© St. Petersburg Times, published December 3, 2002
Springstead coach Roy Reyes views the preseason as a gauge to determine where his team is heading into the season, whether it's in shape and how it will respond in live wrestling situations.
What he learned from the Eagles Preseason Classic is that his squad is not at full strength, lacks experience and has much work to do before the schedule starts Wednesday against Lecanto.
Springstead lost 47-36 to Ridgewood and 68-12 to Gulf in the first varsity action for 60-70 percent of the Eagles' lineup.
Though the results don't count toward Springstead's record, they matter to Reyes, who replaced program founder Bob Levija in the offseason. Levija stepped down after 23 years.
"I'm a competitor; I like to win, no matter what -- chess game, ping pong, swimming," Reyes said. "I told the guys, "It doesn't count, but it's still a dual.'
"I think some of the kids just didn't take it quite as seriously, because they figure, "We wear the S, we're going to win.' Well, no," Reyes said. "The last 23 years, you wear the S, you work your tail off, then you get the results."
Springstead was without five of its top athletes.
Reyes hopes that freshman Jason Booker (119-25), out with a sprained thumb, returns for the Lecanto match.
Senior Timmy Heal (112-19), a third-year wrestler, remains sidelined with an injured rotator cuff and is not expected back until Christmas. Senior Steve Bartke, the Eagles' 152-pounder, injured his sternum in practice a couple of weeks ago. Bartke came down on a teammates' leg, lost his breath and remained down for about 10 minutes. Bartke is back in school, but there is no immediate timetable for his return.
"He's a guy that can be a threat, so that obviously left a big, gaping hole in the middle," Reyes said.
Ryan Eubanks, who would have been Springstead's 125-pounder, sustained head and knee injuries in a motorcycle accident. His status is week-to-week. As if the Eagles weren't short-handed enough, Tommy Walker has not decided whether he wants to wrestle after winning a district title at 112 last season.
"It's frustrating as a coach," Reyes said. "You know you've got some weapons and they're sitting off to the side and you're going into war crippled, basically, from not being at full strength."
In an attempt to fill the holes in his lineup, Reyes moved up junior Nate Booker -- a district champ at 171 last season -- two classes to 215 and bumped senior Fabien Lewars -- a state qualifier at 119 -- one class to 130.
Each went 2-0 in the Classic, though Booker was hobbled by an ankle injury.
"We kind of moved them around to try to get our best lineup, so to speak, for the preseason," Reyes said. "I'd like to see them come down. Nate's really a 171-pounder."
First-year wrestlers Tony Grossi (125) and Joe Merando (135) made successful debuts, showing Reyes "a lot of heart" in losing efforts.
"That preseason showed me real quick who's got guts, who's got heart, who's going to keep fighting when they're down," he said. "Boy, you can make champions out of kids like that."
DRAWING NOTICE: Hernando opened some eyes in the Classic, losing 39-36 to Gulf and beating Ridgewood 51-21 despite forfeiting two weight classes.
"They looked really tough; I would say that's the toughest I've probably ever seen Hernando, including the years I wrestled in the county," said Reyes, a former 145-pound state runner-up at Central.
"I'm real impressed with the Combs brothers, the Pritzes; I'd say they're solid. They're the team to beat around here right now."
Hernando led Gulf 36-33 entering the heavyweight match before the Bucs' Cameron Neptune pinned Windham Rotunda in 1:08.
Against Ridgewood, the Leopards won five straight matches between 135-160 to erase a 15-0 deficit.
Bill Combs (135, 145), Michael Combs (152), Charley Combs (160) and Thomas Lyle (215) each won two bouts for Hernando.
"That's great," Reyes said, "because that raises the bar around here."