Countryside is still the only Pinellas County team to win a state wrestling title.
In the early 1990s, the Cougars were under the direction of legendary coach David Frayer, who led them to a team title in 1990.
Lean years followed for the county.
In 2002, the Cougars were the only Pinellas team to claim an individual state title. Leading the way were Matt Turtzo and Steve Spicuzza, who won back-to-back state titles in 2002-03. They became the feel-good story for county wrestling and their likenesses still hang in the Countryside gym.
Now there is a pair on this year’s Countryside team that hearkens to the Turtzo/Spicuzza days and it could mark resurgence in Countryside wrestling.
“It’s crazy how similar they are,” assistant coach and unofficial team historian Jason Reynolds said.
Junior Cain Martin and sophomore Alex Kantelis conjure memories from Reynolds’ 21 years coaching the team.
“They have each other as partners and they’re both so competitive; they hate when one scores on the other,” Reynolds said. “They argue with each other over points all the time.”
The 2014 tandem might not outwardly look like Turtzo (140-pounder) and Spicuzza (135). Martin squeezes down into the 106 weight class and Kantelis wrestles at 113, but the dynamic is the same. Turtzo was the experienced wrestler who convinced football player Spicuzza to wrestle. They became great friends and wrestling partners.
Martin coaxed Kantelis into the wrestling room one day.
“(Kantelis) came in and started beating me up,” Martin said. “The first time going against him he took me down and I was like, 'Oh, okay, I guess we’re pretty even.’ ”
Kantelis had started wrestling with coach Chris McClure’s Wildcat Wrestling Club but never wrestled competitively in high school, until whipping Martin in room F-4 at Countryside High that day. It hatched an intersquad rivalry that strengthens this year’s team as it prepares for the Class 3A, District 7 tournament.
“It creates a dynamic in here; I want 14 just like them,” McClure said.
Reynolds recalled the tandems being great friends but also hypercompetitive on the mat.
Martin has had two eye-opening tournaments this year. At the Southside Duals in December, he wrestled up a class at 113 and went 6-0, knocking off Class A eighth-ranked Brandon McQuinn of Anclote. And last weekend, he went 9-0 at the Logan Kushner Duals at Palm Harbor University. Martin is ranked seventh in Class 3A; Kantelis has climbed to 15th at 113 pounds.
So Kantelis is happy for Martin, right?
“Kantelis was mad,” Reynolds said.
Turns out it was McQuinn who bounced Kantelis from the semifinals at the East Lake Invitational. McQuinn got Kantelis again in the semis at meet a week later. Kantelis was sick for the Southside Duals and is just now getting back to full speed.
“The first Monday I came into the weight room and looked at (Martin) and said, 'That’s messed up,’ ” Kantelis said.
The rivalry that moves from friendly to fierce drives both to higher goals.
“It’s funny, some days we’re pulling them off of each other, other days they’re best friends,” McClure said. “It makes them tighten their focus.”
3A-7 at Palm Harbor University
Teams: Alonso, Countryside, East Lake, PHU, Pinellas Park, Seminole, Sickles, St. Petersburg, Steinbrenner
When: First round, 11 a.m. Friday; finals TBD
Breakdown: The Hurricanes have owned this district and likely will push all 14 of their wrestlers through to region; brothers Connor (132) and Jared (126) Prince will likely join Aaron Hartman (145) as district champs. Countryside Cain Martin (106) and Alex Kantelis (113) are favorites in their weight classes. Martin will likely face PHU’s Tim Sakow in that final. The marquee individual matchup will be at 138 between Seminole’s Anthony Parisi and PHU’s Anthony Agazarm. The two wrestlers split 6-5 decisions in the regular season and Parisi won a tight PCAC final.
2A-9 at Northeast
Teams: Boca Ciega, Clearwater, Dixie Hollins, Fivay, Largo, Mitchell, Northeast, Osceola, River Ridge, Tarpon Springs
When: First round, 10 a.m. Friday; finals at 4 p.m.
Breakdown: Dixie Hollins should stay ahead of Boca Ciega for the team title, but Fivay is a wild card that could make it a three-way race. Dixie Hollins heavyweight Andre Matthews has been unstoppable this season and should cruise to the district title, while Fivay’s Cole Manion (120) and Andrew Scherer (160) are favorites in their weight classes. Fivay’s top 182-pound contender Nicco Lightfoot is nursing a foot injury suffered at the Sunshine Athletic Conference meet. Bogie’s strength is at 195 pounds with Clifton Thomas, then Stephon and William Sharpe at 220 and 285. Jacob Mohr is a favorite at 145.
A-11 at Dunedin
Teams: Admiral Farragut, Bayshore, Booker, Bradenton Christian, Dunedin, Gibbs, Indian Rocks Christian, Lakewood, Northside Christian, Sarasota Military Academy, Shorecrest Prep, St. Stephen’s
When: First round, 9:30 a.m. Feb. 1; finals at 6 p.m.
Breakdown: This district will be decided by IRC and Dunedin. Dunedin brings the deepest team but IRC’s top eight wrestlers could make the finals. Golden Eagle standouts Erich Byelick (145) and Connor Allshouse (152) are favorites, but the team title will be decided with Dunedin/IRC head-to-heads: Nate Sisler versus Jack Pohler at 120; Brandon Ditro versus Jared Wolfenbarger at 126; Marc Allison versus Byelick at 145; and Anthony Dampier versus Selbourne Steward at 170. Northside Christian freshman Kamen Wilmington (138) eclipsed 100 victories at the St. Pete City Championships.
A-10 at Tampa Prep
Teams: Berkeley Prep, Carrollwood Day, Citrus park Christian, Clearwater Central Catholic, Middleton, Southeast(Bradenton), Spoto, Tampa Bay HEAT, Tampa Prep
When: First round, noon Feb. 1; finals TBD
Breakdown: This is largely a two-team race between Tampa Prep and Bradenton Southeast. The Terrapins are ranked fifth in Class A by Scout.com as a team and they have six individuals high in the state rankings, including Armwood transfer and two-time state champ Donoven Hough at 126 pounds. Terrapin lightweights Aaron Mills, ranked fifth at 106, and Anthony Artalona, ranked second at 120, should also be watched. The Seminoles are strong in the heavyweights. The most compelling individual match should be at 106: Tampa Prep’s Mills against fourth-ranked Cullen Telfer with the Tampa Bay HEAT.