By MATMEN, Wednesday, 6:35 p.m.
KISSIMMEE — Asked when the dream of a state title first started becoming reality, Matanzas’ girls coach Mike Fries pulled out his phone.
Displayed there was a group text, created the day after last year’s state tournament ended, with “2023 State Championship Team” prominent as the name of that group text.
Fast forward to a year later and Matanzas — after chasing Orlando Freedom for a good part of the regular season — made the necessary adjustments to put some reality behind the bravery of the name of the group text.
But as there is no I in team, a team needs 14 varsity starters, a deep room of reserves, a “dream team” coaching staff, and committed parents & administration, and together that village brought home the first team state championship in Matanzas school history Saturday night.
The Lady Pirates went home with seven individual medals to go along with the team gold in outpointing defending champion and national-top 20 ranked Orlando Freedom, 124-107.
“I recruited girls from the hallways of the school last year. They bought into me and what I was trying to get across, because I bought into them,” Fries said.
“(Boys coach) TJ (Gillin) called me two years ago and asked me, why don’t we do this together, and that’s when the ‘dream team’ (which included Gillin and assistant coach Jeremiah Marschka) was born. We just outworked everybody.”
Matanzas had the team title more or less sealed up during the Saturday medal round. That made Fries, who won a state championship as an individual for Flagler Palm Coast, who was the father of a state champion (sophomore daughter Tiana, who placed 5th this year at 125, won an FHSAA championship last year) and now the coach of a state champion.
That’s pretty rare for any coach, let alone one of a program where there’d been challenges along the way in winning said team title.
“We weren’t planning on all of that, having three girls go out the first day and some of the other things we had to deal with, but nobody’s spirit waned, and at the end of the day, I told them, we all would be state champions because nobody works harder than us.
“Next year starts Monday. Monday we’ll forget, and we won’t celebrate again until we’re done (in 2024).”
But the team trophy was not the only gold treasure that the Lady Pirates would acquire Saturday night.
In a rematch of both the District 3 and Region 1 title matches, Matanzas sophomore Kendall Bibla (5th at 130 in 2022) reprised her rivalry meetup with Bartram Trail junior Katherine Stewart (7th at 145 last year) in the 145-lb final. Stewart had decisioned Bibla, 5-4, in the district final, and had pinned Bibla in 5 minutes in the region final, both times on the Lady Pirates’ shiny championship mat.
But, that was then, and Saturday night in the state final was the now, and after watching — in tears for most of it — sister Brielle fall short a couple of weights earlier, after a feeling-out bit of tentative action on both sides, Bibla hit the first takedown and turned on the pressure from there, with scoring moves and nearfall turns in each period. Stewart would get on the board with a mid-second period reversal, but it was 10-0 at that point, and Bibla wasn’t done yet, with a reversal and 3-point nearfall in the third to take a 15-4 major for the Lady Pirates’ lone individual state champ.
“It broke my heart. I was really upset, she’s been wrestling with me since forever,” Kendall said of watching her sister’s title dream fall short. “I know how hard she worked, how much she has helped me through everything.
“I’ve learned from wrestling Stewart that she was so strong, has come a long way in a really short time. But I never, ever give up. Anything can happen out there. It’s really one of the best moments of my life. After I won, I realized, nothing can stop me now.”
Two other Region 1 wrestlers earned state championships besides Kendall Bibla individually and the rest of the Lady Pirate team, as Milton’s Aireaana Gavere (130) and Middleburg’s Cheyenne Cruce (190) both took home state brackets Saturday night.
In a rematch of the Region 1 final from two weekends prior, Gavere knocked off Matanzas’ Brielle Bibla (5th in 2020 and 3rd in 2021 in unsanctioned girls’ states, runnerup last year), taking a 6-3 win to complete a perfect post-season run after getting a few regular-season matches in following her move from Minnesota. Gavere scored first takedown 44 seconds into the match, adding a late reversal in the second period after Bibla had ridden for most of that period. After getting out 30 seconds into the third, Gavere added an insurance takedown, and while Bibla was able to escape out to make it 6-3, she was unable to secure a takedown of her own late, as Gavere took the decision.
“I think after regionals, I realized anything was possible,” said Gavere, who won a Florida title in her only post-season down here. “I knew she’s a good wrestler, and I didn’t assume it was going to be easy. I just trusted my training, and just wrestled. All I could do at this point. Coming here, after living in Minnesota my whole life, was really difficult at first, but winning this feels great. Now it’s time to get ready for the next one, with nationals.”
Cruce, a sophomore (4th last year at 190), was the solid favorite at for most of the season, having going through the regular season undefeated and having dominated her way through most of the post-season, including states — where she’d had three pins prior to the final, none going past the second period. In the final against Key West’s Shannon Briggs, things were tighter, as neither Cruce nor Briggs could score on the feet in the first period, nor could Cruce work a turn from top in the second. But, on bottom, she was able to reverse out midway through the period and hand-fought solidly enough from there to take a 2-0 win and Middleburg’s first wrestling state championship, girls or boys.
“Honestly, I wanted to prove to everyone if that if they put the work in and put in the time in practice, then they’ll win,” Cruce said. “Wrestling builds a family; no matter who wears what color singlet, if you know, you know you’re a part of that family. I wanted to win, I wanted to be that state champion. There’s always somebody better out there, and I never thought it would be me to be first (at Middleburg to win a state championship).”
In addition to the three champions, five area wrestlers — including Brielle Bibla and Stewart — were able to reach the finals in their respective weights.
First up was Gulf Breeze freshman Camdyn Elliott in the 100-lb final against top-ranked Osceola senior Kealonie Vega, who did not compete in last year’s FHSAA tournament series, due to injury, but had been 4th at 100 in 2020 and 2nd in 2021 in the unsanctioned girls’ state event contested in those years. Elliott had pushed the pace in her previous matches, with early takedowns prior to either pins or a shutout decision earlier in the tournament, but in this match, Vega seized the early opportunity first, with first takedown 23 seconds in, which she used to turn and take the fall over Elliott in 55 seconds.
Next up was a 1vs2 matchup in the 105 final between Oakleaf sophomore Adrianna Barrientos and Lake Gibson junior Gabby Tedesco, who’d been an FHSAA finalist last year (losing by pin to former Mosley competitor Valarie Solorio, now wrestling in Pennyslvania). Barrientos, a 2x state qualifier (lost in blood round at 105 last year) hung in well against heavily-favored and top-ranked Tedesco, giving up takedowns in the first and second periods, but Barrientos had a takedown of her own in the third, but couldn’t follow it up with additional points, as Tedesco hung on for a 5-2 decision and the title.
After a couple of weights, the coverage area returned to the mats with Matanzas’ first match of the finals session, as Christina Borgmann (120) hoped to retain form that she’d had in three earlier bonus-point wins during the weekend. But Borgmann (8th last year, again at 120) had no answers for first-year Floridian wrestler and Lake Nona sophomore Milana Borrelli, who continued her path of domination through the tournament with three scoring moves (2 takedowns & 1 reversal, plus a pair of first-period nearfalls before securing a pin in 5:17 over Borgmann.
Apopka had another solid tournament, as the Lady Blue Darters’ five-pack of wrestlers was strong enough for third place and 71 points, while Middleburg tied with North Miami at 57 points for fifth. Host Osceola, with 60 points was fourth. Bartram Trail (46 points) was seventh, Oakleaf (42.5) ninth and Ponte Vedra (42) 10th.
Gulf Breeze finished T-15th, with 34 points, while Milton (26) was T-21st. Mainland, with 25 points, was T-23rd, while South Lake finished 26th (24 points), Chiles & Clay T-30th (22), Westside T-43rd (17), Seminole T-45th (16), Crestview T-53rd (13), Lincoln T-57th (11); Tate, Tocoi Creek & University (Orange City) all T-60th (10).
Flagler Palm Coast was T-65th, with nine points, Wekiva T-68th (eight), Ed White T-75th (four), with Dr Phillips, Lake Mary, Ridgeview and Sandalwood all T-80th with three. Hagerty was T-95th, with two points, while Baker County, Buchholz, Lake Brantley, Timber Creek and West Orange all having at least one wrestler that did not score team points.
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: Vega p. Elliott, :55.
(Additional) local how they fared: Middleburg’s Gracie Bradshaw was 3rd, Apopka’s Hananeel Gregoire was 5th and Lincoln’s Sayuri Caceres was 8th. Bradshaw closed out her high school career with two more wins Saturday, going unbeaten in the consis after her quarterfinal loss by pin to Vega. She opened with a 3-1 over Freedom’s Miabella Lopez in the consi semis, with the key being a mid-second period takedown, as both wrestlers earned penalty points down the stretch. In the 3rd-place match against Barron Collier’s Kiera Partillo, Bradshaw opened the scoring with a takedown, adding a second that she parlayed into a turn and pin in 3:08 to take the bronze. Partillo got to Bradshaw with a 5-4 win in the semis over Gregoire, though Gregoire didn’t make it easy, taking leads on two separate occasions (2-0 and 4-3) behind scoring moves. Gregoire broke open a scoreless tie in the fifth-place match with a reversal over Lopez mid-second period, capitalizing on that to secure the pin in 2:57. As for Caceres, she also scored two takedowns for a pair of leads over Palm Harbor University’s Sophie Booe (2-0, 17 seconds in, and 4-1), but Booe hit a big 5-point move down the stretch to rally for a 6-4 decision.
How crazy were our picks?: We had six of the eight projected placers in our preview, so that’s not bad. We missed on one of the finalists, who injury-defaulted after losing in the Friday quarters, and one of the fifth-place medalists. We had Vega in the final, we had Bradshaw in the third-place match. We did NOT expect Elliott to pin, and pin quickly, our finals opponent in the quarters. We also had Caceres in the right medal-round slot. In all, not too bad.
Championship: Tedesco d. Barrientos, 5-2.
(Additional) local how they fared: Gulf Breeze’s Helena Alcantar was 5th and University (Orange City)’s Jaelyn Sunseri 6th. Both locals started off Saturday on the wrong foot, as Freedom’s Maite Coutinho downed Alcantar, 3-2, and Naples’ Reagan Thomas — the eventual 3rd — majored Sunseri, 14-0. Coutinho had first takedown, but Alcantar would answer that early in the third period to tie the match, as a penalty point wound up being the difference. Thomas had takedowns in each period, and rolled up three different nearfall situations against Sunseri. In the all-local medal match, Alcantar had the match’s only takedown and chose top in the second period, using that ride to turn and eventually win by fall in 3:19.
How crazy were our picks?: We had six of the eventual eight placers in our preview, including the correct championship match and half of the correct third-place and fifth-place medal matches (Thomas & Alcantar). We were definitely proven wrong by Sunseri’s run to the medals (she came over and made sure we knew, though she was mostly talking to my colleague), but I’m happy that — given she’s a senior — she did medal.
Championship: I-Cart Galumette (North Miami) p. Jazlyn Diaz (Riverdale), 4:47.
Local how they fared: Matanzas’ Mariah Mills was 3rd, Apopka’s Shelby Sherman 4th and Crestview’s Sigrun Metzger 7th. After falling to Galumette in Galumette’s closest match of the tournament, Mills advanced to the medal round with an injury-default win over Mater Lakes’ Sofia Ferran, while Sherman was on the back foot for two periods, trailing Hudson’s Keana Bush, 6-3, after only scoring escapes. But Sherman hit a big move in the third, and utilized that takedown and turn to forge an 8-6 win. Mills would dominate the 3rd-place match, with takedowns in each period and three penalty points awarded to her, plus a late 3-point nearfall to take a 13-2 major for third. Metzger needed just one takedown, going on the attack from the jump in the 7th-place match to pin Viera’s Catalina Kenney in 36 seconds.
How crazy were our picks?: Not that crazy, as it turned out, as we had seven of the eight eventual medalists in our preview, with, essentially, the right championship match (an all-Region 4 final), Mills v Sherman for 3rd, Bush vs Region 4 for 5th, and Metzger for 7th. We also had Kenney as an unranked under-the-radar wrestler, and she made podium. So this was pretty good.
Championship: Cameron Galvin (Freedom) d. Analy Banuelos (Braddock), 5-3.
Local how they fared: Ponte Vedra’s Erin Rizzuto was 3rd and the only area medalist. After a one-point loss in the quarters on Friday morning, Rizzuto roared through the consis, but her closest match of the day was Saturday morning’s 4-2 win over Ft Pierce Central’s Brittney Vincens, thanks to takedowns in the first and third periods; Rizzuto allowed only a penalty point due to second stall warning and an escape moments later, but was never in much danger. That was even more in evidence in Rizzuto’s 12-3 major for third over Charlotte’s Iyonna Ross, in which Rizzuto scored in each period (2 takedowns, 1 reversal), plus a late big turn that salted away the bronze medal.
How crazy were our picks?: Not too crazy, we had seven of the eight projected placers noted, including the correct championship match plus Rizzuto in the right medal spot (we only missed on her projected opponent, who was 0-2). We also had Vincens and Fivay’s Lilyana Gargano in the correct medals spots, so this was a pretty good weight class for us.
Championship: Borrelli p. Borgmann, 5:17.
(Additional) local how they fared: Tate’s Lahela Turnquest was 7th, earning her second state medal. Turnquest secured a takedown 16 seconds in against Booker’s Dyleen Perez, using that for an eventual turn & pin in 1:31.
How crazy were our picks?: They were kinda not great. We had five of the eight eventual placers in our preview, but of the three that weren’t, one included a projected finalist and another was a projected 5th. We over-rated Region 4, I think, a bit there. We continued to be surprised by Borgmann’s amazing run this season as once again she performed beyond expectations (or did our preview motivate the performance?). We had Turnquest in the right medal-round slot
Championship: Gabriela Caro (Stoneman Douglas) d. Christine Turner (Sarasota Military), 8-4.
Local how they fared: Chiles’ Ashley Shaw was 3rd, Seminole’s Brianna Pena 4th and Matanzas’ Tiana Fries 5th. Shaw opened Saturday with a 5-2 win over Palm Harbor University’s Julianna Caisse; although Caisse did have first takedown, Shaw owned the last two periods, with a big nearfall turn to take the lead in the second and an insurance reversal midway through the third. That brought Pena in the medal round for 3rd; this time, Pena set the pace for most of the match, with a takedown in the first and reversal/turn to go up 6-1 late in the third, but Shaw rallied with an answering reversal which she converted into a fall in 5:25. Pena got to Shaw with a 10-1 major over Fries in a physical battle in the bottom consi semi, as Pena was awarded four penalty points, later getting a takedown and turn to take the major. Fries rallied in the medals herself against Caisse, even after giving up first takedown and not being able to score from the feet, as she had a reversal and then hit a big turn late to come back for a 5-4 win for fifth.
How crazy were our picks?: Not super great, but we did redeem ourselves partially in some spots. We had five of the eight eventual placers noted in our preview, including the correct championship match and the correct Shaw-Pena matchup in the medals (though for the wrong shade of medal). We’ve done better; we’ll probably do worse, maybe even as we go through these.
Championship: Gavere d. B. Bibla, 6-3.
(Additional) local how they fared: Flagler Palm Coast’s Ana Vilar was 6th. Vilar held the lead for a portion of the second period after a late escape broke open a scoreless tie in the consi semis against Freedom’s Keyla DeLeon, but DeLeon forged ahead on three penalty point scenarios, plus an escape from Vilar’s ride late in the third for a 5-1 win. After getting first takedown in the medal round against Wellington’s Aurora Guadiana, Vilar couldn’t sustain that early momentum, as Guadiana reversed back and won by fall over Vilar in 1:04.
How crazy were my predictions?: We had six of the eight projected medalists, including all of the top five plus Vilar. We had the correct championship match and third-place match as well, so in all they weren’t too crazy at all, as only our depth picks were a bit off.
Championship: Gaby Perez (Ft Pierce Central) p. Lucy Maris (Satellite), 3:30.
Local how they fared: Clay’s Aubrianna Apple was 3rd, Apopka’s Nehemie Gregoire was 5th and South Lake’s Grisbet Guzman was 7th. Apple began with a 4-2 win over Gregoire in the consi semis; after Gregoire picked up first takedown 45 seconds in, Apple took the lead with a second-period takedown and secured the win after forcing a second stall warning on Gregoire late in the third. Apple had an easier time in the third-place match against Lemon Bay’s Giovanna Coppola, with takedowns in each period, the last of those leading to a turn and fall in 5:06. Gregoire, also, got untracked in the fifth-place match against East River’s Isabella Tolentino, stacking takedowns in each period, plus a pair of nearfalls, while allowing only one escape and a penalty point for a 12-2 major. As for Guzman, she also joined Apple and Gregoire in winning final high school matches, falling Immokalee’s Genesis Turrubiartez in 3:17. Guzman had two takedowns, one in each period, with the second leading to the pin.
How crazy were my picks?: Not too great, but pretty decent with respect to most of the locals, as we had six correct medalists projected, including medals for Apple, Gregoire and Guzman. We had Apple & Gregoire in the right medal-round match. After that, things went sorta sideways. We didn’t have Maris on the preview and she made a run all the way to the final.
Championship: Sofia Delgado (Coral Park) d. Ailee Briggs (Key West), 6-3.
Local how they fared: Ponte Vedra’s Olivia Richie was 3rd and was the only area state medalist. After her semifinal loss Friday to Delgado, Richie bounced back with a 35-second pin over Viera’s Emma Hoppe — a rematch of her round-1 match from Thursday — and then came back in the medal round with a second pin, this time over Mater Academy’s Emily Jaspe, in 1:43. Richie had first takedown, adding a reversal after Jaspe bounced back with a reversal of her own, and put away the match from there.
How crazy were my picks?: Not very crazy. We had seven of the eight eventual placers noted in our preview, including the correct championship match and correct medal-round matches for Richie and Freedom’s Isabel Perez. So some misses in the consis, but we generally had the right idea.
Championship: K. Bibla md. Stewart, 15-4.
(Additional) local how they fared: South Lake’s Zoe Williamson was 5th and Tocoi Creek’s Aryan Benson 7th. Williamson could only get escape points in the consi semis against eventual 4th Elody Rodriguez of Gateway, who had three scoring moves and a nearfall in a 9-3 win, but Williamson would rally for a 6-4 decision in the fifth-place match over Mater Lakes Academy’s Alena Rik, with takedowns in the first two periods to build a 5-1 lead through two periods, a necessary cushion given Rik’s late takedown. Benson gave up first takedown in the 7th-place match to Hernando’s Olivia Brown, but had a takedown of her own in the second period, parlaying that into a fall in 2:43.
How crazy were my picks?: We had seven of the eight eventual medalists listed in our preview, so that was a good thing. However…again, we had the forest but couldn’t see the trees, as our projected third-place match was the actual final, our two finalists both took losses in the quarters and we only had Rik and Brown in the actual correct medal round.
Championship: Mya Bethel (North Miami) d. Emiliana Martinez (Gateway), 5-0.
Local how they fared: Bartram Trail’s Ava Burre was 3rd, Westside’s Karla Ortiz 5th, Mainland’s Jah’Mya Hill 7th and Wekiva’s Bianna Hertilien 8th. Burre completed her run to the medals with two Saturday wins, opening with a 5-3 consi-semi decision over Wiregrass Ranch’s Megan Preston, in which Burre scored all of her points via turns, allowing only a late reversal. Burre then faced Tampa Freedom’s Lilly Luttrell in the third-place match, with another nearfall carving out some space in an otherwise-tight match, but that led to a second turn and pin in 3:28. Ortiz took on Luttrell in the top consi semi, getting the first takedown and leading 3-0 midway through the first period, but Luttrell seized momentum late in the first and rallied for a 6-4 win. In the medal round, Ortiz made her one takedown count against Preston, securing a pin in 1:15. In the 7th-place match between locals, Hill seized the momentum late in the first, with a takedown and 3-point nearfall, then added another takedown in the second in pinning Hertilien in 2:49.
How crazy were my picks?: In one sense, not crazy at all, as we had seven of the eight eventual medalists noted in our preview. But, in another sense, I had little idea what I was doing, with the eventual third-place match projected as our final. I didn’t put Ortiz into the medals, and that was definitely a mistake (or was it?).
Championship: Grace Leota (Hernando) p. Salexa Lontoc-Ortiz (Freedom), 2:20.
Local how they fared: Oakleaf’s Jayla Harrison was 3rd and Matanzas’ Brooklyn Watt was 7th. Harrison continued to dominate the consi side of the bracket with two more bonus-point wins, starting with a 14-4 consi-semi major over McKeel Academy’s Alexia Davis, in which Harrison rolled up three scoring moves and an equal number of nearfalls, scoring at least four points in each period. In the medal round against Merritt Island’s Lainey Driggett, Harrison added two more takedowns, using the second to turn and pin Driggett in 1:45. In the 7th-place match, Watt asserted first takedown and had a 2-point turn before her second turn led to a fall in 1:36 over Newsome’s Lana Clayton.
How crazy were my picks?: An injury affected how the picks turned out, but we still had six of the eventual eight placers correctly advancing in the preview, with Leota, Wellington’s Sofia Bentz and Clayton correctly slotted into the right medal round. We did not project Watt, however, to make the podium; her key blood-round win in the consis was massive. So there were some good points, some things we can’t possibly predict, but some misses in the mix as well.
Championship: Cruce d. Briggs, 2-0.
(Additional) local how they fared: Apopka’s Jada Jones finished 3rd. Her only loss coming in the quarterfinals against Cruce, Jones completed her tournament with four consi-side pins, including two on Saturday, starting with Countryside’s Cerenity Whiting in the consi semis, in which Jones needed just the one takedown that became a fall in 1:42. Jones had to go into the second period against Miami Norland’s Day’jah Clark, collecting takedowns in both the first and second before turning Clark for a pin in 3:38 and 3rd.
How crazy were my picks?: Not too much so, with six of eight eventual placers noted in the preview, including the correct 3rd-place match and slotting Cruce, Whiting and Immokalee’s Brianice Silguero all into the correct medal-round matches. Having Cruce anchor the picks kind of made things easier from there.
Championship: Kinea Moore (Boca Ciega) p. Yoseline Perez (South Dade), :52.
Local how they fared: Matanzas’ Ani Brown was 6th and Mainland’s Cheyenne Wigley was 7th. In the consi semi against Cypress Lake’s Destine’e Thomas, the only difference in the match was Thomas being able to get out from bottom for an escape nine seconds into the second period, taking a 1-0 win. Brown then faced Miami Beach’s Alyssa Nazario for fifth, and had a takedown late in the second period to go up 3-2, but Nazario’s strong ride in the third period led to a fall in 4:08. Wigley took 7th with a medical-forfeit victory over Auburndale’s Rylee Christmas.
How crazy were my picks?: A little crazy. We had five of the eight eventual medalists noted in our preview, with Christmas listed as an unranked under-the-radar competitor. We did not have Brown making the medals, but her three consi-side wins proved not only us wrong, but proved she belonged. We definitely missed on the champion, Moore, who wasn’t anywhere in our preview.
Final team scores and brackets for the girls’ tournament can be found HERE.