After three top-four finishes, David Emch - the wrestler of the year - won a championship.
By TERRY JONES
© St. Petersburg Times, published March 11, 2001
BRANDON -- As he walked onto the mat for his semifinal match at the state meet, Brandon's David Emch was nervous.
Seldom did he experience that feeling, but the semifinals had been his downfall in his previous two state tournaments.
As a sophomore, he had a bad hip and lost. Last year, he lost by a point to a three-time state champion. But this time, he beat regional champion Ron Crotty of Land O'Lakes 9-2 and went on to beat Gulf's David Spaulding 11-6 to win the 140-pound title. In addition to winning five other tournaments and finishing 38-0 this season -- the only undefeated wrestler in the county -- he set a state record for career pins with 105.
"We had some great wrestlers in our county this year, including three other state champions," Emch said. "So it is a great honor to be selected as wrestler of the year.
"This was a dream season for me. I attained all my team and personal goals and earned a scholarship." Emch set three goals before his senior season. He wanted to help draw the team together, help it win a state championship and win his state title.
"All of our seniors made a vow to do everything possible to win a team state championship, which has eluded us since after our freshman season," he said. "We have the greatest coach (Russ Cozart) in the country, and we wanted to please him. But we had so many young wrestlers to depend on. We weren't sure. We had to bring them together, toughen them up and push them hard."
The freshman and sophomores came through as well as the seniors and juniors.
Seniors Brian Burgman (second), Nick Ferrario (third), Joe Papp (third), Mike Manza and Jonathan Wiley scored valuable points. And freshmen Ryan Joyce (third) and Tommy Hutchinson (fifth), sophomores Matt Juncal (state champion), Alejandro Figueroa (fourth) and juniors Chris Collins and Brian Barsoumian added points.
Emch grew up in Nebraska, participating throughout the Midwest in some of the toughest youth wrestling competition in the nation. His dad, a member of the Air Force, was transferred to MacDill before his freshman season.
He became the first freshman in Brandon history to make the varsity starting lineup. He placed fourth in the state tournament that year, helping the Eagles win state title No. 11.
His reputation in youth wrestling, his success in national freestyle tournament competition and his results as a Brandon wrestler helped him get a scholarship to Iowa Central Junior College in Fort Dodge, Iowa.
From there, he hopes to move on to a Division I college.