No one is taking anything for granted in the 2A, District 9 competition.
By GREG AUMAN
Published February 13, 2004
To say Saturday's Class 2A District 9 competition could be close, you have to appreciate how close it was a year ago.
Ridgewood, you may recall, was awarded the district crown, hoisted the trophy high and celebrated, only to find out the scoring was incorrectly calculated. Upon further review, Land O'Lakes was determined to win by a half-point, and the Rams had to turn their trophy in.
How do you top such gripping grappling? Invite more teams in as potential champions with legitimate claims to the district title, and having learned an agonizing lesson, don't throw any parades until the calculators are turned off.
"I don't know if it's possible not to be close," said Rams coach Vinnie Lowe, who had another recount come up short two weeks ago when he lost the conference crown by three points. "We've dealt with a half-point loss at districts, three points at conference, and it's tough. If you're down a couple of weight classes, you've got to rely on bonus points and kids stepping up to make up for those holes."
The Rams and Gators are back among the district favorites, having finished second and third two weeks ago in the Sunshine Athletic Conference championships. But Mitchell and Springstead are lurking close behind, strong enough that coaches warn against treating this as a two-team race.
"I think you're forgetting a big one in Mitchell," said Land O'Lakes coach Brett Murray, asked if last year's Gators-Rams recount could be rekindled. "They were not at full strength at conference, and I"m not expecting to see the same Mitchell team that we saw there."
Land O'Lakes won't be at full strength on its home mats Saturday. Murray wouldn't specify which wrestler or why, but said his team "will be a little short-handed ... we're not going to be fielding a big team." He said his top three wrestlers - Jeff Ramer (145), Clay Hulsey (171) and Scott Mays (189) - are healthy and will compete.
Mays (28-3) won a district title last year, as did Hulsey (14-3), and Ramer (32-5) won a conference crown two weeks ago and should be a favorite in his weight class. Still, Murray doesn't know if he has the top-to-bottom contributions to outscore the Rams.
"I think we're more of a spoiler than a real factor to win it," Murray said. "If everybody wrestles to their capabilities, they can all move on (to regionals). We really shouldn't be leaving more than two or three wrestlers at home."
Ridgewood, led by seniors Billy and Matt Bullwinkel, Anthony Jackson and Keith Coghlan, is the team to beat, though Springstead will be hungry to get the district trophy. Last year marked the first time in 12 years that the Eagles weren't district champs. They could have two more district champs in 103-pounder Shane Higgins and 119-pounder Micah Marcano, a surprise winner at the conference tournament.
Mitchell will compete without 152-pound sophomore Michael Trinidad, a defending district champion, because of academic problems, but the Mustangs have three standout wrestlers who faced tough competition and still have single-digit losses. Nate Pozzi, 25-2 at 145 pounds, and Gregg Steiner, 24-7 at 140, are Mitchell's best shots at individual titles, and freshman Joey Fiore, 23-6 at 103 pounds, will get another shot at Higgins and Hudson's A.J. Reyes.
"I think if the kids show up ready to wrestle, we could be in there, though I don't know how much in the thick of things will be," coach John Marretta said. "Land O'Lakes was tough at the conference tournament, and Ridgewood is just loaded. Both of them, being so close at conference, I'm sure they're both fired up to bring home the trophy."
Lowe, while confident in his team, doesn't want to count out any team Saturday, saying all four teams have the potential for victory.
"I think Springstead is a wild card," he said. "I don't know much about them, except that they have improved steadily as the year has gone on. Mitchell, since the beginning of the season, has the ability to put 14 decent athletes on the mats. If they get a day where those 14 come together, they're right there, too."