Northside Christian senior Alex Kruklinski tends to stand out.
Not just because has the shoulders of a Minotaur or biceps you could bend galvanized pipe around. Not just because he has pinned about every county opponent he has faced.
Mostly Kruklinski stands out because sometimes he’s the only Northside wrestler competing.
At the East Lake Invitational last month, Kruklinski pinned his first three opponents before taking Largo’s Danny Berstrom — ranked No. 6 in the state at 182 pounds by Scout.com — 6-1 in the final to help cement his nod for Most Outstanding Wrestler.
“It’s lonely, I will say that,” said Kruklinski of the Mustangs’ small roster, which has swelled to four. “But I have three great coaches; they are like my teammates.”
Kruklinski (30-2) enters this week’s district tournament at Indian Rocks Christian with 21 pins, one technical fall and two major decisions. His losses came at the Super 32 Challenge in Greensboro, N.C., and in the National Prep Slam finals in Atlanta. Kruklinski also is top ranked in his weight class (195) for Class A and has wrestled the No. 2, Ben Willard of Fort Myers Evangelical Christian, three times — winning 16-2, 12-0, 9-2.
“I feel very confident in his path to a state title at 195 pounds,” coach Zach Breitenbach said.
But how did Kruklinski get here?
Kruklinski, born in Moscow, spent his first 23 months in an orphanage. Michael and Christy Kruklinski already had a young daughter, Emily, but wanted to adopt. They received pictures and video of baby Alex and, “knew God was blessing us with a beautiful son,” Christy said.
When they brought Alex home to Nashville, “he had no hair or fingernails and could barely walk,” Christy said.
“(But) Alex developed very quickly and every doctor’s visit or trip to the pool, we’d notice the difference,” Michael said.
Dad remembers one doctor’s visit when a young Kruklinski flexed as he received a shot, breaking off the needle. Perhaps that was an indicator of his career to come.
“Alex always has the advantage in strength,” Breitenbach said. “He is by far stronger than anyone he’s wrestled this year.”
That includes opponents in the 182 and 195 weight classes.
“At 195 he feels better and probably has an advantage in quickness because he is used to wrestling lighter guys (last year he was at 170), and he is going to be stronger than anyone he wrestles when he’s at 182,” Breitenbach said.
Kruklinski, who has received college interest from Cumberland University in Tennessee, Appalachian State in North Carolina and Edinboro (Pa.) University, arrived at Northside via New Jersey wrestling power Bergen Catholic. The Crusaders are coming off a league championship and are ranked second in the state. He had the option of finishing his high school career at Bergen Catholic, but chose the Mustangs.
“I think the faculty in general were more inviting; they looked at me as a part of them,” Kruklinski said. “We became family after the first week.”
And it doesn’t hurt that all of his coaches, whom he often spars with, have college wrestling experience.
“In August when (Kruklinski) got here, (coach Matt Wotowiec and I) could whip him,” Breitenbach said. “But he’s gotten so much better since.”
Breitenbach is fusing Kruklinski’s breakaway strength — two New Jersey state titles in power lifting — with the skill of a wrestling technician experienced at the college level. Breitenbach even made the call to let Kruklinski move up to 195 in the middle of the season.
“Another reason for putting him at 195 is that I like the matchups better in terms of the competition he’ll face at the state tournament,” Breitenbach said.
It was a move his father disagreed with at first.
“I didn’t think this was the right move, but Coach made the right call,” Michael Kruklinski said. “He is now at a perfect weight for him though always a little under — he is full of energy.”
In a more appropriate weight class and with an accelerated learning curve, Kruklinski appears on course to take the medal stand in February, and perhaps stand atop it.
Class 3A-7 at Palm Harbor University
When: 10 a.m. Friday
Teams: Alonso, Chamberlain, Clearwater, Countryside, East Lake, Freedom, Gaither, PHU, Seminole, Steinbrenner, Wharton
Class 3A-8 at North Port
When: 11 a.m. Saturday
Teams: Naples Gulf Coast, Bradenton Manatee, Northeast, North Port, Pinellas, Sarasota Riverview, Sarasota, St. Petersburg
Class 2A-8 at Sunlake
When: 4:30 p.m. Thursday
Teams: Dunedin, Mitchell, River Ridge, Sunlake, Tarpon Springs, Zephyrhills
Class 2A-10 at Dixie Hollins
When: noon Friday
Teams: Boca Ciega, Dixie Hollins, Gibbs, Jefferson, Largo, Leto, Osceola
Class A-10 at Indian Rocks Christian
When: 11 a.m Saturday
Teams: Admiral Farragut, Clearwater Central Catholic, Gulf, Indian Rocks Christian, Lakewood, Northside Christian, Ridgewood, Shorecrest