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Bucs on their way up

By JAMAL THALJI, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 12, 2003

ZEPHYRHILLS -- After four years climbing the mountain, the Buccaneers finally reached the top Saturday.

Gulf won the Sunshine Athletic Conference dual-meet tournament, going 3-0 in its pool and then defeating runner-up Mitchell 50-27 in the championship.

Four seasons ago, when coach Travis DeWalt took over the decrepit program, he could barely find enough bodies to fill a lineup.

Now his Bucs have won their first conference title and are the toast, and the class, of the county.

"I tell you what, we knew we legitimately had a good shot," DeWalt said. "But we've got four brand-new faces who hadn't wrestled prior to this year, and anytime you put that into the equation, you're uncertain.

"I didn't know if we'd win it. I knew we'd be up there, but some of these kids stepped it up and really wrestled well."

The Bucs were led by two undefeated wrestlers, 103-pounder Joey Pospisil and 215-pounder Freddie Liriano, who each went 4-0. Six Buccaneers finished 3-1: Bryan Ryder (135), Joe Brandau (140), Jordan Stewart (160), Andrew Mendonca (171), Tim Tracy (189) and Cameron Neptune (275).

In the final match, Gulf's Pospisil led off with a 20-second pin, but Mitchell won the next three weight classes (112-130) to take the lead.

The Bucs fought their way back, as Ryder scored a pin in 1:31, Brandau earned a pin in 3:19 and Stewart took an injury default. Mendonca pinned in 4:42 as Gulf swept the last five weight classes (160-275).

Before DeWalt took over the program, Gulf went 0-15 in the 1999-2000 season, as turmoil between parents, wrestlers and coaches took its toll.

DeWalt, a former Gulf legend himself, stepped in and led the young team to a 9-11 record and sixth-place SAC finish in 2000-01. Last season, the Bucs went 22-4 and were conference runners-up. Now, DeWalt's team is 12-0 and just getting started.

"I'm hoping it gives us some confidence," he said. "I think we're starting to wrestle to the ability of what I expect. Two years ago, they couldn't buy a match. Now, they're winning matches all over the place. I think we're going to get that confidence that we lost after we hadn't won a match (in 1999-2000.)"

Host Zephyrhills took third with a 50-28 win over River Ridge; Land O'Lakes was fifth after beating Wesley Chapel 69-12; and Ridgewood finished seventh after beating Pasco 60-23.

Saturday's tournament determined the best dual-meet team in the county. Individual and team conference honors are at stake in the Feb. 1 SAC bracketed tourney at Land O'Lakes.

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