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Preps

County sends several contenders for titles

Brandon leads the way, but wrestlers from other schools could bring home glory as well.

By TERRY JONES

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 25, 2003


TAMPA -- Only 35 Hillsborough County wrestlers survived the first two rounds of the postseason. Eight to 10 have to be considered solid contenders to capture state championships.

Brandon, ranked No.1 among all classifications by Floridakids.com, might have the most skilled team in Florida wrestling history.

The Eagles qualified 12 from their Class 2A region meet, including nine champs, and could break the state record of most champions in a state meet. Five is the record; Brandon has nine favorites.

The Eagles could come home Saturday night with their 14th championship, a state record, and maybe five or six individual titles.

Bloomingdale, Jesuit, Temple Heights and Tampa Prep have one wrestler each that are likely to contend for titles.

Matt Juncal leads the parade of potential state champs for Brandon. The 189-pound senior has two state championships and carries a 38-0 record this season to further intimidate his weight class.

Juncal is being recruited by several Division I colleges. He and Alejandro Figueroa are the Brandon captains and the only seniors of the 12 state qualifiers.

At 103 pounds, Figueroa sets the table for his teammates. He is 38-0 and seeks his first individual state championship.

Eagles returning as defending state champs include sophomores Cesar Grajales (119) and Khalid Andwele (125).

Grajales, a second-generation team state championship wrestler, also is 38-0 and will be tough to beat.

Andwele (125) won at 112 last year and has three losses this season. Two of those losses were to the opponent he beat in the state finals last year, Stan Liberatore of Sickles.

Liberatore, a senior, wants nothing more than to end his successful career with one more win over Andwele.

Another pair of title favorites are the Joyce brothers. Ryan (130) is a junior at Brandon and his brother Sean (103) is an eighth grader at Temple Heights. Both are in very tough brackets but they have good shots.

Eddie Hutchinson (135) and twin brother Tommy (140) of Brandon are regional champions and both have beaten state champions this season. Both will have to overcome defending state champions at least once this weekend to win.

Brandon's David Craig maybe the best 145 pounder in the Southeast. The freshman was 34-0 this season. He is tall, strong, skilled, aggressive and intimidating.

He works out in practice with Rocky Cozart (152), the son of Eagles coach Russ Cozart. Both are favorites to capture titles.

Two more Eagle favorites are Rashard Goff (215) and Keith Simmons (275).

Goff and Simmons will be in the hunt for individual championships, but their primary objective, they and Juncal say, is to help Brandon win the state title by scoring as many points as possible.

Another heavyweight favorite is Bloomingdale senior Derek Saibi in Class 3A. His only loss for the season was to Simmons and he avenged the loss later.

Tampa Prep has Ewen Ettore, a junior and a favorite to take the 215-pound title for Class A.

One of the top wrestlers in the state of any weight is Jesuit's Alex Enriquez, who could win in Class A. The junior 135-pounder was injured last year and unable to compete for the state title.

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