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ST. PETERSBURG - There was no fooling around at Northside Christian's wrestling practice Tuesday evening.
A team with several interesting personalities, the Mustangs know just how important this weekend's state tournament is. And the discipline was evident in practice. When a timing buzzer signaled the end of a drill, that wasn't a sign for the wrestlers to relax and start goofing off. Instead they studiously continued to the next exercise, a plain example of Northside's focused mentality that has served the team well all season.
Coach Chris Wilmington knows the talent is evident in this group, which is ranked third in Class A according to Scout.com and will be sending seven off to the Lakeland Center, including 135-pound defending champion Dalton Dennis.
"Coaching this group of kids is just so much more than just wrestling," Wilmington said. "We are a real close group of individuals. It's kind of cliche, but we're a real close family. I have no academic problems, no discipline problems with these kids. These guys do more than just practice together, they hang out together. These kids have been going two-a-days and really enjoy doing it. I don't see us failing."
Local fans know of the success of the Dennis brothers, Dryden and Dalton, but there is a bevy of Mustangs who have more than just an outside shot of taking home gold Saturday. Senior Brian Travis, 42-3 and a three-time state qualifier, is ranked second in the 125-pound class and sees himself standing on the podium at the end of the day.
"I've always wanted to be a state champion," Travis said. "My brother Nick fell one match short of qualifying for states back in '08 at St. Petersburg Catholic. I kind of feel like I have to not only do it for him, but myself and the team. It would be a huge accomplishment if I could do it this weekend."
But setting aside all the individual goals and looking at the team's chance of nabbing a state crown is something every Mustang wrestler is aspires to, as Northside is the only Pinellas County squad that has a shot.
Senior 145-pounder Cliff Barker, who has wrestled under Wilmington since seventh grade, understands how satisfying it would be to bring a state title back to Northside.
"Winning region last weekend really has given us to confidence to win state," Barker said. "Last year we were second at everything, second at district, second at region, but hopefully we can change that all around this weekend. This season we finished first at district, first at region and hopefully we can finish first at states."
State meet at the Lakeland Center
Friday: weigh-ins, 8 a.m.; wrestling, 10 a.m.; Saturday: weigh-ins, 7:30 a.m.; restart, 9 a.m.; finals, 5 p.m.
2009 champions: Gulf (A); Oviedo (2A); Brandon (3A)
Skinny: It's go time at the Lakeland Center, as 38 Pinellas County wrestlers will be vying for individual titles. Northside Christian's Dalton Dennis (135), who won gold last year, will try to repeat and lead the Mustangs to a Class A team crown in the process. Dunedin's Mike Hogan comes into the state tournament with an impressive 50-3 mark and will have to get by a tough crowd in the Class 2A 171-pound class. Largo's Clarence "Snoop" Longley ranks third in the state in the 135-pound class, according to Scout.com, and could face Springstead's Cody Ross on Saturday. Expect Springstead and Brandon to contend for team titles in Class 2A and 3A, respectively.
Wrestlers to watch: A - Marty Milne, CCC (119); Jordan Christopher, CCC (125); Brian Travis, Northside Christian (125); Dryden Dennis, Northside Christian (130); Dalton Dennis, Northside Christian (135); Dontae McGee, Admiral Farragut (140); Anthony Melillo, Northside Christian (140); Cliff Barker, Northside Christian (145); Zane May, Northside Christian (152); Jason Piquette, Northside Christian (160); Kenny Price, Lakewood (171); Justin Lewandowski, CCC (189); Blaine Ward, Admiral Farragut (215); 2A - De'Jhuan Monroe (103), Boca Ciega; Dana Harrington, Dixie Hollins (125); James Bueno, Dixie Hollins (135); Clarence Longley, Largo (135); Austin Prince, Dunedin (140); Cody McKinnon, Largo (140); Matthew Dixon, Osceola (140); Josh Jeffries, Largo (145); Chris Johnson, Largo (152); Kyle Goodnow (160), Dunedin; Jonathan Gille, Osceola (160); Mike Hogan, Dunedin (171); David Vogheny (189), Largo; Jared Willet, Osceola (215); RJ Luth, Dunedin (215); Shane Haller, Osceola (285); 3A - Patrick Brown, East Lake (112); Ryan Hartman, Countryside (119); Aaron Hartman, PHU (130); Dylan Gouletas, East Lake (145); Charles McDaniel, Countryside (160); Nick Oregera, PHU (171); Kevin Kitchen, Countryside (215); Jared Stippert, PHU (215); Ryan Johnson, Countryside (285)