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TAMPA -- With three of its four state qualifiers and nearly all of the wrestlers who helped Berkeley Prep place second in a tough district last season back, the Buccaneers have been doing well this season.
In duals, they are 6-2, and two weeks ago, they won the 16-team Florida Christian Invitational Tournament in Miami. The tournament included some of the top Class A teams in Miami. "We don't have the potential to win the Class A state championship this year, but we have two and maybe three with the capacity to place," Berkeley coach Russ Schank said. "We do have a well-balanced team, though. Most of our power is in the middle, but we do have some lightweights who do an excellent job for us."
The Bucs also have a tough 217-pounder in Shane Serafin, who placed second in Miami. Mike Burke (125), Josh Deupree (135) and Nick Dorsch (160), all seniors, are returning state qualifiers. Dorsch and another senior, Jamie Keogh (154) won individual titles in Miami. Keogh didn't qualify for the state tournament last season, but Shank said he has the potential to do so this season. Joining Burke in the lightweights are eighth-grader Brock Reynolds at 103 and sophomore Dominique Molina at 112. Molina was the first Bucs girl to qualify for the region tournament when she placed third at district at 103 last season.
"The four seniors on our team are being looked at by Stanford, Columbia, Cornell, Duke and the University of Pennsylvania," Schank said. "They got the attention of the schools because of their high grades, but all have the ability to wrestle at those schools, too." Berkeley is scheduled to wrestle its district meet Feb. 13 at Tampa Prep. Jesuit, last year's district champ, should repeat and go on to do well at the state tournament.
Schank said he has confidence in his team even though it is young. The Bucs have an eighth-grader, four freshmen and a sophomore in their starting lineup.
"We have a tough district, but I really hope to qualify all 14 wrestlers for the regionals," Schank said. "Then I would be happy to get four back to the state meet. This is crunch time. We will now work on fine-tuning their conditioning and their mental attitude. They must be convinced in their mind they can do it."
IPPOLITTO RECAP: Rocky Cozart, a state contender at 152, won his class and was named outstanding wrestler of the tournament.
He capped the two-day event by upsetting defending state champion Trevor Fair of Bradenton Manatee 6-1. Brandon won with 343 points followed by Manatee (209), Bloomingdale (1771/2), St. Cloud (1701/2), Jesuit (145) and Durant (131).
Manatee and Bloomingdale won two individual titles, and Jesuit and St. Cloud won one. The Eagles won the other eight.
Bloomingdale senior 275-pounder Derek Saibi avenged his only loss of the season by pinning Brandon's Keith Simmons in the final. Simmons beat Saibi 2-1 in a dual meet last week.
One of the most intense matches was the 119 final between Brandon's sophomore state champion Cesar Grajales and Bradenton Bayshore's senior state qualifier Damian Van Metre.
Van Metre struck first, scoring a takedown during the first period, but Grajales came back with an escape before the buzzer. The battle was intense throughout with VanMetre leading until the last 11/2 minutes. Twice, the match was stopped to wipe blood from the the mat and the nose of Van Metre.
Grajales eventually won 9-7. Matt Frenz, a senior in his first season wrestling for the Eagles, had to drop nearly 12 pounds before the tournament to wrestle at 145 for ailing teammate and two-time state qualifier David Craig. In a very competitive class, Frenz reached the final, but a semifinal injury forced him to forfeit the match.
Craig returned to practice this week.