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A leader, teacher, champion

ALL-HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY WRESTLER OF THE YEAR: For a team to be the best ever it needs a senior like Matt Juncal.


© St. Petersburg Times, published March 16, 2003

BRANDON -- In addition to six Brandon wrestlers winning individual state championships, three other Hillsborough County competitors captured titles: Alex Enriquez of Jesuit; Sean Joyce of Temple Heights; and Ettore Ewen of Tampa Prep.

Twenty county wrestlers placed in the top six at states, making 2002-03 perhaps the most productive season ever for area wrestling.

And Brandon's Matt Juncal led the way.

The 189-pound senior recorded his second undefeated season, captured his third consecutive individual state championship and led his Eagles to four state tournament records.

While working to achieve his individual goals, Juncal also encouraged his teammates, one of the youngest Brandon has ever sent to the state tournament.

Juncal was 43-0 this season with 33 pins. His leadership, along with that of co-captain Alejandro Figueroa (103 pounds), helped form unity on what proved to be the best wrestling team ever in Florida.

"With so many state champions in the county and so many good wrestlers around here, this is quite an honor to me," Juncal said of being the Times All-County Wrestler of the Year. "This has been a super season for all of us at Brandon and the rest of the county did well too.

"I am really going to miss my teammates and especially coach (Russ) Cozart. He is the greatest. I have been proud to be a captain of this team along with Alejandro. What a year."

When the season began, Cozart faced what he called a happy problem: a stable filled with the finest thoroughbreds and the job of getting them into one harness to pull a single wagon.

The results were unprecedented as the Eagles set four state tournament records with six individual champions, 246.5 team points, nine competitors in the finals and a 14th team state title.

Being a team captain was not a hard job, Juncal said.

"These guys all had the same commitment and the same goals," he said.

"They wanted to set records and they knew that would not happen with only one person. All of them were self-motivated. They will be tough for a few more years too, because our youngest state champion, David Craig, is still a freshman, Rocky (Cozart) and Cesar (Grajales) are still sophomores, Rashard (Goff) and Ryan (Joyce) are juniors. Khalid (Andwele) is a sophomore and will be back and Sean (Joyce) is another state champion and he is only in the eighth grade.

"Everyone on the state team, Tommy and Eddie (Hutchinson) and Keith (Simmons), all but Alejandro and I will be back next year."

Juncal started wrestling with the Brandon Wrestling Club as a sixth-grader.

"I was between 145 and 150 pounds then and quite chunky," he said. "It didn't take long to get rid of the baby fat, working out with the wrestling club. Now I will start preparing for college wrestling and getting an education. I will miss Brandon wrestling and all the people connected with it, especially coach Cozart."

From the beginning of the season, Cozart knew his team was special and realized it had enormous potential. But he wasn't quite sure what he had to do to pull the individual champions into a winning team.

"This team started out good, got better and by the state tournament, it was the best in Florida wrestling history," Cozart said.

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