#TurkeyNWrestling2022-23: Hey, Guys, My Bad

November 24, 2022 — 10 a.m.

Sometimes I get it right. Sometimes I get it really right. Sometimes I get it wrong. Sometimes I get it really wrong. If you were ready to toss your phone or laptop through a window because I either A) ranked you too low or B) ranked you too high in your district, maybe this will set your mind at ease.

Or not. Perhaps only a healthy dose of tryptophan, football and pre-Black Friday shopping will do that (actually, if you can avoid the pre-Black Friday shopping, do; I plan to avoid it by writing a couple of previews of the Saturday tournaments, plus I plan to watch the worst offense in college football attempt to play its way into the Big Ten Conference title game).

Anyway, let’s set the Wayback machine to a year ago today — give or take a day or two — and see how I did with last year’s predictions. Let the laughter ensue! (or not). But first, a little data…gotta have a little stuffing to go with that turkey…

We were 10-for-12 on picking champions. After a bad year with this in 2021, we rallied, for the most part, with respect to this stat. We only missed a little bit in 2A-4, where our champ was second. But we had a big clunker in 2A-1; to be fair, the team we picked was expected to have more transfers in its lineup than it actually had, and it wound up with a pretty solid close.

We were 7-for-12 on picking last-place teams last year. This was a bit like our championship-picking form of the previous year. We didn’t have any super-bad misses, in that every team that we picked last finished no higher than sixth in their district. This is a good thing, in that the less-experienced and less-full lineups are catching up to the middle of the pack.

A quick note on the Orlando districts, which we added for the first time last year. We got both district champions right and we had one last-place team right. We had a bit more trouble with the middle half of those two districts, and some of that we’ll get into in a bit.

The point is this.

If I picked your team to win, you should be pleased and maybe feel kinda good about your chances. If I picked your team last, it’s maybe time to go get to work, kids.

In the middle, it’s often quite a muddle when it comes to picks. I’m a mixed bag here. Three years ago, I got the top 3 teams right in three districts. Two years ago, that number was two. None last year.

Four this year (3A-2, 1A-2, 1A-3 and 1A-4). Is it evidence I 100% know what I’m doing? Perhaps not.

Still, if you don’t like where you are projected today, take heart. Here are some examples of those who beat the Matmen odds:

Three straight years, I have under-performed with Rocky Bayou Christian. Last year, I had them fourth and they were second in 1A-District 1. But that wasn’t the biggest miss in 1A. That title belongs to Bishop Snyder. I had the Cardinals ninth last year and they finished fifth in the district, and, quite honestly, did a nice job of cobbling together a lineup through the season.

In 2A, Ridgeview was slotted for seventh place after losing their HC and 2021 state champion. The Panthers did a nice job of rallying from some big losses, and finished fourth as a group in 2A-District 2. We also under-estimated Ft Walton Beach as a team in IBTs; I thought they would be stronger in duals, but last year they walked away with the District 1 title.

As for 3A, the biggest misses for me were Seminole in District 2 and Olympia in District 4. The Noles were tabbed for seventh and finished fourth, while the Titans were slotted sixth and picked third.

So what’s the point of walking through those examples?

Where you’re projected today is just that: a projection. And not always a very good one at that. Ol’ Matmen really don’t know everything. Some days, he don’t know anything.

So. Dig in, not too much, to your dinners today. While you boys don’t have competition until next week (some girls teams have already begun competition), I’m sure you’ll have practice at some point soon, and you don’t want a full belly. Leave that to us old folks. I’ll see you on the mats soon enough.

1A-District 1
Predicted: 1. South Walton. 2. Rutherford. 3. North Bay Haven. 4. Rocky Bayou Christian. 5. Bozeman. 6. Bay. 7. Wewahitchka.
Actual: 1. South Walton. 2. Rocky Bayou Christian. 3. Rutherford. 4. North Bay Haven. 5. Bay. 6. Wewahitchka. 7. Bozeman.
Analysis: As we noted earlier, we for sure under-rated Rocky Bayou — AGAIN — and the Knights leap-frogged two teams into second. For their trouble, they’ve been projected into sixth for the third time in four years this season. So, I’m certain they’re quite thrilled about that! The bottom three teams we had right, just in an incorrect order

1A-District 2
Predicted: 1. Wakulla. 2. Suwannee. 3. Florida High. 4. Marianna. 5. Liberty County. 6. Godby.
Actual: 1. Wakulla. 2. Suwannee. 3. Florida High. 4. Marianna. 5. Liberty County. 6. Godby.
Analysis: 100% dead on with this one. (Pats self on back). Actually, there was one thing I didn’t really expect out of this district, and that was how well Florida High would perform in the region tournament (7th); while the Seminoles have been a fixture for top-five performances, I thought somewhere around 10-12 was a safer bet at regions. Instead, FSUS was just 4.5 points out another top-five.

1A-District 3
Predicted: 1. Yulee. 2. Bishop Kenny. 3. Fernandina Beach. 4. Episcopal. 5. Raines. 6. West Nassau. 7. Paxon. 8. University Christian.
Actual: 1. Yulee. 2. Bishop Kenny. 3. Fernandina Beach. 4. Episcopal. 5. West Nassau. 6. Paxon. 7. Raines. 8. University Christian.
Analysis: We got the top four teams correct, which is good; only in 1A-2 did we do this elsewhere. West Nassau had things going in a pretty good direction by this point in the season; things had been rough at the start of the season. Some of the trouble we had in this one was due in part to still not really being 100% familiar with tournament scoring.

1A-District 4

Predicted: 1. Clay. 2. Palatka. 3. Baker County. 4. Bolles. 5. Union County. 6. Keystone Heights. 7. Wolfson. 8. Tocoi Creek. 9. Bishop Snyder. 10. Florida Deaf & Blind.
Actual: 1. Clay. 2. Palatka. 3. Baker County. 4. Union County. 5. Bishop Snyder. 6. (tie) Keystone Heights & Tocoi Creek. 8. Bolles. 9. Wolfson. 10. Florida Deaf & Blind.
Analysis: I got the top three teams correct in this one. Biggest miss, positively for the team involved, was Bishop Snyder, which did some decent lineup-building in preparing for the district tournament. The biggest miss the other way was Bolles, and I attribute that to the Bulldogs’ history of having their fullest team for the post-season, with part-time starters brought in. That didn’t happen last season.

2A-District 1
Predicted: 1. Mosley. 2. Gulf Breeze. 3. Ft Walton Beach. 4. Pace. 5. Niceville. 6. Choctaw. 7. Crestview. 8. Milton. 9. Tate. 10. Arnold.
Actual: 1. Ft Walton Beach. 2. Gulf Breeze. 3. Pace. 4. Niceville. 5. Mosley. 6. Crestview. 7. Choctaw. 8. Tate. 9. Arnold. 10. Milton.
Analysis: Once again, the 2A Panhandle continues to elude me. Aside from Gulf Breeze being correctly picked, and the Pace/Niceville and Tate/Arnold orders being roughly accurate, this district has been — over the past several years — the hardest one to line up. Mosley was supposed to have at least two more kids that either didn’t transfer (or didn’t wrestle). Having them would have made some difference up, but all of it? Not sure.

2A-District 2
Predicted: 1. Fleming Island. 2. Lincoln. 3. Columbia. 4. Chiles. 5. Middleburg. 6. Orange Park. 7. Ridgeview. 8. Leon.
Actual: 1. Fleming Island. 2. Lincoln. 3. Chiles. 4. Ridgeview. 5. Middleburg. 6. Columbia. 7. Orange Park. 8. Leon.
Analysis: I had the top two teams right (although LOTS of people would have gotten them right). Columbia had a very good wrestler not return for what would have been a senior season, and had a second very good wrestler get a season-ending injury early in January. Ridgeview, as I noted earlier, I thought would struggle for leadership and numbers, and as it turned out, cured its numbers problems with new blood in the lower bookend and some kids returning that hadn’t been out for a year or more.

2A-District 3
Predicted: 1. Fletcher. 2. Ponte Vedra. 3. Westside. 4. Terry Parker. 5. Englewood. 6. Riverside. 7. Stanton. 8. Ed White.
Actual: 1. Fletcher. 2. Westside. 3. (tie) Englewood & Terry Parker. 5. Ponte Vedra. 6. Ed White. 7. Stanton. 8. Riverside.
Analysis: What we struggled with here has traditionally been a couple of teams’ strengths prior to last year, that being getting kids out and filling a lineup. We feel like those will return at least for one of the teams; the other is in the midst of a deep football run, and that has typically made for a tough start to wrestling for that program. It was good to see Westside get that double second-place finish (which meant a trip to region duals). Ed White also over-performed expectations, which is always good to see.

2A-District 4
Predicted: 1. Matanzas. 2. New Smyrna Beach. 3. Belleview. 4. Mainland. 5. St Augustine. 6. Pedro Menendez. 7. Gainesville.
Actual: 1. New Smyrna Beach. 2. Matanzas. 3. St Augustine. 4. Belleview. 5. Mainland. 6. Pedro Menendez. 7. Gainesville.
Analysis: We were definitely surprised by New Smyrna Beach winning the title, but the biggest positive surprise was the move St Augustine made, because they had a ton of graduation loss to overcome — and a new head coach as well, always a situation where it’s impossible to determine what may happen. Aside from those two teams, things largely held to form in this district. Will have to see how the new 2A-District 4 will look next HGMB.

3A-District 1
Predicted: 1. Oakleaf. 2. Creekside. 3. Mandarin. 4. Bartram Trail. 5. Nease. 6. First Coast. 7. Sandalwood. 8. Atlantic Coast.
Actual: 1. Oakleaf. 2. Creekside. 3. Nease. 4. Bartram Trail. 5. Mandarin. 6. Sandalwood. 7. First Coast. 8. Atlantic Coast.
Analysis: We really only bunged up where Mandarin and Nease would be. Mandarin had several regular-season starters that did not compete in the district tournament, and that would certainly have helped the Mustangs. Nease had a really nice regular season, but I thought the St Johns Panthers would have trouble in the post-season; that turned out not exactly to be true at districts, but the trouble did arrive the following week.

3A-District 2
Predicted: 1. Flagler Palm Coast. 2. Buchholz. 3. DeLand. 4. Lake Mary. 5. Forest. 6. University (Orange City). 7. Seminole. 8. West Port.
Actual: 1. Flagler Palm Coast. 2. Buchholz. 3. DeLand. 4. Seminole. 5. Forest. 6. West Port. 7. University (Orange City). 8. Lake Mary.
Analysis: We had the top three teams, and we had Forest correctly slotted, but two teams we did not have a very good handle on, for different reasons. We under-estimated Seminole, which had some kids return to the lineup and perform quite well, and overcame some lineup losses. We had better hopes for Lake Mary, but things were a struggle from jump for the Rams last year, with a new coach and a lot of loss to overcome, both graduation and transfer.

3A-District 3
Predicted: 1. Hagerty. 2. Timber Creek. 3. Winter Park. 4. Oviedo. 5. Lyman. 6. Lake Howell. 7. Lake Brantley. 8. University (Orlando).
Actual: 1. Hagerty. 2. Timber Creek. 3. Oviedo. 4 Winter Park. 5. Lake Brantley. 6. Lyman. 7. Lake Howell. 8. University (Orlando).
Analysis: In our first go-round with this district, we had a pretty good handle on things, generally. We thought Winter Park would be a little better — and maybe the Wildcats will show a bit more of that this year. And we thought Lake Brantley would struggle a bit more, and the Patriots had a nice season, and will probably build on that this year. Otherwise, we were pretty much on it.

3A-District 4
Predicted: 1. Apopka. 2. Windermere. 3. West Orange. 4. Dr Phillips. 5. Ocoee. 6. Olympia. 7. Evans. 8. Wekiva.
Actual: 1. Apopka. 2. Windermere. 3. Olympia. 4. Ocoee. 5. Dr Phillips. 6. Wekiva. 7. Evans. 8. West Orange.
Analysis: We had the top two teams correct, and that wasn’t bad, although the choices were fairly straightforward. Olympia had a much better run than we thought, as the Titans were able to put together a lineup that was more solid than expected. Wekiva had some individual powerhouses we weren’t suspecting, and the biggest miss we had in the district was due largely to West Orange’s lineup slowly getting smaller and smaller as the season wore on. That will happen sometimes, and it’s impossible to predict.

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#TurkeyNWrestling2022-23: 1A-District 1

November 24, 2022 — 6 a.m.

There are a few teams that you learn to trust in the north, even after sustaining some heavy losses to graduation.

South Walton, in 1A-District 1, has become one of those teams to trust, season in and season out. The Seahawks have emerged as the Panhandle small schools’ top performer, and with good reason, having won two straight district duals titles and a pair of IBTs as well.

And it’s that recent run of success that’s the reason to trust the Seahawks to make a return to the top of the district standings, although for several reasons it might be tough to expect this group to duplicate its 5th-place region and 15th-place state efforts.

The biggest reason is a large group of seniors, seven in all, that moved on in May, led by 2022 1A state champion Max Brewster (120). All seven of those Class of 2022 Seahawks reached the region tournament.

While South Walton has just six projected key returners back, the Seahawks are the only team in the district with more than one returning state qualifier, as senior Nick Lee (8th at 285) and sophomore Isaac Brinson (126) both have Silver Spurs Arena experience from March. One thing the group has shown is an ability to develop new young talent, as the development of Brinson and other younger Seahawks has shown.

If you’re a believer in larger numbers having the key in supplanting a district favorite, look no further than North Bay Haven.

The Buccaneers were very young last year, and had a lot of returners coming back, but last year’s still group still saw a few new faces make the lineup. The result is a room with potentially up to 14 key returners back from last year’s fourth-place (IBT) group, with only two key seniors lost to graduation, including one post-season starter.

Junior David Mercado (4th at 1A-195, returning region champ) headlines the returning group, which has eight wrestlers that reached the region level last year. Experienced returners man each weight class as well, so the only thing that might hold NBH back might be its relative youth at a couple of those weights.

Bay improved a lot over the previous two seasons in 2021-22, reaching the individual state tournament for the first time since 2018-19. And with just two graduation losses to overcome — albeit including the Tornadoes’ lone state qualifier — the future does appear to be be bright.

Bay can call upon as many as 11 projected key returners this coming year, six of them with region experience. Three of those six — all in the lower weights — got to Saturday’s second day at regions, and lowers will again be a strength for the Tornadoes. That strength was augmented with the transfer of junior — and 2A state medalist in March — Derrick Williams from Mosley (5th at 106). If the Tornadoes can add a couple more upper weights, they will challenge the leaders.

Don’t be surprised in the slightest to see Rutherford in the mix for even top-of-the-table position in the district when the season ends, although I think duals, which might be the Rams’ better strength, might be a bit too soon in the schedule for them to push through. Rutherford lost just one May graduate from last year’s group, so that’s a positive step.

This year, the Rams have as many as 14 potential key returners, led by senior state qualifier Romero Black (138 last year). Rutherford has six returners with Region 1 experience, so the Rams will need some of their depth in last year’s room to step forward and take another step in order to become a bit more competitive.

If any teams falter that are projected for the top half of the district, I would maybe look to Bozeman to become the wild card of the district. The Bucks began the school with a max of seven projected key returners due to come back, just one of those seven with victories at the region level. But Bozeman picked up a pair of transfers that will help the numbers situation somewhat and the Bucks’ leadership position quite a bit; if they can add some more numbers after losing just one starter to graduation, they could move up.

After losing five region qualifiers from last year’s region-qualifying (duals) team to graduation, the ride could be bumpy for Rocky Bayou Christian this year, as the Knights have no established wrestlers that wrestled above 152 a year ago. But, the lower half of the lineup is experienced, with four region qualifiers in all (team has five coming back). None of the eight projected key returners are seniors, which is a plus.

Wewahitchka lost four starters from last year’s team, between graduation and transfer, and while the Gators do have eight returners (four with region experience, two of those four with second-day experience), they’ll need to once again prove themselves capable of recruiting after adding several very young first-year starters in 2021-22. Freeport is a new Walton County program, headed up by former Seahawks coach Carey Nick, and having that kind of experience is going to be invaluable as the fledgling Bulldogs get off the ground in 2022-23. We’ll have to see how things develop, as they’ll have a dual right away next week.

Projected finish: 1. South Walton. 2. North Bay Haven. 3. Bay. 4. Rutherford. 5. Bozeman. 6. Rocky Bayou Christian. 7. Wewahitchka. 8. Freeport.


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#TurkeyNWrestling2022-23: 3A-District 3

November 24, 2022 — 6 a.m.

Hagerty has recently seemed to be that team that comes oh-so-close, but just short, in 3A-Region 1.

Three-time district duals champs, three-time region runners-up. Defending district IBT champ (after 3x runnerup finishes), with three 2nds and one 3rd at Region 1.

Last year, after losing a pair of state runners-up, the Huskies still finished among the state’s top 10. This year, after losing five seniors, including three who qualified for states and two that medaled there), we’re looking at Hagerty as the preseason favorite in the region.

The Huskies do lose 2022 state medalists Ethan Gomez (5th at 170) and Blake Watts (8th at 152), plus an additional state qualifier and two additional region qualifiers, and that leadership will need replacing.

But Hagerty has as many as 10 projected key returners (all but one were post-season starters) from a year ago, and most of them are well battle-tested. Senior 2022 3A runnerup Kamdon Harrison (160) leads the returning mix of kids, which includes returning state qualifiers in junior Hunter Tate (195 last year) and sophomore Aiden Vick (106).

We’re projecting Timber Creek, with the room that it has consistently had and level of competition it has engaged year-in and year-out, as the runnerup, but the gap has probably closed some between the Wolfpack and their challengers.

What worries us is the graduation loss that the Wolfpack sustained, as they lost seven Class of 2022 wrestlers in May, led by state medalist Trenton Dominguez (3rd at 113) and an additional state qualifier. That will be a difficult loss to overcome.

But Timber Creek will have eight projected key returners back, including a pair of 2022 state qualifiers in senior Peter Nesheiwat (285) and sophomore Josue Batista (138). Six of those eight returners were post-season starters for the Wolfpack, so there is a nucleus to build around, and the depth in the room should cover most of the rest.

If the Wolfpack falters at all, Winter Park will be there to pick up the slack. The Wildcats lost four seniors to graduation, but just two of those wrestlers had region experience a year ago.

Winter Park matches Hagerty’s 10 in projected key returners, led by junior Jorge Gonzalez (6th at 132 in 2022), a returning district and region champ. Senior Joseph Parker (145 last year) and junior Liam Glassmeyer (220) join Gonzalez as returning state qualifiers, and if the Wildcats can fill out a little bit more of their lineup, they will be a tough opponent.

We’re looking at Oviedo to round out the top half of teams in the district. The Lions have the benefits of both a large returning — and still young — group, and, as well, a small graduation class in May, as just two seniors (both post-season starters, one who shared time in the regular season) moved on.

Oviedo has the biggest returning group in the district, with no fewer than 13 projected key wrestlers able to come back. What the Lions are going to have to do, though, is make the leap necessary for the team to graduate from also-ran to threat, and the proof that they’ll have made that leap will be found in their offseason and preseason work.

Watch out for Lake Brantley; the Patriots could be a team on the move this year, under first-year HC Jason Jessee. They’ve lost five seniors from last year’s group, four of which competed in the post-season, but they’ve got at least 12 projected key returners or transfers back from a year ago, with just one senior in the group, so the large majority of the group will have two years together.

Even though Wekiva lost just one graduated starter from last year’s team, the Mustangs are probably too short-handed to earn a lot of team success. Individually, though, they’ll have highlights, with seniors Seth Galvin (state qualifier at 145 last year) and Holley Saintmelus (region champ at 285) both returning to highlight a cadre of five projected key returners.

First-year coaches will be heading up the programs at Evans and Lake Howell, respectively. For the Trojans, under new HC Brent Bourgeois, they move over from District 4 and will have up to six projected key returners, but just one of those six had wins at regions last year; Evans will have to replace three key seniors from last year’s group. At Lake Howell, under new HC Kyle Harrison, the Silver Hawks lost just one from last year’s team, but it was probably the team’s top performer, and via transfer. Still, there’ll be as many as seven key returners back, but just one advanced to the region round.

Projected finish: 1. Hagerty. 2. Timber Creek. 3. Winter Park. 4. Oviedo. 5. Lake Brantley. 6. Wekiva. 7. Evans. 8. Lake Howell.


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#TurkeyNWrestling2022-23: 2A-District 8

November 24, 2022 — 6 a.m.

Lyman and Deltona have habitually gotten plenty of looks at the teams with whom they share a new combined home, 2A-District 8.

Having the shared geographic area of eastern greater Orlando, and seeing their district neighbors at least once, if not multiple times, in various dual and IBT competitions, will certainly prepare the Matmen representatives in the district for what’s to come.

On balance, I think Deltona might have the edge in head-to-head with their Lyman compatriots, but I’m not sure if either one will reach the FHSAA region round.

The Wolves are coming off a year in which they were district duals champions, in 1A-District 6, but they do have to replace four Class of 2022 starters, including two region-level qualifiers.

Deltona has nine projected key returners back, led by seniors and state qualifiers Kevin Kerns (5th at 1A-132 last year) and Nathan Hatch (285). Of its nine potentially back, six competed at the region level.

Lyman lost just two seniors in May from last year’s lineup, but one of those two was the Greyhounds’ top performer last year and the other was a multiple-year starter.

The Greyhounds will have as many as eight projected key returners back for next year, but only six were starters in the post-season, four of those six reached the region round, and two got to the second day at regions.

Still, although there are a few concerns about the Wolves & Greyhounds, both teams should be in the mix of teams battling for third place in the district.

I’d expect Winter Springs to reload and retake the district title, though I predict that East River makes the gap a bit narrower between the leaders, who were 1-2 in the district last year.

Edgewater is the team most likely to join Lyman & Deltona in the mix for third, although it’s got a smaller group. Horizon, Jones and Lake Buena Vista have slightly larger groups back, but all of them will be somewhat inexperienced, an advantage that should play in the Greyhounds’ and Wolves’ favor.

Projected finish: 1. Winter Springs. 2. East River. 3. Deltona. 4. Lyman. 5. Edgewater. 6. Horizon. 7. Jones. 8. Lake Buena Vista.


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#TurkeyNWrestling2022-23: 2A-District 4

November 24, 2022 — 6 a.m.

A year ago, District 2 in 2A was predicted to be the powerhouse district in north Florida when Fleming Island squared off against Lincoln, with an additional third team finishing in the top six at regions.

This year, it seemed that the center of power may very well move to 2A-District 4, where two of the state’s top 10 teams in 2A, joined by a perennial 1A powerhouse in Clay.

But if we learned anything last year, we learned that Fleming Island not only was fully back, the Golden Eagles weren’t going to be going anywhere for a long time, and thus they still have to be considered the heavy favorites to win district titles in January and February.

Losing just one senior off of last year’s 2A state duals semifinalist and 3rd-place IBT finisher, the Golden Eagles will bring back as many as 15 projected key returners this year.

Included in that group are 2022 state runnerups in senior Jhoel Robinson (182 last year) and sophomore Jayce Paridon (113 in 2022), along with 2A medalists Joshua Sandoval (senior, 4th at 170), Christopher Chop (junior, 5th at 152), Ronan Bozeman (senior, 6th at 160), Matthew Kotler (junior, 6th at 145), Laird Duhaylungsod (sophomore, 6th at 120), Ethan Hoffstetter (senior, 7th at 285), Kaden Schaefer (junior, 7th at 138) and Shane Duhaylungsod (sophomore, 8th at 106). Six of the state medalists also won region titles.

The one gap that only the most elite of teams could exploit a year ago against the Golden Eagles was that there were a couple of weights that still had potential to reach in their wrestling. If their younger and less-experienced starters took steps to fix that — and with the room Fleming works in year-round, it’s difficult to guess they didn’t — they will be even more formidable this year.

Prior to reclassification, Matanzas was looking very much to being kings in the southeast corner of the coverage area and a heavy, if not overwhelming favorite, to take the district.

And, although the Pirates will lose three May graduates from last year’s 9th-place (IBT) 2A team statewide, including state runnerup (at 152) Tyson Mills, who is now on mission in Fiji, Matanzas still has a lot on which to draw upon in furtherance of its goals this year.

The Pirates can match Fleming’s number of up to 15 projected key returners, and, while the list of state hardware isn’t quite so long, it does begin with the return of junior state runnerup (170 last year) Jordan Mills, and a returning state qualifier in senior Landon Wright (195 in 2022), plus a returning former (2021) state qualifier in senior Carter Wilder (113 last year).

Do not think that Clay will be outgunned simply by jumping up to 2A. The Blue Devils don’t have that in their vocabulary, but after losing seven state qualifiers to May graduation, including 2022 1A champion Garrett Tyre (220 last year) and medalists Maverick Rainwater (7th at 120), Luke Boree (7th at 138) and Ethan Larsen (7th at 170), they will be testing the theory that traditional reloads rather than rebuilds.

Clay does have a number of weapons back, led by a pair of state medalists in senior Dominic Martin (5th at 182 last year) and sophomore Braden Glavin (8th at 113), along with returning state qualifiers in senior Kedtric Wilbourn (195 last year) and sophomore Jacob Bucci (106). The Blue Devils do have one of the deepest rooms in north Florida, and this year, they’re going to need it.

Just two years ago, New Smyrna Beach had pushed its way through to dual district and region titles and was looking to establish itself as a solid power in the north among 2A teams. After sustaining the loss of nearly half its starting lineup to May graduation (including 126-6th place Jamey Bruner, and two additional state qualifiers), however, the Barracudas are also having to reload.

NSB does have seven projected key returners back under new head coach Isaac Bernard, and should be solid in the lowers, with five region qualifiers. Senior Dylon York is the Barracudas’ lone returning 2A medalist (6th at 195), with junior Sawyer VanRider (182) a fellow returning state qualifier, but the Barracudas will need fresh faces in the upper weights in order to hold fourth.

That’s because both Belleview and Mainland will take opportunities to push up the ladder. The Barracudas have a number of returning wrestlers, with just one senior, a state qualifier, lost to graduation in May. Belleview will have as many as 11 key returning qualifiers back, and also may be able to welcome back senior and former 2021 state qualifier Andrew Davis as well after his junior season was cut short.

Mainland did lose its top wrestler from last year via transfer, plus three additional region qualifiers via May graduations, but the Buccaneers do have a solid schedule in their favor — in just the program’s fifth year — and they do have seven projected key returners back, including five region qualifiers. That isn’t a huge group, but Mainland has proven itself capable of recruiting new blood into its lineup. It’ll need to do that again this winter.

Seabreeze reached the FHSAA region duals round, its first trip to that round since winning this district duals title in 2018, but the Sandcrabs won’t find the district in the same place as it was before the team’s sojourn into 1A last season. Seabreeze lost two seniors to graduation, and could have as many as nine key wrestlers returning, all nine with post-season experience.

I’m not 100% convinced that the St Augustine city teams are consigned to bring up the rear in the district, but numbers — either in a lack of mat time or wrestlers back — suggest it. Pedro Menendez lost just one senior to graduation in May, and has as many as nine projected key returners back this year, but none of those set to return were able to reach the second day. The Falcons’ crosstown rival, St Augustine, have talent returning that may be able to get to states — even out of this district, with four projected key returners. But the Yellow Jackets lost six seniors to graduation in May, including two state qualifiers, and they will be a difficult loss to replace.

Projected finish: 1. Fleming Island. 2. Matanzas. 3. Clay. 4. New Smyrna Beach. 5. Belleview. 6. Mainland. 7. Seabreeze. 8. Pedro Menendez. 9. St Augustine.


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#TurkeyNWrestling2022-23: 2A-District 2

November 24, 2022 — 6 a.m.

After 2A-District 2 became one of the epicenters of statewide interest after last year’s reclassification, this year, things have largely returned to normalcy in the district.

Gone are the Clay County teams; back are Gainesville, Mosley and (for the first time) Arnold. What remains, and should reassert control, is Lincoln.

After falling out of the FHSAA dual series at the district round, and then finishing second at both districts and regions, the Trojans put together their best state performance in some while, with a 13th-place showing at Silver Spurs Arena in March.

Duplicating that showing this coming March won’t be easy. Although the Trojans lost just three seniors to graduation in May, two of them were state medalists (195 runnerup Cayden Bevis and 220 6th Omarion LaRoach) and the third also qualified out for states. As a result, Lincoln’s got three upper-weight classes up top to fill.

But the Trojans have solid depth returning that should build another double-title effort. Lincoln has as many as 13 projected key returners from a year ago, led by three returning state qualifiers in senior Connor Edwards (152 last year) and juniors Vaniel Caceres (113) and Jashawn Washington (120).

Chiles advanced to the region duals round last year and we’re going to project the Timberwolves to make it back there once again in January. And if Lincoln falters in any way, they could take a district title.

Chiles does have five multiple-year starters or wrestlers with key appearances in 2021-22, to replace, as they’ve graduated. That cadre includes 2022 state medalist Hunter Brown (8th at 132), along with four other Class of 2022 members that were starters last year or starters in prior seasons for the Timberwolves.

But coming back this year are as many as 13 projected key returners, many of whom have multiple years as starters themselves. Senior 2022 state qualifier Garrett Marschka (126 last year) leads that group; it does contain six kids who did not start in the post-season last year, so the ask for that group — which performed ably in complementary roles — will be to find new levels as the 2022-23 season unfolds.

A year ago, we hyped Mosley as a strong threat, and though the Dolphins had a very good closeout to the season, they had a quick exit in the FHSAA dual series, and had some up-and-down efforts in regular-season IBTs. Still though, Mosley finished in the top 20 among 2A teams and only Lincoln finished higher at states.

The Dolphins did lose four seniors to graduation in May, including multiple-time state medalist Nick Hejke (3rd at 152 and Bay County’s all-time wins leader), and lost their top performer from last year, junior state medalist Derrick Williams (5th at 2A-106), who’s transferred to Bay. However, Mosley will bring back as many as 14 projected key returners. Numbers are in the Dolphins’ favor, and that keeps them in the mix for third in the district, but new leadership will need to step forward.

Columbia took some hits to its chances both during the regular season, due to injury, and after, due to graduation, with the loss of state medalist Joseph Rice (7th at 170) and three additional Class of 2022 wrestlers that have made a significant impact upon the Tigers’ program.

As a result, Columbia will need a rebuiilding effort in 2022-23, as only two Tigers have multiple years of starting experience. There will be as many as five projected key returners in the room, and of those, only one had a victory in the 2021-22 region tournament. But, Columbia has had history of consistent success; though the 6th-place district and 16th-place region IBT finish was lower than recent history would have projected, the Tigers have been in the top 40 or so at states each of the last four years.

Arnold had to completely remake its lineup last year after transfer and graduation from May of 2021 had their impacts, and the Marlins were able to do so, with as many as eight possible key returners back for another year; with just one senior in that group, the Marlins — though they did lose their top competitor to graduation in May — survived last year well and could look for a midpack finish.

The bottom two teams in the district both face the same issue — both Leon and Gainesville each have one projected key returner, and in both cases, that returner is a senior. Both teams will need new wrestlers, urgently so, and schedules that cultivate the development of those wrestlers as they learn the sport. The difference, though, in the programs is that Leon has a settled coaching staff inside the building, while Gainesville will have a new staff after the college graduations of the previous administration. At least, it is hoped that there will be a new staff; as of this writing, a candidate has emerged, but background checks have not been completed by the school as of this writing.

Projected finish: 1. Lincoln. 2. Chiles. 3. Mosley. 4. Columbia. 5. Arnold. 6. Leon. 7. Gainesville.


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#TurkeyNWrestling2022-23: 1A-District 3

November 24, 2022 — 6 a.m.

Clay had cast a very long and, for most 1A teams in the northeast at least if not the entire northern expanse of Florida, impenetrable shadow over small-school wrestling at the geographic top of the state.

But away the Blue Devils have gone into 2A world, at least for the next two seasons, and, as nature abhors a vacuum, the move offers some opportunities for 1A teams in the northeast to build and push forward their own ambitions.

One such team just might be Yulee in District 3. The last time the Hornets lost in the district duals round was 2019, when…Clay was there. Since then, Yulee has been a double-district champion, and we’re looking to push the Hornets into the top spot once again.

Graduation losses were not insignificant, but also not widespread. Yulee lost just two key seniors from last year’s double-title team, one of those a post-season starter (and former state qualifier, though not last year).

The Hornets have a large room that will include as many as 14 potential key returners from last year’s 4th-place side at Region 1. Senior Dylan Johns (1A-145, 8th at states) leads that group, along with three Yulee wrestlers that each took a win at states in March, including juniors Christopher Aud (195 last year) and Braylen Ricks (220), as well as sophomore Alex Smith (182). The group, which includes 11 Region 1 qualifiers, also saw three more wrestlers reach the blood round at that tournament, so it could take a substantial group to Silver Spurs Arena next March.

We’re looking to push Bishop Kenny into the runnerup spot, but we’re cautioning from the outset that the margins between the Crusaders and rivals Episcopal and Fernandina Beach should be razor-thin, which would mean some entertaining competition in the district duals coming off the holidays.

The Crusaders do have to replace four graduated seniors from the 2021-22 that finished second to the Hornets in IBT competition (BKHS did not compete in district duals). That includes a pair of February district champs; all four were region qualifiers and two got to the second day.

But what pushes Bishop Kenny past the Eagles and Pirates, at least at the November vantage point we have now, is its returning group of as many as 10 projected key returners. Senior Roberto Cuartero (4th at 152 last year), after reaching the 2022 state podium, is very much in the mix for state-title contention. Fellow senior Luke Ghannam (170 in March) and junior Christopher Hampton (132 last season) also are returning state qualifiers, and senior Collin Hearn (160 last year) got out to Silver Spurs in 2021, falling in the blood round in February.

We thought that Episcopal might be a team that could really break out last year after the Eagles engaged in offseason work in what seemed to be the first time in a long while, at least as a group. But injuries seemed to be a problem throughout the season, and — despite earning a spot in the region duals round — the team struggled more down the stretch, dropping a spot in the district IBT.

But after losing just one May graduate, Episcopal brings back a very big room, with as many as 15 projected key returners (plus a key kid or two that were short simply on matches) coming back this year, with a year more of experience. Sophomore Turner Glenn (106 last year) was the Eagles’ lone presence at states, and he’ll be joined by a group that included 10 additional region qualifiers.

Fernandina Beach amped up its schedule a little bit last year, but not being able to consistently field a full team did hurt the Pirates some in regular-season competitions. Fernandina did lose a pair of post-season starters, but should be able to weather that.

That’s because the Pirates do have a group of as many as 12 projected key returners back for this year (and do have a couple of kids that have eligibility to return who were seen as key returners a year ago). Leading that group is junior state medalist Enzo Gamba (region champ, 7th at 160 in March), along with fellow state qualifiers in seniors Caden Kubatzke (126 last year) and Lucas Crawford (182). Fernandina could add to that total this year.

There’s a bit of a gap between the top four and West Nassau, but there’s also a bit of a gap between the Warriors and the rest of the district. With no graduation losses from May, there’s a good chance for the Warriors even to make a move up.

Senior and 2022 state qualifier Blayden Tharpe (120 last year) headlines a cadre of as many as eight projected key returners, five of them region qualifiers and three just a match away from joining Tharpe at states. The Warriors’ returners as a group are solid, but they need more help up top to make a really good move.

Wolfson had a disappointing slide in the 2022 post-season, not that far removed from a region duals visit in 2020 and a more-typical mid-pack post-season effort in 2021. The Wolfpack had a handful of starters last year that missed out on the post-season series, and that played some small part in last year’s ninth-place district finish. This year’s returning group, including six potential key returners, is a nice mix of youth and experience, and some solid recruiting should return Wolfson back to mid-pack form.

Paxon should be close to the middle of the pack once again this season, even after losing a pair of multi-year starters in May to graduation. The Duval Golden Eagles have slowly stabilized their program after seeing it depleted down to almost nothing four years ago, and are looking at four multiple-year starters back for another year in a mix of up to six projected key returners. They’ll need fresh faces to move further up the leaderboard, but seem to have pulled the program back from the brink.

Stanton had no graduation losses to contend with last year, and that’s a good thing, as the Blue Devils drop back to Class 1A for the first time in some great while. Stanton will have as many as eight projected key returners back from last season, and while that is a good thing (plus the fact that none of them are seniors), just one Blue Devil had a win at regions, and none of them had enough matches last year.

For the bottom third of the district, it’s all about rebuilding, starting with Raines, which has to replace a pair of multiple-time state medalists in 2022 graduates Jamari Watson (1A-220 state runnerup) and De’Quon King (5th at 120 last year). The Vikings have two projected key returners back, but clearly need a lot of new blood to contend more capably in the district race.

Like the Vikings, University Christian will be starting over, of sorts, as two first-year wrestlers — one graduated, one not — were last year’s top wrestlers. The Christians will call upon former multiple 1A state qualifier David Trigg, who’s returned to his alma mater, with the main order of business simply to build a fuller lineup and getting those who join it to stay. Bolles has had some giant presence on Jacksonville-area wrestling over the years. This is likely not to be one of those years, with the Bulldogs losing three multi-year starters, including two-time state medalist Jack Pyburn (6th at 285 last year), to graduation. Bolles will have one projected key returner back, but could add a couple more if some former kids come back to the team.

Projected finish: 1. Yulee. 2. Bishop Kenny. 3. Episcopal. 4. Fernandina Beach. 5. West Nassau. 6. Wolfson. 7. Paxon. 8. Stanton. 9. Raines. 10. University Christian. 11. Bolles.


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#TurkeyNWrestling2022-23: 3A-District 4

November 24, 2022 — 6 a.m.

It’s not entirely true that talent never graduates and moves on.

But it’s the test of resiliency that separates the stronger programs from the contenders, and while Apopka may not be what it was a year ago, when the Blue Darters bagged a top-5 region finish and nearly a top-20 state finish, I see the defending 3A-District 4 champions as having enough left in the tank to add another double-district win this coming year.

It won’t be easy. The Darters graduated four district champs, including 3rd-at-state Ralph Sanchez (220) and six seniors — all region qualifiers from a year ago — in all. Transfer took another top performer and state qualifier, as well as some coaching leadership, out of Region 1.

But Apopka will still bring back eight projected key returners, seven of them post-season starters and all seven of those reaching the region round.

Leading that group will be senior Tamarion Kendrick (7th at 120 a year ago), one of two returning district champs and the district’s lone returning state qualifier (region runnerup at 120). He’ll have some fellow senior returners to help pick up the mantle of leadership laid down by Sanchez and his classmates, and if Apopka can find a few middles, they could get close to last year’s heights.

Looking at the groups chasing the Blue Darters in-district, I am tabbing Ocoee — as of now — as the group likeliest to lead the chasers.

Ocoee has the kind of schedule and the mindset, among their top performers, to contend. The Knights bigs are going to lead the charge, with a pair of wrestlers up top that both reached the blood round a year ago. The Knights have as many as eight key returners, and with the stars they’ve got, could be a threat for second, particularly in IBT format.

Ocoee does have a five-pack of graduated leadership to overcome, though, and that’s the main reason I am concerned in the Knights’ ability to hold second; included in that quintet were a trio of 3-year starters whose leadership will be difficult to replace. There’s some dropoff after the bigs, as well; no other returner has a win at the region level from last year.

Olympia’s got the kind of size in a returning group that I really like to see. The Titans could have as many as nine key returners back from last year’s team, which was third in both duals and IBT. I would not be surprised at all if this group qualifies out for the region round, especially in duals, because there is a certain level of consistency across the weight classes.

While there’s not a big graduation loss to overcome for the Titans, what the current group has to do is make the jump competitively to the next level, which is often a mental as much as a physical jump. A lot of them took lumps as starting freshmen and got tastes of success last year. Things are there for this group, if they reach out and grab them.

We’re seeing Windermere, on first blush, in the middle of the group. The Wolverines had an excellent season a year ago, getting to the FHSAA region round and sending up their first wrestler in program history to Silver Spurs Arena. They’ll have eight key returners back from that team, so a solid nucleus returns for first-year HC Aaron Drone.

The difficulty is a frequent byproduct of last year’s successes — as is so often the case for developing programs — in that a key group of graduated talent, five in all in the Wolverines’ case (including their state qualifier), has to be replaced. Those wrestlers were the initial building-blocks of the Windermere program, and their leadership might be harder to replace than the wins they brought.

West Orange has an experienced group of middles, with a trio’s worth of senior leadership all ensconced there, with two additional underclassmen, but the Warriors are and have been short-handed for some while, with only five key returners back. The team could push into top-half contention with some new blood in the lineup, as the gap between third and fifth isn’t all that large.

If Dr Phillips and South Lake can pull together some fresh faces into the lineup, each team could contend for mid-pack finishes. The Panthers lost all of their upper weights but one off of last year’s group, and uppers had the most success for them in reaching the region round. They’ll be able to count on at least four projected key returners. As for our newest team moving into Region 1, the Eagles also come in short-handed from 2A-Region 2, with just two key returners back, but could be in the mix for states, as one of those two was their top performer a year ago, and reached the blood round in 2A-R2, no easy feat.

Projected finish: 1. Apopka. 2. Ocoee. 3. Olympia. 4. Windermere. 5. West Orange. 6. Dr Phillips. 7. South Lake.


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#TurkeyNWrestling2022-23: 2A-District 3

November 24, 2022 — 6 a.m.

Everything old is new again in 2A-District 3.

Oakleaf’s back. Middleburg’s back. Ridgeview’s back. Orange Park’s back. Ed White came back last year. The district has a very 2014/2015ish feel to it.

But one thing that is new is Oakleaf’s preseason position as favorite, after the Clay County Knights reached the 3A region duals round and came away with the District 1 IBT title in January and February, respectively.

The Knights did lose three seniors to graduation, all of them region qualifiers and one of them a state qualifier. That’s not great.

But Oakleaf does bring back as many as 16 projected key returners for the 2022-23 season. That includes seven region qualifiers, led by senior 285 Jordan Mitchell, 2A’s top-ranked heavyweight heading into the 2022-23 season (4th at states). Junior Keon Barrientos (126 last year) is a returning state qualifier, and senior Isaiah Shevchook (195 in December) qualified for Silver Spurs in 3A in 2021, putting up an unbeaten record after not competing in January and February.

Oakleaf doesn’t have a lot of room for error in attempting to win its second straight district (IBT) title, however, because Middleburg is roaring up the ladder.

The Broncos posted a sixth-place finish at regions a year ago after a fourth in duals and fifth at districts. Middleburg lost just one Class of 2022 wrestler to graduation from that team.

And, the Broncos have a sizable group of projected key returners back — 16 strong in all. Filling all 14 weights will not be a problem for this group. Leading the charge for that cadre will be a trio of returning state qualifiers, all of them with at least two more years of eligibility. Junior Grady Woodard (113 last year) and sophomores Jackson Hornback (106 in 2022) and Wyatt Leduc (120) all return this year, and assuming they all make it back, probably won’t be the only ones to get to Silver Spurs in March.

We’re looking at Ridgeview to complete a trifecta of Clay County teams at the top. Like the Broncos, the Clay County Panthers come over to District 3 from District 2, where Ridgeview finished in the top 25 at states. That was due solely (at least at Silver Spurs) to graduated 2A 220 runnerup Derrick Mosley, the team’s lone district champ last year.

Competing in the most loaded district in the north a year ago, Ridgeview had just one state qualifier, but an additional seven region qualifiers (six of which are back this year). I’d expect a few others in the Panthers’ projected up to 15-strong returners group to get out this year, and there could well be more than just one state qualifier in March.

Last year’s district runnerup, Westside, might be the top Duval County team in this year’s version. The Wolverines made it to the region duals round last year, finishing second at both duals and IBT for districts thanks to a cadre, made up largely of up to 11 projected key returners, including returning 2022 state qualifier Olleon Hickmon (138 last year).

Westside lost just two seniors — both region qualifiers — to graduation in May, and between that and the returners group getting bigger each season, it’s possible that the Wolverines could very well be a tough contender for third in what is a deeper district these next two years.

We see Terry Parker as the midpoint of the district this year. The Braves tied for third in the district last year, before the new imports came in via reclassification, and have as many as 10 projected key returners from a year ago, eight of those earning region spots, and losing just one graduated senior in May.

While the outlook is largely positive, the Braves still have some steps to take before they can compete at the top of the district. Of the returners last year, only three had region victories at Chiles, and only one got to Saturday’s round of competition.

Ponte Vedra lost just one Class of ’22 wrestler in May, and the Sharks are in the mix for something close to a full team, with as many as eight projected key returners back. But of those eight, just one had a win in last year’s region tournament in February. The returning group has been having a hard time attracting bigs, as they did during last season, when as many as five upper weights were forfeited.

Ed White’s lineup size varied from double digits down to around four or five at times last year. The Commanders lost three Class of 2022 wrestlers to graduation, but will bring back as many as six projected key returners. Three of those six were region qualifiers, as were all of the ’22 grads, but two of the returners were Saturday qualifiers and one Commander did reach the blood round.

In the years when Riverside was Lee, the Generals tended to have a very large amount of wrestlers out every year, and always seemed to have a large number of returners coming back each season. This year, while Riverside lost no one to graduation, the Generals are still short-handed, with just up to six projected key returners from last year. Riverside did get four of those six to regions, but only two took wins there.

Returning numbers could also hold back Orange Park and Englewood, in comparison to the rest of the district, though certainly if either team recruits very well, there’s enough base there to move up some. Orange Park lost two key seniors to graduation, while the Raiders have as many as four projected key returners back, led by senior and 2022 state qualifier Trevion Sermons (160 last year). The others, though, had no wins at districts. As for the Rams, they will also have two lost to graduation — including their lone state qualifier — and as many as four projected key returners back. However, none of them had a win at last year’s region tournament.

Projected finish: 1. Oakleaf. 2. Middleburg. 3. Ridgeview. 4. Westside. 5. Terry Parker. 6. Ponte Vedra. 7. Ed White. 8. Riverside. 9. Orange Park. 10. Englewood.


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#TurkeyNWrestling2022-23: 2A-District 1

November 24, 2022 — 6 a.m.

Over the past few seasons, Pace has graduated big classes, chock-full of victories, and in each year during those few seasons, the Patriots have been resilient enough to overcome and endure.

That should be the case once again in 2A-District 1, although — as it has been in other seasons — the margin for error for the Patriots, as with their fellow contenders for district titles, is pretty thin.

This year’s graduated group is a little smaller than typical in Patriot circles, with three Class of 2022 graduates moving on, including state medalist Atticus Waters (8th at 2A-160 in March) and an additional state qualifier.

But expectations are high, based in part upon a schedule that has usually seemed to get Pace ready for the FHSAA post-season series, as the Patriots have been the district’s only duals champion and have been region-level semifinalists each of the past three years.

This will be a younger group, for the most part, with junior Isaac Waters (182 a year ago) and sophomore Maeson Otwell (138 in 2022) both one match away from the podium as returning state qualifiers. The Patriots can call upon as many as 11 projected key returners to fuel their bid for a fifth district duals title and another top-5 region IBT finish.

Gulf Breeze was the district’s most consistent program last year; as teams moved up, down and around them, the Dolphins held second place in both dual and IBT formats, and have been quietly successful — consistently so — for years.

But can the Dolphins move to a place of pre-eminence? The offseason work might begin to tell the tale, and it might start with this year’s group, which could number as many as 13 strong. Junior Michael Mancuso (126 last year) was the team’s lone state qualifier, but the Dolphins do have eight returning region qualifiers.

Whether district pre-eminence is possible might depend on being able to seal the deal at regions. Last year, six Dolphin wrestlers all fell in the blood round — including a pair of 2022 graduates — and two more reached Saturday’s round, falling in the consis. That comes down to belief, often as not, and the offseason work happening should cultivate that side of the sport as well as the physical work.

Ft Walton Beach struggled early, even finishing fourth in district duals, but the Vikings closed in fine fashion, with the top state IBT finish (T-16th) in the district in addition to the district title. Having a state champion in the mix, as FWB did with Cedric Fairrow (220), goes a long way toward accomplishing those goals, but Fairrow is now graduated, along with a second state qualifier, and now in the Navy.

Still, though, the Vikings have a solid room, high expectations, and a returning cadre that could number 13 in all, all but two being post-season starters a year ago. Sophomore Landon Burbidge (106 in 2022) is a returning state qualifier for Ft Walton, which had three returners reach the region blood round in February, so the possibility for three qualifiers, or more, remains high.

Niceville has a big graduation loss to overcome, with six Class of 2022 wrestlers moving on in May, including 2A medalist Harrisen Wall (5th at 182) and an additional state qualifier in the cadre of graduates.

But the Eagles should hold fourth behind a returning group that could number 11 strong, led by junior 2022 state qualifier JJ Martinez (145 last year) and senior 2021 state qualifier Ethan Pinto (126 last year), one of two returning district champions in the program, thanks to the gap they’ve built between themselves and the rest of the district. Niceville will need to find some upper weights, but that hasn’t been a problem in the past.

With as many as 12 possible key returners back, and no graduation loss this past season, Tate might be able to move up a couple of notches in the district standings. While 10 of the Aggies’ 12 returners started in the post-season, though, just one reached the region tournament. For the cluster of teams looking for a midpack finish, it could come down to which group did the most offseason work.

Crestview will also bring back a double-digit (11 in all) returner class for first-year coach Robby Gaines, and the Bulldogs do have three wrestlers that reached the region round, including one Saturday qualifier. While the group is largely revamped, with many getting their first year of starting experience a year ago, the Bulldogs did lose a good chunk of their leadership to graduation.

Both Choctaw and Milton will have new head coaches, though neither are entirely unfamiliar to the area. The Indians lost their top two performers and a five-man Class of 2022 group to graduation, but can expect as many as 11 key returners for first-year HC Josh Carroll. However, none of them competed at regions a year ago, and several have yet to get their first district win. As for the Panthers, 2021-22 assistant Alex Alvarado moves up to the top spot, and the first order of business will be to fill a lineup. While Milton had no graduation loss to overcome, it has a numbers deficit compared to the rest of the district, with only four key returners expected back and just one with region experience.

Projected finish: 1. Pace. 2. Gulf Breeze. 3. Ft Walton Beach. 4. Niceville. 5. Tate. 6. Crestview. 7. Choctaw. 8. Milton.


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