additional) local how they fared: Sandalwood’s Duffy Mista was 5th and Flagler Palm Coast’s Dalton Schell 8th. In the consi semis against Miami Palmetto’s Richard Alexander, Mista gave up takedowns in both the first and second periods before losing by fall in 3:45, but rallied to shut out Osceola’s Jomar Sanchez, 4-0, for fifth. After a scoreless first period, Mista reversed out to open the second and then bagged an insurance takedown with :37 left in the match. In his only match Saturday, Schell allowed takedowns in each period to Barbara Goleman’s Edwin Guillen, with two in the final minute to pull away for an 8-4 decision.
How crazy were my picks?: We wound up with seven eventual placers, so that was good. The goodness stopped there. Your state champion was projected for seventh. We did not have Mista on the podium. Our final matched the eventual 3rd against the eventual 6th. Other than Schell, not one wrestler wound up wrestling for the medal we projected this weekend. Not good at all.
Championship: Sawyer Bartelt (South Dade) p. Jonathan Fraga (Southwest Miami), 1:46.
Local how they fared: Lake Mary’s Michael Frederick was 4th, Mandarin’s Jaelen Simmons 5th and Bartram Trail’s Shane Armstrong 6th. Frederick and Armstrong met in the consi semis, with both getting takedowns in either the first or second periods before Frederick drew clear midway through the third with a pair of takedowns that Armstrong could not answer, as Frederick took an 8-6 win. Simmons couldn’t get much going in his consi semi with Osceola’s Elijah Vansickle, who had a pair of takedowns and rode for nearly five minutes in a 4-0 win. Frederick also couldn’t come up with any offense in the third-place match against Vansickle, who got a turn in the second period and then chose top in the third, taking a fall in 4:17. In the fifth-place match, Simmons had takedowns in the first and second periods, allowing only escapes and a late penalty point in the second to hold off Armstrong, 5-4.
How crazy were my picks?: Well…they were pretty jacked up. We had one Region 1 medalist, and it was none of the actual guys who did medal (if the preview motivated you, you’re welcome). Wanna know how bad? Only three of our projected medalists — including perhaps the biggest slamdunk finals choice in any weight class in Bartelt — made it on the medals stand. Hey, our under-the-radar guy did finish 7th. That’s something, right? RIGHT?
Championship: Mason O’Dell (Mater Lakes Academy) d. Jake Austin (Somerset Academy), 6-4.
Local how they fared: DeLand’s Marion Smokes was 5th and Fletcher’s Toby Matson 8th. After scoring first takedown in the consi semis against South Dade’s Marcelo Rosario, Smokes couldn’t slow Rosario’s response, as he reversed and then pinned Smokes in 42 seconds. However, Smokes set the tone in the fifth-place match agast Ft Pierce Central’s Alaq Dowd-Grant, needing only one takedown for a pin in 1:06. Matson, who was injured at the close of his consi-quarter match Friday evening against Dowd-Grant, medical-forfeited to Columbus’ Derrick Hart to place 8th.
How crazy were my picks?: We had six of the eventual eight placers noted in our preview, and we had the correct championship final, with three additional wrestlers (Cypress Bay’s Gozie Mosi, Smokes & Matson) slotted correctly into the right medal-round match. So they weren’t universally bad; in fact, for 285, they weren’t bad at all.
Final team scores and brackets for the 3A tournament can be found HERE.