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The avengers of Pasco County

By GREG AUMAN, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published April 13, 2003

ZEPHYRHILLS -- The first time Shane Hand went for a state title, he spent the minutes leading up to the heavyweight final nervous and anxious, pacing as he watched other matches on the floor of the Lakeland Center.

This time, minutes away from a chance to become the second Pasco County wrestler to repeat as state champion, the Zephyrhills senior was so relaxed that Bulldog coaches had to wake him up in a training room two matches before he was to take to the mat.

"Shane was always real calm and collected about his wrestling," assistant coach Matt McDermott said. "He took every match the same way, relaxed but ready. I don't think the pressure ever really got to him. We didn't see it in the wrestling room, didn't see it at any time. He handled it all real well."

There were wrinkles along the way. He faced the same opponent in the same weight class. But unlike his junior season, Hand didn't enter state with momentum.

One week earlier, Hand took his first loss of the season, falling to his closest rival, Hudson senior Walter Truzack. Hand had beaten Truzack five times during their senior season, but Truzack finally got the better of him.

The loss ended up helping Hand, first by putting him on the easier side of the state bracket and, more important, rekindling his motivation.

"I said early in the year that I'd like to see him lose once," McDermott said. "Once a wrestler thinks he can't be beaten, he gets lackadaisical in the room. He recovered from that loss quick, and I know it motivated him. He kicked it in that last week, and I knew he was going to be a handful."

Hand faced Fort Lauderdale Cardinal Gibbons' Leon Harrington, who beat Truzack in the semifinals and lost to Hand 8-4 in last season's final. Harrington chipped away at a deficit with help from a few stalling penalties against Hand, but Hand hung on for a one-point win, joining Land O'Lakes' Ken Gorman (1981-82) as the only repeat champions in county history.

His first title was celebrated with a Bulldogs tattoo on his left biceps. But the second is less of an occasion than and more of a goal completed. He talks about getting a bigger tattoo on his right arm but admits he might just add a 2003.

The title doesn't mean the end of his career. Hand will attend two national tournaments, including one in West Virginia next month, and he's being recruited by Division I programs such as North Carolina and Virginia Tech.

As the starting center on Zephyrhills' district champion football team, Hand also has offers to play football at smaller colleges. He knows wrestling is a ticket that could take him to a major university, where tougher competition might mean dropping 40 pounds or more off his 288-pound frame.

Despite carrying the target of being a defending champion all season, of being the one wrestler other heavyweights trained to beat, Hand said the second state title was easier simply because he had been through all of it before.

"Junior year was hard, but this wasn't hard," Hand said. "The second one felt just as good as the first. It just another step."

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