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ST. PETERSBURG — Northside Christian’s Dryden Dennis is deadly quick. He can ride an opponent endlessly. He is terrific on his feet. He is, simply, a wrestler at another level who knows how to win.
It is an inherited trait. His older brother, Dillon, won a state title in 2009. Next came older brother Dalton and his titles in 2010 and ’11.
Now, Dryden hopes it is his turn.
A four-time state qualifier and two-time state place winner, Dryden enters his final state tournament this weekend in Lakeland chasing what has been an elusive title. He is ranked No. 2 in Class A at 145 pounds by Scout.com.
“The state title has been my goal all year,” Dryden said. “I want to join my brothers and get one for myself.”
It has been a lonely quest for much of the season. The Mustangs were hit hard by graduation, losing five state place winners from last season, including two state champions. Dryden and Jason Piquette were the only returning wrestlers on varsity. But Piquette was out for most of the season after breaking a bone in his leg playing football. That left Dryden as the lone Northside wrestler for most matches.
“It’s been different this season because it’s been mostly about individual achievements. Last year, we had a great team and won districts and regionals. But this year, I’ve mostly had to practice with my coaches because there was no one else around.”
Nevertheless, Dryden did well, going 28-6 against some of the toughest competition in the state. Two losses were decisions to Palm Harbor University’s Aaron Hartman by a combined three points. Dryden also wrestled in tournaments and camps during the offseason.
“Dryden works harder than anyone I know,” Piquette said. “This is something he really wants.”
By winning, Dryden can escape the shadow cast by his older siblings. But amid the expectations, Dryden said he does not feel a knot of pressure from his family.
“My brothers have offered words of encouragement to me about winning,” he said. “There hasn’t been any ribbing from them that they have state titles and I don’t.”
In the past month, Dryden picked up a practice partner with Piquette’s return. The two have made each other better. Piquette, despite missing most of the season, qualified for state by finishing as the region runnerup last week at 160 pounds.
“I had some doubts that I would be able to qualify for states after my injury,” Piquette said. “But working with Dryden has helped me get back in shape.”
Dryden also has worked with the junior varsity.
“I knew we were losing a lot of guys from last season,” said first-year coach Zach Breitenbach. “But I was so glad to have guys like Dryden and Jason coming back. They’ve set an example for the younger wrestlers that we’re trying to build with.”
Dryden’s single-minded focus has resulted in plenty of wins, most of which come by points rather than pins.
“All season, I’ve tried to treat every practice and every match as if it’s for the state title,” Dryden said. “Hopefully, it will all pay off. I really like my chances.”
Where: The Lakeland Center
Admission: $9 per session
Parking: $7 per day
Schedule: Action begins at 10 a.m. Friday and 9:30 a.m. Saturday. Semifinals will follow the third round of wrestlebacks, which start Saturday at 9:30. Championship finals are set for Saturday at 5:30 p.m. On Sunday, single-elimination, head-to-head competition among the top three place finishers from each weight class (A/2A/3A). First round begins at 10 a.m. with the finals at 3.