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#TurkeyNWrestling2021-22: Hey, Guys, My Bad

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 picking up a shingles vaccination at the friendly neighborhood Publix pharmacy as soon as it opens).

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 7-for-11 on picking champions last year. This was significantly lower than the previous two years. In each case, the actual champion was projected to finish no lower than third. However, that didn’t keep us from some real clunker picks, particularly in 1A (and we’ll get to those in just a bit).

We were 9-for-11 on picking last-place teams last year. This was a little bit better than last year, which was solidly better than the previous. One miss was small, where the team we picked last was just one away from that spot. But we also did have a swing and a big miss in 3A, and we’ll highlight that in just a bit, too.

So, if I picked your team to win, you should be pleased but not too over-confident. I’m clearly not as good as I once was at picking champs. If I picked your team last, in any of our 11 districts, go get to work, kids.

It’s usually the middle where things get muddled. Two years ago, we had three districts with the top three in order correct; last year, there were two. This year, there were NONE.

If you don’t like where you are projected today, take heart.

Last year, we didn’t think too much of DeLand’s chances. We picked them to finish seventh (last) in 3A-District 2. The Bulldogs not only did not finish last, but also finished very safely in the middle of the pack, 21 points ahead of fifth and SEVENTY THREE AND A HALF ahead of seventh. In fact, DeLand was just 2.5 points — two extra bonus-point wins — short of third. If you’re a little closer to the Panhandle, you can think about Rocky Bayou Christian. For the SECOND TIME IN AS MANY YEARS, some doofus picked the Knights to finish sixth in 1A-District 1. Some doofus thought RBCS wouldn’t rally well from the loss of its top wrestler in 2020. Good thing those kids didn’t read that doofus’s preview a year ago Thanksgiving — or read every word, and clipped-and-saved. In the city of Jacksonville, there’s the case of Englewood, which was tabbed for sixth in 2A-District 3. The Rams, like Rocky Bayou Christian, went on to finish third.

But probably the biggest miss was in 1A-District 3, where a two-team race for the top instead became a four-team race, because Fernandina Beach got tired of mediocrity and pushed for something more, from its best wrestlers down to its least experienced. The Pirates were picked sixth in the district and finished four spots above that prediction, 116 points ahead of sixth and comfortably ahead (36) of third.

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. Old 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 don’t have competition until next week, 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. Arnold. 4. North Bay Haven. 5. Bozeman. 6. Rocky Bayou Christian. 7. Bay. 8. Wewahitchka.
Actual: 1. South Walton. 2. Rutherford. 3. Rocky Bayou Christian. 4. Arnold. 5. Bay. 6. North Bay Haven. 7. Wewahitchka. 8. Bozeman.
Analysis: We did get the top two teams correct in this district, but — for the second straight year — picked the Knights to finish sixth, only to have them reject that premise in favor of something much better. We had North Bay Haven’s sizable but a bit inexperienced room over-valued early (and had we known about the Bucs’ stellar freshman, we might have had NBH pushing Arnold very hard for third). I think we underestimated Bay somewhat, as well. Some of their kids made some solid moves, and that makes me wonder if they won’t do it again, particularly with a more-aggressive offseason presence generally in the Panhandle.

1A-District 2:

Predicted: 1. Wakulla. 2. Suwannee. 3. Florida High. 4. Marianna. 5. Baker County. 6. Godby.
Actual: 1. Wakulla. 2. Florida High. 3. Baker County. 4. Suwannee. 5. Marianna. 6. Godby.
Analysis: OK, so we got the bookends correct. That might have been seen as the easy part. While just 16 points separated second from fourth, we did not expect Baker’s big move — aside from Fernandina Beach, the Wildcats were probably the most egregious whoops we made in last year’s predictions. This became apparent at regions, where the power of District 2 seems to become even larger. I would not have expected Suwannee to finish fourth with the group they had last year, so not only should kudos go to Baker County, but also the runnerup Seminoles. We did think Marianna would have more kids back than they did wind up attracting; the Bulldogs had had a larger set of returners coming back. Injury played a small role here, too.

1A-District 3:

Predicted: 1. Yulee. 2. Bishop Kenny. 3. West Nassau. 4. Raines. 5. Episcopal. 6. Fernandina Beach. 7. Paxon. 8. Ed White.
Actual: 1. Yulee. 2. Fernandina Beach. 3. Episcopal. 4. Bishop Kenny. 5. Raines. 6. West Nassau. 7. Ed White. 8. Paxon.
Analysis: We’ve written on Fernandina Beach’s rise; what made it happen was the increased sense of purpose and intensity up and down the lineup, whereas prior seasons had seen the Pirates rely on a couple of wrestlers here and there. You don’t always see that until it shows up. We also did not expect Episcopal’s rise in level from such a young lineup, but the Eagles, too, showed a team spirit that hadn’t been present in previous teams to the same extent. A couple of teams didn’t meet expectations in the moment, but, again, as we’ve seen in other districts, injuries played a sizable role in that.

1A-District 4:

Predicted: 1. Clay. 2. Bolles. 3. Ridgeview. 4. Union County. 5. Wolfson. 6. University Christian. 7. Bishop Snyder. 8. Baldwin. 9. Bradford.
Actual: 1. Clay. 2. Union County. 3. Ridgeview. 4. Bolles. 5. University Christian. 6. Wolfson. 7. Bishop Snyder. 8. Baldwin. (Bradford didn’t compete)
Analysis: We knew Union County had the chance to have good numbers last year; after all, they’d had the largest first-year program roster I’ve experienced in my covering north Florida. We just didn’t think those numbers would translate into success quite so soon. And while Bolles had some exceptionally-solid kids, there were a few that I expected would get out to regions that did not. Sometimes, on the day, things don’t happen. That was a bit of the case with Wolfson as well; the Wolfpack were outpointed by UCS’ three stars in ways that surprised a little bit. Otherwise, we largely had this one.

1A-District 5:

Predicted: 1. Atlantic. 2. Palatka. 3. Pedro Menendez. 4. Keystone Heights. 5. Lake Weir.
Actual: 1. Palatka. 2. Pedro Menendez. 3. Atlantic. 4. Keystone Heights. 5. Lake Weir.
Analysis: We thought that the Sharks’ returners would see them through to another double-title situation last year, but the group that returned was smaller than we had thought, due to some transfers, and some of the kids that performed well in 2019-20 couldn’t quite duplicate that performance last year. Given that, the rest of our analysis was pretty sound — and, for the most part, pretty predictable.

2A-District 1:

Predicted: 1. Pace. 2. Gulf Breeze. 3. Ft Walton Beach. 4. Tate. 5. Niceville. 6. Choctaw. 7. Crestview. 8. Milton.
Actual: 1. Ft Walton Beach. 2. Gulf Breeze. 3. Pace. 4. Niceville. 5. Crestview. 6. Choctaw. 7. Tate. 8. Milton.
Analysis: Taking duals into account, our predictions were not too terrible, as Pace was the team to advance out and become the first Panhandle team to get to the first day of state duals. Without going back into specificly what was said, I would have to think that the space between the top three teams was not too great (Editor’s Note: we went back and we said the path was not as easy). The only other part that we really missed on was thinking that last year’s Tate group would finish higher than the Aggies did. I also thought the gap between Choctaw and Crestview (or as it turned out, Crestview & Choctaw) would be a smaller one.

2A-District 2:

Predicted: 1. Lincoln. 2. Columbia. 3. Mosley. 4. Chiles. 5. Middleburg. 6. Orange Park. 7. Leon. 8. Gainesville.
Actual: 1. Lincoln. 2. Columbia. 3. Middleburg. 4. Mosley. 5. Chiles. 6. Orange Park. 7. Leon. 8. Gainesville.
Analysis: Working from the bigger schools down, this was the most sound prediction I’ve had thus far, with only Middleburg’s surge into third place — despite missing a few weights up top — the only thing we really we had no predicted answer for. The top of the group fell into place as expected, and, other than the Broncos pushing up to third (they were only one point short of a T-2nd finish with Columbia), so did the rest of the group. Given that Chiles wound up with the highest state finish, the way the top five teams broke down last year showed how strong the district already was…pre-Fleming Island.

2A-District 3:

Predicted: 1. Fletcher. 2. Ponte Vedra. 3. Westside. 4. Riverside*. 5. First Coast. 6. Englewood. 7. Terry Parker. 8. Stanton.
Actual: 1. Fletcher. 2. Ponte Vedra. 3. Englewood. 4. Riverside. 5. First Coast. 6. Westside. 7. Terry Parker. 8. Stanton.
Analysis: What we essentially got wrong was the placement of Englewood and Westside. Englewood just did more with its people a year ago, and Westside — which we have typically gotten wrong on the placement no matter where we predict them — last year did not overall as a group (injury had something to do with that in a couple of key instances. Otherwise, we largely had this district spot-on, with the 1-2, 4-5 and 7-8 all correct.
* — using the school name as it is this year

2A-District 4:

Predicted: 1. Seabreeze. 2. St Augustine. 3. New Smyrna Beach. 4. Matanzas. 5. Belleview. 6. Deltona. 7. Mainland.
Actual: 1. New Smyrna Beach. 2. St Augustine. 3. Matanzas. 4. Belleview. 5. Seabreeze. 6. Deltona. 7. Mainland.
Analysis: What we really missed on was Seabreeze and where the Sandcrabs were going to finish after seeing them win their first district wrestling title (duals) in January 2020. Things never clicked like that again at Seabreeze all of the following season. We thought, a year ago, that New Smyrna Beach was still a year away yet, but they had some key transfers that really helped the group, as well as a dynamite lower weight group that was just as capable as the Barracudas’ middles and uppers. Otherwise, we mostly had a handle on things, although we were definitely surprised how much closer Matanzas was to the top.

3A-District 1:

Predicted: 1. Fleming Island. 2. Oakleaf. 3. Creekside. 4. Bartram Trail. 5. Nease. 6. Mandarin. 7. Sandalwood. 8. Atlantic Coast.
Actual: 1. Fleming Island. 2. Creekside. 3. Oakleaf. 4. Mandarin. 5. Bartram Trail. 6. Nease. 7. Sandalwood. 8. Atlantic Coast.
Analysis: For the most part, we had 1-3 correct — the battle between Creekside and Oakleaf at districts was very, very close at this district last year. We also had the 7-8 right, although we certainly could not have predicted that despite finishing seventh at districts, the Saints would have such a solid state finish. The team we had very little handle on was Mandarin. They had a couple of new kids that made them far more capable than we would have projected. This year, they’re not going to sneak up on anybody. We did actually have the right three teams 4-6, just in a different order that I would not have guessed.

3A-District 2:

Predicted: 1. Flagler Palm Coast. 2. Buchholz. 3. University (Orange City). 4. Forest. 5. West Port. 6. Seminole. 7. DeLand.
Actual: 1. Buchholz. 2. Flagler Palm Coast. 3. University (Orange City). 4. DeLand. 5. Seminole. 6. West Port. 7. Forest.
Analysis: We had a better handle, on the whole, on this district this year, and we were convinced that last year was Flagler’s year. We didn’t see that there would be three weights open all year and that a few of the other weights would be in flux for much longer. However, that didn’t stop us from putting FPCHS back at the top again this season. We also didn’t have much of a handle on DeLand last year; the Bulldogs clearly over-performed our expectations, at least at the district levels.

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#TurkeyNWrestling2021-22: 1A-District 2

The battle for supremacy in 1A-District 2 has been a foregone conclusion in previous seasons. This year, however, the battle for top honors could very well come down to which one of 1A-Region 1’s strongest teams, out of its strongest district (at least at the top), can fill out a complete lineup.

We’re tabbing Wakulla’s experience in making this happen in prior seasons, with the War Eagles defending a run of 11 straight district IBT titles and four consecutive district dual championships as well. The War Eagles won their third straight Region 1 duals title as well, with a runnerup finish in the region IBT and 14th-place finish at states.

But the May graduation loss the War Eagles sustained is a heavy one, with seven graduates gone from this year’s team. Six of those seven made the region tournament (the 7th would have as well, were it not for injury) and five got out to state, led by Kissimmee medalist and region champ Raymond Hatchman (5th at 120 in 1A).

Wakulla does bring back 11 wrestlers that saw significant time last year, but a few in that group were backups last year, battling last year’s seniors in the practice room. Wakulla has eight 2021 post-season starters back, with all of them reaching the region tournament. Three War Eagles — seniors Isaiah Wilson (6th at states at 126), Julian Harvey (106 in March) and Hayden Reeves (145) — all qualified for states.

But Suwannee will make it a fight. Expect that. The Bulldogs will want to rally from a 2021 post-season start that saw them finish second in duals (but not compete in the region round) and finish fourth at district IBTs. However, the “familiar” Suwannee rush was put on at the region tournament, where the Bulldogs were fourth, going on to finish 17th at states.

A graduating class of four May graduates that all were 2021 or prior state qualifiers will be difficult to overcome. That group included March Kissimmee medalist Timothy Jolicoeur (5th at 126).

But the Bulldogs do have as many as 10 projected key returners, seven of them post-season starters that all reached the region tournament. Four of them would go on to states, led by sophomore 1A medalist Austin McKinney (6th at 113). Senior Tyson Musgrove (138 in March), junior Austin Howard (152) and sophomore Topher Pearson (106) also all were Kissimmee qualifiers and will be threats to podium.

Florida High will not be finishing any lower than third in the district this year, but whether the Seminoles can reach for second (or first) might have depended on how much off-season work the returning group did as a whole, following a district runnerup IBT finish, a T-5th at regions and a T-15th at states.

Only Wakulla’s graduation class is larger than Florida High’s, which included five May graduates, region qualifiers all. 2021 Seminole grads Tyler Reeve (region champ & state runnerup at 126) and Emil Ganim (6th at 1A-138) both medaled at Kissimmee and fellow grad Micah Perdue was a region champ (at 195).

The Seminoles’ group of as many as 12 projected key returners is the biggest, numbers-wise, in the district, but with just seven post-season starters, there’s a lot of returning depth that needs to make a jump to becoming the stars they’ve seen in the FSUS lineup. All seven did get to regions, with sophomore Xander Hawkes (160 a year ago) qualifying out for state in March.

Marianna is right now the default choice for fourth, but the Bulldogs can’t rest on that default position. They should be better than a year ago, when four of their six potential returners didn’t compete in the post-season at all or didn’t compete after districts for a variety of reasons.

Marianna does have three returning region qualifiers, one a 2020 state qualifer in senior Ethan Heinemann, who was hurt at districts. The Bulldogs also have no graduation losses to overcome.

Liberty County is the newest team in the district — in fact the region — and is the biggest question mark of the bottom four in the district, but the questions are positives. With two region qualifiers coming over via transfer, the Bulldogs (yes, there are three schools in the district with that nickname) can lay a base down from which to get more kids out. There’s a strong chance that Liberty County could have state representation in its first year.

Of the teams lacking massive amounts of numbers, Godby’s the one with the most experienced “traditional” program history, but the Cougars have to be able to build on more than one projected key returner, which is what they have back for this season. Being in-town, with a coach inside the building and perhaps able to pull some football kids in, could help the Cougars kick-start things this year.

We learned earlier this week that Graceville, which competed independently last year starting in January, would not be fielding a team this year, which is unfortunate for the two kids that lost their sport.

Projected finish: 1. Wakulla. 2. Suwannee. 3. Florida High. 4. Marianna. 5. Liberty County. 6. Godby.

CAPSULES HERE: 1A-DISTRICT 2 CAPSULES

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#TurkeyNWrestling2021-22: 1A-District 6, Independents

We aren’t previewing 1A-District 6, as we are only covering a portion of the teams in it this year. We may add more of the district if coaches in that district see our coverage of Deltona & Pine Ridge and decide they want in.

Both the Wolves and Panthers are dropping down a classification, from 2A to 1A, as a result of the FHSAA’s reclassification effort in the spring. While the coaching staff has recollection of Deltona’s last appearance in 1A — the 2014-15 season — the current crop of Wolves does not.

The team lost just one May graduate earlier in the year, but it was one of the team’s top competitors over the last three years, so from a leadership standpoint, it’s a loss.

But the Wolves could bring back as many as 11 returning wrestlers from last year’s group, and that kind of experience could be useful in helping Deltona make a run toward a region dual series appearance. Nine of those 11 Wolves were post-season starters last year, with four reaching the region tournament. Junior Kevin Kerns (120 last year) will lead this year’s group on the mats as a two-time Kissimmee 2A state qualifier.

After a one-year hiatus due to Covid, Pine Ridge is returning to competitive wrestling for the 2021-22 season. The Panthers were 3-13 in duals two seasons ago and were at a point where numbers were looking to be few.

But, in a new classification with a new coach and, essentially, an entirely new team, while the outlook might be fairly rough at the start, Pine Ridge could start laying the groundwork for a place where it’s competitive with some of its in-county rival programs.

We as a coverage area lost two independent programs and gained one last year. The one that remained from last year to this is Ribault.

With a new coach this year, one steeped in the history of the Trojans’ decades-ago history, Ribault begins its second year once again as an independent, having lost none to graduation and returning as many as four key returners from last year’s restart. It’s a starting point, to be sure, but also a start.

That’s what Wakulla Christian is looking forward to in its first year of experience this coming season. Located in a county loaded with wrestling ability and one of the pillars of Florida small-school wrestling tradition mere miles away, the Saints take their first steps into a new world this season, under the direction of a former FHSAA 1A state champion.

CAPSULES HERE: 1A-DISTRICT 6 CAPSULES & INDEP CAPSULES

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#TurkeyNWrestling2021-22: 3A-District 2

The race for the Region 1 title could very go through District 2 this year. And last year’s top two teams, Buchholz and Flagler Palm Coast, are poised once again to return to the top of the heap; only, this year, the fight for first might not only be for district but region honors as well.

We’re looking toward the Bulldogs, who ran second in both dual and traditional District 2 events last year, with a fourth at Region 1 and T-15th at states — the top finish in Kissimmee last year among District 2 teams. With one caveat, FPCHS is best-positioned in 2021-22.

After all, the Bulldogs had no graduation losses to overcome this past year. The biggest difficulty — here comes the caveat — that Flagler Palm Coast had a year ago was sorting out its lineup, which had three weights missing throughout the year and had several pieces that were in and out as the season waxed and waned. That caused some problems in duals.

But as things stand now, the Bulldogs have six returning state qualifiers back, led by senior returning medalists Blane DeFord (4th at 160, 3rd in 2020) and Bryce Dodge (5th at 170).

DeFord and Dodge headline a group of Kissimmee 2021 qualifiers that include seniors Timothy King (152 last year) and Marcelo Gonzalez (182), plus juniors Kole Hannant (113 in 2020-21) and John Hald (120), plus a former state qualifier (2019-20) in senior Kyle Peacock. In all, the Bulldogs can call upon up to 16 key returners, 13 of whom had current or prior Region 1 experience.

But maybe it’s too soon to put Buchholz in the runnerup spot; after all, that happened last year, and the Bobcats went on to sweep the district titles, taking third at Region 1 as well.

Buchholz also has a sizable group back, with up to 14 potential key returners back, and all their weights are or probably could be covered with returning talent. Ten of those 14 had Region 1 exposure last year, and four — seniors Venumadhava Mirel (126 last year) and Aiden Moore (145), junior Kason Nichols (160 last year) and sophomore Cavarius Liddie (106) — got to states.

However, the Bobcats do have a sizable if not insurmountable graduation loss to overcome, with four May graduates — all four with with region experience and two state qualifiers — that do have to be replaced. The returners, though, may be able to fill in the gaps.

DeLand finished 2020-21 third in duals and fourth in the traditional District 2 event, and while the Bulldogs are not projected to move up, that’s a function more of the level that the top 2 teams might have reached. DeLand lost only four to graduation in May, three of those part-time starters and the fourth having region experience.

Meanwhile, the Bulldogs have a larger group incoming, with as many as 16 possible key returners coming back. Four of those 16 didn’t compete at all in the traditional series, and another five didn’t compete in Region 1 after qualifying out; only two region qualifiers had matches at Flagler Palm Coast. But, with all that decent depth, DeLand won’t be a pushover in the district.

Newcomer to the district Lake Mary has moved over from District 3, where the Rams were third in both duals and traditional format, going on to finish sixth at Region 1 and 14th at state. But. This is a new year, and Lake Mary had one of the largest graduation losses in the region. The Rams had 10 key competitors move on, nine via graduation, including state medalists Jared Purcell (3rd at 160, Region 1 champ), Alex Vazquez (5th at 152, Region 1 champ), plus two additional state qualifiers and girls’ state medalist Farida Marcidno (4th at HWT).

Lake Mary can bring back as many as four key returners from last year’s team, just two with Region 1 experience, and while there’s a solid youth program in Seminole County that brings the Rams new blood each year, the lack of returning experience just doesn’t allow us to project higher than a midpack finish, and there’s at least one team in the district that will challenge even that.

Forest is under new management this year, with a couple of the Wildcats engaging in extensive off-season competition. Their graduation loss was not too severe, with just two May graduates, neither of which reached the region round of competition. As things stand, the Wildcats could welcome back as many as nine key competitors, but only two had Region 1 experience (and those two engaged in the most offseason action).

University (Orange City) is also under a new head coach this year, and the Titans have to rebuild from a solid graduation loss (five May grads, including three District 2 champs and one state qualifier). On the boys’ side, UOC has seven key returners back, but only two with Region 1 experience. On the girls’ side, the Lady Titans are going to push hard to return to the top 10, with five state competitors, two of them medalists in Katie Roche and Trinity Evans (T-6th at 106 & 172, respectively.

Seminole and West Port are still works in progress under second-year coaches (at least, at their respective schools). The Noles graduated five key seniors in May, including girls’ state medalist Valerie Vega-Castillo (3rd at 197), and have as many as eight key returners back, six with Region 1 experience, along with a returning girls’ state medalist in junior Brianna Pena (5th at 117). West Port’s graduation loss was less, just one May graduate with Region 1 experience, but the Wolfpack also could bring back eight with post-season experience. However, just two of those eight won matches at Region 1.

Projected finish: 1. Flagler Palm Coast. 2. Buchholz. 3. DeLand. 4. Lake Mary. 5. Forest. 6. University (Orange City). 7. Seminole. 8. West Port.

CAPSULES HERE: 3A-DISTRICT 2 CAPSULES

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#TurkeyNWrestling2021-22: 3A-District 3

When we add new territory to cover, even when we have a passing familiarity to it, getting ready to make predictions about it becomes a nervy enterprise.

Such is the case in 3A-District 3, one of our two new districts this year, but at least the top of the heap in this year’s configuration are familiar to our site if not necessarily all of our readers. This year’s District 3 chase again appears to boil down to a two-way race between 2021 duals champ Hagerty and traditional champ Timber Creek.

We’re tapping the Huskies to return fully to the top spot in the district, and be one of the top three teams — at least — in the region race as well.

As classifications currently stand, Hagerty’s the only team in 3A-Region 1 to make more than one appearance in the region duals final, with appearances in 2019 and 2020, plus a district duals title last year. The Huskies then were second in both District 4 and Region 1 competition, and were the top Region 1 team in 3A at the state tournament, finishing eighth as a group.

True, Hagerty does have a graduation loss to overcome that includes 3 girls’ state competitors (tops among them Brooke White, who was fifth at 154). And even harder to overcome might be the graduation losses of bigs Ethan Lopez (182 last year) and Bertilus Bornelus (220), both of whom were state runners-up in March.

But otherwise, what the Huskies lost to graduation was depth. And they’ve got plenty of that back, with up to 16 potential key returners for this year. That includes a boys’ group with 10 post-season starters, nine with Region 1 experience and including 3A state qualifiers Kamdon Harrison (junior, 3rd at 138 last year), Blake Watts (senior, 152 last year) and Ethan Gomez (senior, 170 last year). It also includes four girls with returning state experience, led by 2021 state champion and senior Jada Llamido (134 last year).

As for Timber Creek, the Wolfpack got to the Region 1 duals final last year, overcoming a district loss to Hagerty along the way, and then took the District 4 IBT title, finishing fifth at Region 1 and T-15th at 3A states.

The graduation loss from that group was heavy, as eight seniors moved on in May, seven with Region 1 experience and two with state experience on the boys’ side, including 2021 Kissimmee medalist Jayden Tapia (3rd at 132). Girls’ state medalist Giovanna Diaz (5th at 140 last year) also has graduated.

But the cupboard is not bare by a long shot, as Timber Creek can bring back as many as 12 key returners, five with region-tournament appearances last year. Senior Trenton Dominguez (6th at 3A state 106) headlines that group, and fellow senior Bailey Waltz (girls’ state 4th at 122) will look for another deep tournament run herself in February and March.

I’m looking at Winter Park as the likeliest for third. Star power’s the biggest reason, as the Wildcats return as many as 10 key returners, fueled mainly by senior and defending state champion Joe Gonzalez (unbeaten at 145 last year), along with fellow Kissimmee qualifier James Gonzalez (sophomore, 120 last year, where he won the Region 1 title).

Graduation losses didn’t hurt Winter Park too badly, although the Wildcats did lose two regular-season starters, including one 2021 state qualifier.

Returning numbers are Oviedo’s friend as the Lions enter the season, even after losing three multi-year starters via graduation, including departed state medalist Marcus Patrick (5th in Kissimmee at 145 in 2020-21).

Oviedo can look to as many as 11 key returners from last year’s group, with three holding region-tournament experience. The Lady Lions have a nice cadre coming back as well, with three girls’ state competitors back, two of them taking three wins in their respective weights.

I’m looking at Lyman as the potential surprise team in the district, a team that could finish anywhere from seventh to maybe even third, with an influx of talented new blood. That started in the offseason, with transfers coming in to join a group of up to five key returners. That group numbered two Region 1 competitors from last year; the transfers doubled that amount, so the Greyhounds are potentially a team on the move up.

Lake Howell isn’t all that far off from finishing in the top half, but the Silver Hawks have to build back some numbers after losing five starters via graduation or transfer, and overcome a recent history where they’ve finished seventh or eighth in the district IBT round. They do have up to six key returners back, four with Region 1 experience.

Numbers are going to be the biggest need for both Lake Brantley and University (Orlando) this year. The Patriots were District 4 runnerups a year ago, but did not get a wrestler to states; graduation hit Lake Brantley pretty hard, as it lost six regular-season starters, plus this year’s returning group had just one victory at Region 1 last year. University (Orlando) has all of its post-season starters back on the boys’ side, but just one got to the region round; the Cougars’ girls cadre was hit hard by graduation, with half moving on in May, but University does have two girls who wrestled at state back.

Projected finish: 1. Hagerty. 2. Timber Creek. 3. Winter Park. 4. Oviedo. 5. Lyman. 6. Lake Howell. 7. Lake Brantley. 8. University (Orlando).

CAPSULES HERE: 3A-DISTRICT 3 CAPSULES

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#TurkeyNWrestling2021-22: 3A-District 1

The giant shadow that Fleming Island cast upon 3A-District 1 has moved on, and the knights that did their best to topple the giant appear to top the heap in the district this season.

And under the direction of a first-year head coach in Rory Roderick, Oakleaf’s kids spent a lot of time in the Fleming off-season academy room this spring and summer. That, and the numbers that the Knights could bring back this season, give Oakleaf a slight leg up going into 2021-22.

With former coach Marcus Miller focusing solely upon athletic director responsibilities this year, the Clay Knights have taken to the offseason work ethic that Roderick has maintained, after a season in which Oakleaf was third in both District 1 dual and traditional series, going on to place ninth at Region 1.

The Knights can call upon as many as 13 projected key returners, led by a pair of state qualifiers in senior Marcus McGee (126 last year) and junior Isaiah Shevchook (195 in 2020-21). Of that group, which also includes sophomore girls’ state medalist Jazzmine Moore (4th at 184), four additional wrestlers had Region 1 experience last year.

That isn’t to say that there aren’t questions to answer. Of the 13 Oakleaf projected returners, six didn’t compete in the February post-season. Additionally, the Knights did lose seven May graduates, four with region experience and two of those four with state experience.

Creekside will be right there should the Clay Knights falter in any way. The St Johns Knights actually had the better post-season run, particularly in the traditional series, as Creekside was second to Fleming at districts, and finished seventh at Region 1, with three state qualifiers.

Of those three, just senior Diego Rivera (152 in February) returns for this year’s group, which numbers as many as 12 projected key returners from a year ago. Five of those returners got to Saturday at regions. The bookends appear to be Creekside’s incoming strength, at least in terms of experienced kids returning and having nailed down spots to which they should return.

But Creekside does have to overcome eight graduation losses; five of those eight got to regions and two reached the state tournament. The Knights’ returners in the middle, other than Rivera and one other senior, didn’t get much mat time in part-time roles, and will have to mature quickly to match the intensity that the Creekside bookends will bring.

For several reasons and seasons now, Mandarin’s been a team of interest for us (Editor’s Note: we were a Mustang parent for three years, though not of an athlete) and this year is promising to be the most exciting for the group since the site began, what with not one but two returning state medalists in seniors Tony Carter (4th at 182 last year) and Jameel Smith (6th at 132). Those two headline a group of seven key returners, six of which had region experience, that also got a fair amount of offseason work in, a first in our recollection.

But even with losing four seniors — all region competitors, one of them a state qualifier — to graduation, there’s still the question of filling a lineup that continued to plague Mandarin in prior years. The Mustangs compensated for that in great measure behind their individual star power, but in order to feed the ambitions that star power started feeding, they’ve got to fill a lineup and the new parts of that lineup need to get up to speed, and quickly.

We’d had more hopes for Bartram Trail last year, and while they did have one boys medalist in junior Ethan Vugman (4th at 106 last year), the Bears went from runners-up in duals down to fifth for the IBT portion, with injuries and other mishaps keeping several regular-season starters out of the post-season lineup.

While Bartram only lost three to graduation, including girls medalist Talia Megas (6th at 140 last year), the Bears do have 12 key returners back from last year’s team. However, including Vugman, just four of those returners had region experience last year. More of the returners came from the lower half of the lineup, but we didn’t see much in off-season work from that group, other than Vugman, plus one other upperweight.

Among teams that I project for now in the bottom half, I’d give Nease the nod for now based upon projected returning numbers alone. The St Johns Panthers lost just two graduates from last year’s team, but took a hit with 2x girls’ state placer Brielle Bibla (3rd at 106 in February) moving over to Tocoi Creek for her final two seasons. Still, though, Nease could have as many as 10 key kids back this year, four with Region 1 experience, and that number advantage might be enough.

First Coast returns to 3A after a two-year hiatus in 2A-District 3, and the Buccaneers have to rebuild quite a bit after losing five region qualifiers to graduation. Of the five possible key returners from last year’s side, just one had region experience, and it was a pretty quick experience. First Coast had some solid efforts, particularly at Gateway, but finishing in the top third in that tournament again this year might be difficult.

If there’s a surprise in the district, Sandalwood might just be that surprise. The Saints lost their top two kids to graduation, including 3A state 3rd Dante Rigal at 126, and have just two potential key returners back, but the coaching staff will be quite energetic, and that could encourage new blood to give the sport a try. Atlantic Coast got a few new kids out last year, but a general lack of mat time was an issue in getting those new kids seasoning, and the Stingrays have at most three key returners to call on as the season begins this year.

Projected finish: 1. Oakleaf. 2. Creekside. 3. Mandarin. 4. Bartram Trail. 5. Nease. 6. First Coast. 7. Sandalwood. 8. Atlantic Coast.

CAPSULES HERE: 3A-DISTRICT 1 CAPSULES

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#TurkeyNWrestling2021-22: 2A-District 3

New coach. Most likely, same result.

In 2A-District 3, ever since coming into the district in fall 2020, Fletcher has dominated the scene, with double titles each of the past two years.

Expect that to occur once again in 2022, even after losing a quartet of May graduates that were iconic as a group, all state qualifiers and district champions in 2021, and including medalists Ana Bradshaw (5th at 106 at girls’ state), Ethan Hollenbach (5th at 220 in March) and Joel Rodriguez (6th at 152).

The Senators still return the most-experienced boys’ group from last year, with 11 projected key returners, nine of them post-season starters (and all nine of those 2A-Region 1 qualifiers). Leading that group is the district’s only returning boys’ state qualifier in junior Ryan Klein (182 last year).

Taking into account the entire group, Ponte Vedra has by far the largest group of returners in the district, with 23 key returners back.

On the boys’ side, 12 strong potentially could come back, with nine that were post-season starters and six reaching the region round. The Sharks lost four May graduates (all on the boys’ side), with all four reaching regions and one qualifying to state. However, none got past the first day.

As for the Lady Sharks, they lost no one to graduation from last year’s team, which finished sixth at girls’ state, and should be in line for at least that level of finish again this year. Ponte Vedra could have as many as 11 back, all of whom competed at girls’ state, with junior podium finishers Olivia Richie (runnerup at 128) and Josie Sagasser (3rd at 134) leading the charge.

We have Westside in the top three, and it seems that we rank the Wolverines higher than they finish, but it seems to feel right to put them third this year. Westside lost just one May graduate from last year’s group, but it was a big loss in Ray Bolden, the Wolverines’ only district champ, only region champ, and a third at states in March.

The Wolverines could have as many as nine wrestlers back from last year, all but one (and that one due to early injury) wrestling in the post-season. Five of those nine did get to the region round.

Terry Parker is a team that could be building toward a top-half move after years of struggle. The Braves lost just two May graduates, one of them a region qualifier but didn’t compete.

Coming back is a group of as many as eight returners for the Braves. Keeping them through the post-season will be key, as only six made it a year ago, and just three of those six to regions, with one returner getting to day 2.

Englewood is an open question, with a staff being hired just a few days before practice was set to begin. Englewood lost one of its two district champs and two Saturday region qualifiers to graduation. The Rams have a possibility for eight returners from a year ago, but only five were post-season starters and four competed in the region round. They’ve got a decent middle part of the lineup sorted; if they can find consistent performance in the lower portion, they could be a top-half threat.

While Riverside is operating under a new name, the Generals usually haven’t had trouble finding talent since the site began. That will be put to the test this year after the Generals sustained the biggest graduation loss in the district, with six May graduates (five with region experience in February), led by 2x 2A state medalist Ahmahd Denmark (2nd in 2020, 3rd last year at 160). This year’s Riverside group could have as many as four returners, but only one competed at regions.

There’s always a chance that both Stanton or Ed White could, with an injection of new blood into the lineup, make a run for a district mid-pack finish, but numbers just might make that too difficult. The Blue Devils could have as many four returners from last year’s team, after losing two May graduates, but had just one wrestler with two wins at districts and none at the region level. The Commanders lost two and could return two from a year ago, with one wrestler getting to Saturday at regions, but the numbers needs both teams face are critical.

Projected finish: 1. Fletcher. 2. Ponte Vedra. 3. Westside. 4. Terry Parker. 5. Englewood. 6. Riverside. 7. Stanton. 8. Ed White.

CAPSULES HERE: 2A-DISTRICT 3 CAPSULES

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#TurkeyNWrestling2021-22: 1A-District 1

A year ago, we felt almost compelled against our will to put South Walton into the favorite’s role in 1A-District 1.

We needn’t have worried about the Seahawks being able to wrestle with a favorite’s tag, as they performed ably enough, bagging a double district title (both duals and IBT), reaching the “Sweet 16” in the FHSAA 1A dual region series and following that up with a top-10 finish in the 1A-Region 1 tournament, taking eighth.

And based on all available information to us as the season begins, the Seahawks appear once again to be the solid if not heavy favorite to repeat the double title again this season.

Graduation losses were low, at least in terms of numbers, at South Walton, which lost just two May graduates. However, one of them was three-time state qualifier Chase Maddox, who had two of those three 1A Kissimmee appearances in Seahawk singlets.

At the same time, South Walton has one of the bigger groups of returners in the district, with up to 16 potentially returning from last year. It’s the only team in the district with double-digit post-season starters (12) returning, 11 of those reaching the 1A-Region 1 tournament. And it has the only returning boys’ state medalist in senior Max Brewster (6th at 1A-120 in Kissimmee).

We’re projecting last year’s IBT runnerup, Rutherford, to return to that spot once again this year, and perhaps pull off the double in duals as well.

The Rams could have as many as 11 key returners from last year’s team, with seven of those 11 starting in the February post-season run and six getting to the region tournament.

The biggest thing this year’s Rams group will need to sort out right away is the leadership vacuum created by the district’s biggest May graduation loss, as five seniors, including three of the team’s four district champs, as well as four region and one state qualifier, have moved on. Should Rutherford sort through that issue quickly, they could issue a strong challenge to the Seahawks for district supremacy.

North Bay Haven is perhaps the team that’s most capable of making a big move within the district and the region. That’s definitely the case behind a first-year head coach that moved up from several years in the assistant ranks, most recently at NBH, plus just two post-season starters lost from last year’s group.

That new coach has the biggest group of potential returners — 19 strong at its most, all of whom will have familiarity with their new HC. Ten of those 19 competed in the post-season — a sign of how deep the room just might be — and seven competed at regions, led by super soph 1A state qualifier David Mercado (195 at Kissimmee in March).

Rocky Bayou Christian will still be very much in the mix a year removed from the Knights’ best team season in its history, a season that saw RBCA reach the region round of the FHSAA dual series, with a third in the district IBT. This year’s group is a smallish-looking cadre (nine returners, second-smallest in the district), and the Knights graduated three region qualifiers from the team of a year ago.

The positives, though, are that the Knights have several multiple-year starters that were post-season starters (seven in all) who can return. Six of those seven got to the region tournament, also a key point. However, just one returner got to the second day at that tournament.

Bozeman has several upsides heading into this season, with a fairly big returning group of returners (13) and losing none of last year’s team to graduation. But just eight of the 13 possible returners started the post-season last year, and only three got to regions, where that trio combined for just one win in the first day of the tournament. The big downside is, at the same time, an opportunity for the Bucks, as their general lack of experience can be remedied by getting more matches — although the group did not get as much off-season work as would be hoped. The hiring of a new coach may shake some things up on that front.

Bay could wind up the season anywhere between, I would think, fourth to seventh depending on its ability to bring in new blood. The Tornadoes lost just three May graduates from last year’s team, but only have seven key returners coming back. Six of them were post-season starters, but just four got to regions and only one reached the second day there. Should Bay fill in some more weights this year, a bigger room should help make everyone better.

Wewahitchka lost two of its top boys wrestlers to transfer, and while the transfer actually cleared up a logjam in the lower 2-3 weights for this year, the Gators still have several weights outstanding, even with up to seven key returners and five post-season starters. The main issue is experience; Wewa had only two boys wrestlers get to regions, with just one win there. The upside for the school, though, lies in a girls’ team that could finish in the top 20 statewide. The Lady Gators include four potential returners from a year ago, led by senior state medalist Kaylee Easter (5th at 126 in February).

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

CAPSULES HERE: 1A-DISTRICT 1 CAPSULES

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#TurkeyNWrestling2021-22: 1A-District 4

For the past couple of seasons, Clay had found itself in the role of chaser. Chasing Fleming Island for local dominance. Chasing Wakulla for northern small-school distance.

After the events of last year, this year’s group of Blue Devils are back to being chased by everyone in the north. To be fair, that’s something Clay relishes, as it’s got a string of 22 district titles (plus four district dual titles) to defend, which we are projecting the Blue Devils to do, even if the dominance last year’s Clay team achieved can’t be duplicated.

The Blue Devils were the Region 1 IBT champions and dual runners-up last year, with a 10th-place finish at states and 15th place at girls’ state. That group lost four May graduates, all of them post-season competitors, led by 1A state champion Cale Hoskinson (160).

But as it’s said, tradition never graduates, it just reloads, and this year’s group of returners is certainly the most-loaded in terms of numbers, with 20 projected wrestlers coming back (18 boys & 2 girls), 13 of them post-season starters and 12 reaching the region level.

That group includes, in addition to senior state girls’ defending champion Madisyn Blackburn (1st at 128 in February), seven FHSAA state qualifiers. Junior Dominic Martin, Clay’s lone returning boys medalist (6th at 152), will be joined by fellow returning state qualifiers Maverick Rainwater (senior, 113 in March); Chandler Thomas (sophomore, 132); Luke Boree (senior, 138); Josh Kumpf (senior, 145); Ethan Larsen (senior, 170); and Ethan Daniels (sophomore, 285). Joining that group was 2021 3A state qualifier Xavier Logan (132 last year), who transferred over from the rival Golden Eagles. That battle-tested group of veterans are this year’s leaders.

Palatka isn’t in a position, even as double-District 5 champions a year ago in both duals and IBT, to challenge Clay for top honors this year. But the Panthers have compiled two top-10 finishes in the Region 2 tournament in the last three years, and have had some solid representation at states as well.

Palatka lost just two region qualifiers from last year’s team, which can return as many as 10 key wrestlers for this coming year.

Of that group of 10, the Panthers had eight compete in the FHSAA post-season series, with all eight (including five District 5 individual champions) reaching the Region 2 tournament at Palm Bay. Junior Mikade Harvey (106 last year) not only reached the state tournament, but won a region title before taking 6th in Kissimmee. Harvey was joined at states a year ago by senior Brandon Lewis (132 last year), who might have been on track for a medal finish himself were it not for injury in the first round.

Should the Panthers falter from last year’s double-title performance in their new home, look for another new team to the district, Baker County, to step into the breach. If the Wildcats can overcome a May graduation loss that included three Saturday region qualifiers and two 1A state qualifiers, that is, and to do it with a first-year head coach running things.

It’s still very possible for Baker, which returns as many as 12 potential key returners from last year’s team. Nine of those 12 returners started for the Wildcats in the February post-season chase, with eight reaching the region round. March could see a second straight year with Baker County representation at states.

Bolles has consistently had a power-packed lineup, and one that typically wrestles at its best as the post-season is about to begin, but numbers have been an issue, and they could be again this year. Despite losing just one May graduate, a state qualifier (region champ Ethan Asbury), the Bulldogs have nine projected key returners back, so without an infusion of new blood, competing in duals is tricky (but Bolles did make the Region 1 quarterfinals last year).

Of those nine returners, all nine were post-season starters, with five reaching the region round. Senior Jack Pyburn staked his claim to hang with 1A state’s best 220s last year with a third-place finish at Kissimmee, falling only to the eventual champ in a titanic 9-7 semi. Fellow senior Jacob Witt qualified for states in 2020, and will be looking to get back there in February.

Union County had its first sanctioned season a year ago, and the Tigers’ full lineup was enough to get them a district IBT runnerup finish. This year, with a new coach at the helm, the program lost just five May graduates (three post-season starters) from a team that was only eclipsed by Clay in terms of returning numbers.

The Tigers have 17 projected key returners back (15 boys, 2 girls) from a year ago, with 12 competing in the post-season. Union has 10 returning Region 1 wrestlers back, but other than the possibility of a return from junior Christian Simmons, the Tigers’ only state qualifier (106 at Kissimmee last year), Union County has no other returning wrestlers that got past the first day of regions. Still, though, the size of the returning room is something serious to consider.

Keystone Heights needs numbers in order to crack the top half of this district after moving over from District 5, and while the Indians have seven returners that all competed in last year’s post-season and all made the Region 2 tournament, just four had more than 15 matches a year ago, and that cost them in the post-season run, as just one returning wrestler won one match at regions in Palm Bay. But Keystone lost just one May graduate, and if they can add some more numbers and then get those numbers some more matches, they could make some strides.

Wolfson is a team that seems like it could have the potential to move up the ladder this year, with just two May graduates (one that reached regions) and as many as 10 projected key returners back. Six of them were post-season starters in February and four wound up reaching the region tournament. But the offseason work just hasn’t been there for the Wolfpack, and none of last year’s region qualifiers got to the second day. If a couple of kids that were hurt last year can help more through the post-season, that will be of big benefit.

We aren’t fully sure what to expect from Tocoi Creek yet — at the time we wrote this, we didn’t have a schedule yet — but the Toros have a very established head coach returning to the area scene, and they have junior transfer Brielle Bibla (3rd at girls’ state at 106 in February) coming over this year. Bishop Snyder will be undergoing a bit of a reboot this year, but the Cardinals have up to five key returners back. However, just one of them competed in the post-season. Snyder also lost two post-season starters via graduation, including one state qualifier. After a year’s absence, FSDB is rebooting as a program, and that’s always an encouraging thought that the Dragons will be back, but at this writing, the team is still searching for a head coach after a previous hiring fell through.

Projected finish: 1. Clay. 2. Palatka. 3. Baker County. 4. Bolles. 5. Union County. 6. Keystone Heights. 7. Wolfson. 8. Tocoi Creek. 9. Bishop Snyder. 10. FSDB.

CAPSULES HERE: 1A-DISTRICT 4 CAPSULES

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#TurkeyNWrestling2021-22: 2A-District 2

I know northern readers are going to be good Matmen followers and read several previews today. But for those of you from the central and southern parts of the state, welcome to 2A-District 2, where the north’s best 3A team the past several years, Fleming Island, invades new territory in 2A, where Lincoln has been the north’s most consistent presence atop the classification.

This is a district that graduated seven state medalists and returns an equal amount; it was already the strongest district in the north even before the Golden Eagles were classified here. That they moved here made the district one of the state’s most watched ones, and that should be the case throughout the year.

And we’re projecting the 2A newcomers to lead this year, as they have done in 3A for the past six years. But winning won’t be easy for any team here.

The Golden Eagles won their fourth district duals title — they’ve never lost at the region level, let alone district level — in duals in January, adding sixth straight district and region titles on the IBT side the following month. But state was another matter, as Fleming only just stayed inside the state’s top 10 at Silver Spurs.

The graduation loss was as it typically has been for the Golden Eagles: heavy. Fleming Island lost eight May graduates from last year’s team. Six of them were post-season starters, though the two that weren’t were lost to season-ending injury. All six made it to regions, with five getting out to Kissimmee, led by 2x 3A medalist Hunter Herrington (4th at 113).

Coming back are as many as 13 key returners from a year ago. Many of them served in depth roles for last year’s graduates and couldn’t ask for better competition day in and out, but seven did see post-season starting action. Senior Hunter Williams (4th in 3A at 195 in Kissimmee) will lead that group, with juniors Joshua Sandoval (170 in March) and Ethan Hoffstetter (285), plus sophomore Joseph Forte (106), coming back as state qualifiers. That group will be joined by incoming freshman Jayce Paridon, a two-time 1A state medalist at University Christian (5th in 2020, 3rd last year), who’ll join Forte in kickstarting the lower half of the lineup.

Standing before Fleming’s irresistible force is the immovable object that Lincoln has been. The Trojans have more 2A state dual semifinal appearances than any other team in the classification and match Fleming’s four district duals titles; Lincoln has a defense of its district IBT title as well.

And, the Trojans have the biggest returning group in the district, with as many as 19 projected key returners capable of coming back. A little more than half of that group saw post-season action (11), with all 10 returning boys getting to regions. Senior Cayden Bevis (3rd in Kissimmee at 182) is the Trojans’ lone returning Silver Spurs state qualifier, though senior Maggie Moss is also a returning medalist after reaching the 195 girls’ state final in February.

Lincoln does have to work through losing four May graduates from last year’s team, three of which were region qualifiers, including 2021 Kissimmee medalists Elijah Hendley (4th at 113 in March) and Wyatt Yown (6th at 195).

While the titans battle, Columbia will be flying underneath the radar, and that might suit the Tigers just fine. Columbia lost only one senior, a region champion, from last year’s team that was fourth at Region 1 in 2020-21.

This year’s group could have as many as 13 projected key returners back from a year ago, 10 with post-season experience. Of those 10, seven got to the region round and three return with state experience, as seniors Thomas Greene (152 last year), Joseph Rice (170) and Jaycob Jones (285) all got to Kissimmee in March and will try to do so once again next March. No one in the north wrestled more, in tough environments, than Rice did this off-season.

Chiles will have to rally from last year’s lower-than-expected IBT district finish (fifth), but the bigger rally will be the loss of two state medalists that made up half of the Timberwolves’ May cadre, as 2021 seniors Kyle McGill, an undefeated state champ at 2A-182, and Femi Egberongbe (6th at 138) moved on.

The pair of them helped Chiles build a 13th-place finish at Silver Spurs in March, and this year’s group will have to see if it can duplicate last year’s Region 1 runnerup team finish. The Timberwolves have 17 possible wrestlers eligible to return from that team, but only half (nine) competed in the post-season and five had Region 1 experience, so last year’s depth has to become this year’s starting experience to help out returning boys’ state qualifiers in senior Hunter Brown (Region 1 champ at 120 last year) and juniors Sam Tolomeo (106) and Garrett Marschka (113). Tolomeo was one of just three Florida wrestlers — anywhere — to reach the state tournament after not finishing in the top four at districts.

Middleburg has a new head coach, but one who’s been in Clay County already for some time, and the combination with a sizable group of returners makes the Broncos a team that could — should anybody falter — push its way into the top half of the district table. Middleburg lost just two May graduates, both Region 1 qualifiers, from last year’s team, and can bring back up to nine post-season starters from that team. Senior Riley Girgis (126 in March) and sophomore Grady Woodard (113) both were state qualifiers for the Broncos; the number in Kissimmee next March could be bigger.

Orange Park is another team that will be a curious one to watch. The Raiders lost five May graduates from last year’s team; the losses included three state qualifiers on the boys’ side and 2021 girls’ state champion Tayana Labady (220 last year). Orange Park’s returning boys number potentially as many as six, four of whom got to regions, but none have state experience. On the other hand, the four Lady Raiders eligible to return include senior defending state champion Andrea Smith (won HWT girls’ title, but wrestled most of the year at 220) and junior Jasmine Hecht (girls’ state 3rd at 154), so expectations for the OPHS girls will be high going into the season.

Ridgeview returns to Class 2A this year after appearing for the past two seasons in 1A. The Panthers will have a new coach and many questions. While the team only lost two graduated seniors that saw significant time in the lineup, one of them was four-time state medalist and 2021 1A state champion Matthew Rodriquez (132), who’s now taken his talent to Lehigh. Ridgeview does have the possibility for a large group to return, with as many as 15 wrestlers that had at least 10 matches, but only eight competed in the post-season. The Panthers do have a possibility for seven returners with region experience, led by returning Kissimmee 1A state medlalist Derrick Mosley (6th last year). Meanwhile, Leon is the only team in the district without double digits in terms of numbers of returners. The Lions lost just three seniors to graduation, with only one Region 1 qualifier (who didn’t compete), but return only four who wrestled in that tournament. As he has for the past two seasons, senior Nolan Zirgibel (2A state qualifier at 138) will lead the Lions’ group of returners.

Projected finish: 1. Fleming Island. 2. Lincoln. 3. Columbia. 4. Chiles. 5. Middleburg. 6. Orange Park. 7. Ridgeview. 8. Leon.

CAPSULES HERE: 2A-DISTRICT 2 CAPSULES

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