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County's best continue their rivalry

By GREG AUMAN, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published January 22, 2002

LAND O'LAKES -- Two of the county's top wrestlers compete in the same weight class, and Saturday's conference championship between River Ridge's Joey Mayo and Land O'Lakes' Matt Embry only added to a rivalry that could grow all the way to the state tournament in Lakeland.

"He's definitely the toughest competition I have," said Mayo, who avenged his only two losses of the season with a 10-4 victory in the 215-pound final.

"Every time we go at it, it's a back-and-forth battle. This time, I got the best of him. But I don't know what he'll have waiting next time."

Embry had dealt Mayo his first loss of the season a week earlier at Springstead and pinned him again when the Gators and Knights met in a dual meet Saturday.

But the Land O'Lakes senior, wrestling his ninth match in two days and suffering the lingering effects of a cold, trailed 8-0 entering the final period and lost his fifth match of the season.

"I know he's worked a lot harder to stop my switches, but I've been sick for the past week," Embry said.

"I've had all kinds of medicine in me all day."

Gators coach Brett Murray said he has seen steady improvement from Mayo this season.

"Joey's a tough kid, and he's improved a lot," Murray said. "He's wrestling Matt better and better each time. And tonight was his time. Matt will take the loss, knowing that this isn't the last time they may meet each other."

Embry and Mayo (34-2) are in Class 2A and will meet in district and regional competition.

Both schools are participating in a 10-team dual tournament at Land O'Lakes, but the two will not meet unless both teams win their pools and meet in the final.

Barring that, Embry will have the top seed at the district tournament thanks to a 2-1 head-to-head advantage. TOP OF THE CLASS: The conference awards the top two wrestlers in each weight class all-conference honors, with only one at-large spot going to the best wrestler not among those 28.

Look for that wild-card honor to come out of the 119-pound class, which has as many as five wrestlers good enough to earn a trip to the state tournament.

Even with Ridgewood's Matt Bullwinkel temporarily wrestling at 125, coaches had a tough call filling Saturday's 119-pound final. Hudson senior Luke Jabron went 8-0 in dual meets but took an injury default from the final.

That left three wrestlers, all of whom had lost to Jabron and finished 1-1 against the other two: River Ridge's J.T. Heckler, Wesley Chapel's Bill Zeranski and Zephyrhills' Nick Spine.

Coaches eventually chose a Heckler-Zeranski final, where Heckler earned a 12-4 victory.

Ridgewood coach Vincent Lowe called the class a "meat grinder," and Zephyrhills coach Kevin Epifanio said no other class in the county can go as many as three deep.

"It's a class where you're five deep. It's just a tossup," Epifanio said.

"On any given Saturday, you'll get a different champion every other meet.

MUSTANG RALLY: Mitchell, in only its second season, went 5-3 in conference, losing by just two points to River Ridge and Zephyrhills.

No other team came within 12 points of the Knights, and the Mustangs' progress left coach John Marretta impressed.

"I've been really stressing to the kids, this weekend you can't get pinned. You can give up three or four, but don't give up six points," he said.

"We had some tough matches, but they came through for us when we needed them on the mat."

Mitchell's lone finalist was sophomore 145-pounder Seth Perry, who, like Wesley Chapel's Kevin Boyd in the 103 final, got a two-point takedown in the final second to win. REDHEADS: Pasco's Nate Engel and Jack Bailey, who advanced to their respective finals, showed their school spirit by dyeing their heads in a red-and-black checkerboard design, leaving them looking something like a sno-cone.

"We just wanted to do something since it's our senior year, to go out with a bang," said Engel, who pinned Ridgewood's Billy Bullwinkel to win at 112. Pirates coach Mark DeAugustino, whose limited numbers held his team to an 0-8 record over the weekend, said he'll go for the same hairstyle ... if Pasco wins the state team title this season.

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