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Cougars better together

Countryside state champions have each other to thank for outstanding seasons.

By BOB PUTNAM, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 31, 2002

Countryside state champions have each other to thank for outstanding seasons.

Countryside's Steve Spicuzza and Matt Turtzo have faced a who's who of Florida high school wrestlers. But when asked who their toughest opponent was this season, the two answer by simply looking each other in the eye.

"The toughest competition I had came in practice against Steve," Turtzo said. "He pushes me and makes me become a better wrestler."

"I can say the same about Matt," Spicuzza said. "I owe a lot of my success to him."

Practicing against each other paid off. Spicuzza and Turtzo, both juniors, were the only wrestlers from Pinellas County to win titles at the state tournament, ending a two-year drought for the county. They also helped Countryside place third in Class 2A, the highest finish among county teams.

"I was so glad we were able to do it together," Turtzo said.

Last season, both were spectators for the state finals. (Spicuzza did not qualify and Turtzo was knocked out early with a concussion.)

Instead of reflecting on what might have been, Spicuzza and Turtzo watched the finals and talked about the future.

"That's when we really got serious about winning," Spicuzza said. "We both wanted to be two-time state champions and this was it. We knew we had to work hard and make some sacrifices."

Spicuzza and Turtzo started right away on their quest. They put in their time in the school's wrestling room, a narrow building tucked underneath the bleachers of the school's gymnasium. Rarely taking a day off, they wrestled until their chests heaved and their shirts and shorts were darkened with sweat.

"There were a lot of times when we missed hanging out with friends because we had a tournament to go to," Turtzo said. "But it was all worth it."

Turtzo won his title by beating Brandon's Rocky Cozart, a freshman who was undefeated, in the 140-pound final. Afterward, Turtzo squinted through the bright lights in hopes of finding Spicuzza, who won a state title one weight class before him at 135.

"To have your picture up there with the other state champs will be great," said Turtzo, referring to Countryside's wrestling Hall of Fame.

"Even better is that mine will be there with Steve's."

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