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Thu. February 17, 2011 | Derek J. LaRiviere

Springstead's goals at state wrestling meet rest with team

SPRING HILL — Over the past 30 years, Springstead has established itself as one of the area’s elite wrestling programs with 17 individual state champions.

The list of achievements doesn’t end there. Founded under National Wrestling Hall of Famer and current athletic director Bob Levija in 1980, the Eagles have 25 district titles, eight region championships and have finished in the top three in the team standings at state six times including runnerup last season. The missing jewel from their crown is a team title at the highest level.

Springstead coach Eric Swensen, at the helm since 2005, thought he had his best shot last season when the Eagles went into Lakeland with seven legitimate title contenders. Five of those grapplers came home with state gold.

Wins from Richie Bliss (103 pounds), Virgil Toms (125), Nick Soto (130), Cody Ross (135) and Kenny Cox (215) weren’t enough to catapult Springstead past Oviedo in the end, and the team would have to wait with a bitter taste in its mouth until next year.

Well, next year is here, and the Eagles have been performing as if they are on a mission. The program captured its first region title in a decade, beating out Lake Gibson by four points. Oviedo, which also was a favorite in Class 2A, Region 2, suffered a setback when its coach, J.D. Robbins, was suspended last week with pay pending investigations by Seminole County Public Schools and the Florida High School Athletic Association. This puts Springstead in prime position for their goal this weekend.

“A lot of times we’ve been the underdog, and we play that role well,” Swensen said. “This time it is a little different, and we have to handle that. They know there’s pressure on them.”

For Springstead, all systems have been going strong. Not only did the Eagles win the region title, but they qualified nine grapplers for the state championships at the Lakeland Center this weekend. Bliss (103), Jordan Rivera (112), Sean Redman (125), Toms (130), Soto (135), Ross (140), Shawn Landgraff (152), Thomas Gupton (160) and John Dreggors (285) will make the trip.

“(Rivera, Redman and Gupton) are how you win a state title,” Swensen said. “They have to pick up points in wrestlebacks if they drop a match, but everyone here is capable of placing at the tournament.”

Bliss will be going for an unprecedented third state title as an Eagle, passing Corey Hill, Dustin Swanton and Schuyler Swanton’s two-time total at Springstead. Soto, Toms and Ross are looking to repeat as well. Rivera has a chance to become one of the most successful freshmen in Springstead history with a solid run.

Already one of the most respected programs in the state, Springstead is days away from reaching a level coaches, wrestlers and other associated with the team have dreamed about for years.

State wrestling at the Lakeland Center

When: Friday – Weigh-ins: 8 a.m., First round: 10 a.m.; Saturday – Weigh-ins: 7:30 a.m., restart: 9 a.m., championship finals: 5 p.m.

Admission: $8 per session; parking: $7 per day

Directions: Take Interstate 75 South to I-4 East. Take Exit 31 into Lakeland. Merge onto Kathleen Road. Turn right at Lake Wire Drive. Continue onto Sikes Boulevard. Turn right at West Lime Street.

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