© St. Petersburg Times, published January 20, 2002
LAND O'LAKES -- All season, River Ridge has had four wrestlers good enough to give the Knights the county's top finish in tough tournaments. What gave coach Mike DeGennaro the Sunshine Athletic Conference crown Saturday -- after an undefeated run through eight dual matches -- was a team effort.
"I think the conference as a whole is pretty tough, and we had a few kids really rise to the occasion," said DeGennaro, who had four seniors -- Joey Mayo, John Gilmore, J.T. Heckler and Tommy Parente -- go 4-for-4 in the finals.
That's standard fare for that quartet, but DeGennaro said what ultimately made the conference title possible was a strong weekend from his second tier.
"When I go into a tournament, I kind of expect those four to do well, but we had a great performance from Steve Jacobsen, Steve Giaratanno, Jerry Studer, Anthony Daugherty," DeGennaro said. "Those kids came through for us. They all went 5-3, and those are the guys that picked it up for us."
Only once in eight dual meets did the Knights win by less than 12 points, 39-37 against Mitchell. Gulf went 7-1 to take runner-up honors, losing head-to-head against River Ridge 49-30.
"They didn't beat teams by a few points -- they ran them over," Bucs coach Travis DeWalt said of his team. "They were hungry. They did real well."
Gulf was also the only conference team not to earn an individual title, as four Buccaneers lost in the finals. Host Land O'Lakes, the defending conference champion, finished fourth and got individual wins from Chris Bowen (160 pounds) and Mike McCarthy (140). Zephyrhills got first-period pins from Doug Burden (135) and Shane Hand (275), and Ridgewood got second-period pins from Keith Coghlan (130) and Bobby Shields (171).
Seven of the 14 finals were won by pins, but two others in particular couldn't have been closer. Mitchell's Seth Perry and Wesley Chapel's Kevin Boyd both trailed by a single point in the final seconds before getting two-point takedowns.
"I already had two losses against him, so I just wanted to give it my all," said Boyd, a freshman who trailed Ridgewood's Anthony Jackson most of the match before rallying to win his first tournament title. "I bear-hugged him, used all my strength and all my will and got him down."
Of River Ridge's four wins, none was bigger than Mayo's, who avenged his only two losses of the season by beating Land O'Lakes' Matt Embry, who had pinned him earlier Saturday.