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Knights claimed SAC title

River Ridge coach Mike DeGennaro overcame obstacles to lead his team to a conference championship.

By GREG AUMAN, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published March 24, 2002


Other teams fared better at the state meet, others finished with better dual-meet records, but for bringing a team together against the county's toughest competition, River Ridge's Mike DeGennaro was the coach whose team emerged as the Sunshine Athletic Conference champion.

His team was a coach's dream -- eight seniors in his starting 14, including four strong enough to earn conference titles.

Joey Mayo, John Gilmore, Tommy Parente and J.T. Heckler went 4-for-4 in the SAC finals, and all but Heckler advanced to the state tournament in Lakeland.

"Most of those seniors were the first big group of freshmen that came into the program my second year," DeGennaro said.

"A lot of kids weren't coming out before that, so a big part of coaching the last few years has been trying to bring this group along."

That's not to say DeGennaro didn't have his share of challenges.

He started the year without a 103-pounder and had to juggle his lineup during the season to get the best 14 on the mats at each meet.

He also entered the season with leftover baggage from football.

As head football coach, he had clashed with Gilmore enough that the senior running back left the team at midseason.

The two were able to patch up their problems and work together, helping Gilmore to conference and regional titles.

The county had no shortage of coaches worthy of being deemed the county's best.

Pasco's Mark DeAugustino saw his team finish 11th in the state despite not fielding a full lineup for most of the season.

Zephyrhills' Kevin Epifanio groomed a state champion in heavyweight Shane Hand and saw his team finish one spot behind Pasco in Lakeland.

Gulf's Travis DeWalt brought his alma mater back to prominence with a district championship.

"There was a lot of hard work put into this team," DeGennaro said, deferring credit to assistant coaches Fred Tucker and Dave Spicer. "Those two put in an awful lot of their own time, and they got it going when I was still busy with football. The three of us work very well together."

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