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Leopards end 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."

Smith credited seniors Billy Combs and Thomas Lyle for setting the tone for the Leopards.

Combs (135 pounds) and Lyle (189) each went 5-0 at their respective weights to lead 10 Hernando wrestlers who are expected to earn all-conference recognition when coaches meet after the season.

Jimmy Paynter was 5-0 at 125, Chris Malvesti 4-1 at 130, Stephen Pritz 4-1 at 140, David Pritz 4-0 at 145, Charley Combs 5-0 at 152, Stephen Wilkins 4-1 at 160, Addison Chipoletti 5-0 at 171 and Windham Rotunda 5-0 at heavyweight.

Ryan Scott (3-2 at 103), Earnest Ellis (2-3 at 119), Jack Duvall (2-3 at 112) and Michael Combs (0-1 at 145) also contributed to the title.

Though 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), the meet produced a few highlights.

Chipoletti, pinned by Crystal River's Jimmy Metz in a dual meet earlier in the season, returned the favor in 1 minute, 54 seconds.

Malvesti pushed favored Springstead's Fabien Lewars two periods, trailing 2-0 after the first and 8-4 after the second before Lewars pulled away to win 15-6.

Hernando weighed in two at 145, as David Pritz was recovering from a dislocated elbow.

Pritz was held out against Central's Sergio Matos, who is undefeated this season. Freshman Michael Combs, starting for Pritz, scored a few takedowns before losing 20-7.

Next up for Hernando, ranked sixth in Class A by, is the district tournament.

The Leopards, recently recovered from a cold that made its rounds after last month's Springstead tournament, are off this weekend, giving them 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," he said. "There's going to be some tough competition in our district."

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