St. Petersburg Times Online: Sports

Weather | Sports | Forums | Comics | Classifieds | Calendar | Movies

Preps

A Tigers win here won't be so easy

Alex Enriquez and eight other district champions lead Jesuit into the region tournament this weekend.

By TERRY JONES

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 20, 2003


TAMPA -- While competing for the USA Wrestling freestyle national championship in 1998, Alex Enriquez sustained a frightening injury when a bone in his hand shattered. Two years later, as a freshman at Jesuit, Enriquez was finally able to return to the mat and finished that season in the Class A state final as a 103-pounder. But instead of winning a title, he refused to compete against his first cousin, Cesar Grajales, who was an eighth-grader at Northside Christian. They both forfeited the match and shared runner-up honors.

Last season in the state tournament, Enriquez injured his knee and shoulder and was unable to complete the competition. This season, the junior is healthy and one of the favorites to win the Class A individual championship at 135 pounds.

But there's one more obstacle to overcome. He and 12 teammates will compete in the region tournament in Sebring this weekend with hopes of capturing a team championship, and a good showing could set the Tigers up for a run at the state title later this month in Lakeland.

"I am very devoted in my beliefs in my church," Enriquez said. "Every morning at 7:30 I attend mass, and in my freshman year I offered up prayer for healing of my hand so I could wrestle for Jesuit. It still hurts some when I push it out of joint or press it the wrong way. But through prayer and hard work I have been able to work around it."

"Alex is so highly skilled in wrestling, he could do just as well up a couple of weights," Jesuit coach Brett McGill said. "But he was willing to go through the extra work and pain of cutting weight to give some teammates an opening in the lineup.

"From the opening whistle he relentlessly attacks his opponents until he scores points. When he walks onto a mat, you can be sure he is going to score some points. He certainly has a good shot at an individual championship this year."

This season Enriquez is 36-1. His only loss was by one point to a defending Class 3A state champion. "I have a lot of respect for the student-athletes on our team," McGill said. "They always show up for practice and work hard, but that is only part of it. Academics are a high priority here, so they work long practices, can't eat much because they have to keep their weight down and they all have to work 75 hours of community service during the school year." Although Enriquez is a junior, he has established himself as the team leader. Because of his experience and ability, he is able to share with a number of teammates in practice.

"It is a big sacrifice to be an athlete for Jesuit, but we are willing to make that a priority," Enriquez said. "Many of us are at school every morning by 7:30 for a half-hour mass before classes. After school we practice two and often three hours, then most of us go home to run and lift weights, have dinner with our families and then usually we have two or three hours of homework."

District champions meet district fourth-place finishers in the first round of the region tournament. That matchup leans in favor of the Tigers and their nine district champions. Those early points are multiplied by the number of district champions. In addition to Enriquez, other district champs for the Tigers include: Addison Nelson (119 pounds); Joe Aramini (130); T.J. Ferrante (140); Clayton Thomas (145); Adam Virgadamo (152); Robert Bolles (160); Alex Virgadamo (171); and Garrison Sanborn (189).

"Having a good district tournament and getting good brackets doesn't guarantee a regional championship," McGill said. "Sebring and Clewiston both have great teams and both had good districts also. I can only say for certain our kids will give it their best. That is the kind of people they are and I am proud of them all."

© Copyright, St. Petersburg Times. All rights reserved.