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Cougar's desire overcomes all

ALL-PINELLAS COUNTY WRESTLER OF THE YEAR: Two severe knee injuries and tough competition can't keep Mike Flood from winning a state title.

By BOB PUTNAM, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 16, 2003


His right knee has a red dot that marks the spot where a polyester fiber was implanted six months ago to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament. His left knee, the one he sprained during practice two months ago, has the support of a bulky brace whenever he wrestles.

Mike Flood spent his senior season at Countryside coping with pain. Injuries limited his ability and his knees ached after each bout.

But for him, being a state champion never hurt so good.

Flood, a 125-pounder, got past the injuries and tough competition to win his first state title.

"I'm so happy for him," Cougars coach Dave Frayer said. "He's just been amazing. With everything that's happened to him, he could have easily said, 'The heck with this,' and given up. But he was determined. He's truly a gutty kid."

Frayer first witnessed Flood's indomitable spirit in January. Preparing to face Brandon in the Challenge the Streak Tournament, Flood went down, grimacing and holding his leg. His screams echoed through the gymnasium.

He knew what had happened, that he had partially torn the anterior cruciate ligament and sprained the medial collateral ligament in his left knee.

Frayer scratched him from the tournament and figured he might be lost for the season. But Flood was dogged in his pursuit of a state title and opted to finish the season before having surgery. He was back in the lineup six days after the injury.

Flood won conference, district and region titles and entered the state meet with one loss. He liked his chances of grabbing that elusive state title, so much so he told Frayer he was going to win.

"I admired his attitude, but I knew it was going to be a difficult task," Frayer said.

If Flood thought wrestling on two creaky knees was tough, try doing it in a weight class that included two defending champions. That's what was asked of Flood at the state meet.

He answered by beating three-time champion Guy Gibson of Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas in the semifinals and defending champion Stan Conley-Liberatore of Sickles in the final.

"I just knew I could do it," Flood said. "I had a lot of things go wrong, but I couldn't let that keep me from my goal. I just stayed focused."

Two other Cougars, Steve Spicuzza (135 pounds) and Matt Turtzo (140) won their second state titles. The three champions tied a school record and helped Countryside score 1581/2 points to finish second.

For the Cougars, the state meet capped the greatest season in county history and arguably one of the best ever in the state.

But the final night belonged mostly to Flood.

"He deserved a state title more than anyone and is one of the toughest kids I know," Turtzo said. "Wrestler of the Year? Heck, he's the wrestler of the decade."

COACH OF THE YEAR

With six state place-winners back, including two state champions, it appeared Countryside coach Dave Frayer did not have to do much to guide his team to a 21-1 dual-meet record and a second-place finish at the Class 2A meet.

But there were a few bumps along the way.

Mike Flood suffered through two knee injuries. Steve Spicuzza slumped midway through the season. Matt Turtzo was held out of a tournament to rest his injured shoulder. And Garry Dodds was out for two weeks because of a biting incident.

Still, despite the setbacks, the Cougars never missed a beat.

Credit that to Frayer.

"He helped us out a lot, not only this year, but all four years," Turtzo said. "He's a great coach. That's why he's in the Hall of Fame."

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