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Leopards put end to title drought

© St. Petersburg Times
published February 4, 2003

If there's a first time for everything, Hernando's time was Saturday.

The Leopards swept through the Gulf Coast Athletic Conference dual meet tournament with a 5-0 record, marking the first time in coach Matt Smith's memory Hernando has beaten Springstead twice in the same season.

The performance gave the Leopards their first conference title since they tied Lecanto in 1996-97. It was Hernando's first outright championship since 1981-82.

"The kids have been working hard," Smith said. "I just think we have kids that have wrestling experience in almost every weight class, and I think a lot of other teams in the area are real young."

There was little suspense in Hernando's victories over Crystal River (57-18), Citrus (61-18), Central (65-10), Lecanto (56-16) and Springstead (57-22).

Next up for the Leopards, ranked sixth in Class A by, is the District 5 tourney. It includes Crystal River, Citrus and Lecanto.

Hernando -- only recently recovered from a cold that made its rounds after last month's Springstead Tournament -- is off this weekend, giving the Leopards two weeks to prepare.

"That makes me feel a lot better," Smith said. "We should have two hard weeks of practice here, then just go from there. There's going to be some tough competition in our district."

Crystal River went 7-3 overall in GCAC competition to finish second. The Pirates were 4-1 on Saturday, and Mike Kotsifakis (215) and Brady Pratt (160) each went 5-0. For the season, both finished 10-0 in the league.

"They're both seniors, and you like to see your seniors do well at the end of the season," Crystal River coach Bill Tovine said. "They work hard, but they're going to see a lot of those boys again.

"They're going to have to keep training and work on things they had problems with in the tournament," he said. "Even though they won, there's always work to be done on the mat. They both realize that and go to practice everyday and train hard."

Pirates Jeremy Cates (135), Roderic Sparks (103) and Arlando Madison (152) each had just one loss. Next up for Crystal River is Lake Weir on Wednesday and the Ocala West Port duals tourney Saturday.

Tovine said everything his squad was having problems with in the GCAC event would be worked on in practice this week.

"We're going to work on takedowns, and we've got to wrestle harder," he said. "We are healthy but still have a couple of holes and can be stronger in other areas.

"We can overcome that just by wrestling better. That's what we're going to be looking to do." The Pirates were 21st in Class A of the poll released Jan. 29.

Citrus compiled a 5-5 conference mark after going 2-3 on Saturday. Hurricanes junior Evan Branson (119) went 5-0. "Evan has a lot of potential to wrestle well, and we've been telling him that all year," Citrus coach Sean Furniss said.

"Fundamentally, he's been pretty sound, and I think he's been in a lot better shape lately, too, which helped him along."

Furniss said James Dimitrion (112) performed well against tough competition.

The 'Canes, at Ocala West Port on Wednesday, are down to 14 wrestlers after having more than 20 at various points of the season.

"We've got a lot of injuries right now, and we had a lot of kids get hurt at the conference tournament," Furniss said. "We need to get some time to just recover."

Rounding out the Citrus County finishers in the GCAC tournament was Lecanto, which went 1-4 to finish 1-9 in the conference.

On Saturday, Cole Heitt (112) was 3-2 for the Panthers.

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