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LAKELAND — After maintaining a lead throughout the first day of the Class 2A state wrestling championships, Springstead fell behind almost immediately and didn’t lead again until the finals ended late Saturday night at the Lakeland Center.
Regardless of how the Eagles did it, Springstead (98 points) captured a third straight 2A state title, tying South Dade, Brandon and Flagler Palm Coast for the third-longest streak in tournament history.
Heading into the championship round, the Eagles were tied with Olympic Heights (93), and Springstead had only one remaining wrestler: Jordan Rivera at 138 pounds. The Lions had two in the finals to give them a distinct advantage.
“To win one state title is tough, and every time you do it, it seems to get tougher,” Springstead coach Sal Basile said. “It’s tough when you have to put the pressure on one guy. It’s tough enough to be a state champ, but to have to do more than that makes it very difficult.”
Rivera was not deterred. Winning his first state title after placing third twice before, the Springstead junior delivered a 12-3 major decision over Melbourne’s Josh Miuccio. In tears after the match, the standout wrestler couldn’t believe what had happened.
“I’ve been playing that match over and over in my head since I was 4 years old,” Rivera said. “Knowing where we were at, I couldn’t have selfish goals. I just did what I could and didn’t get greedy.”
The dreams of two other North Suncoast wrestlers came true Saturday as well.
Winning the first state wrestling titles in their schools’ histories, Nature Coast’s Brandon Vovan (160 pounds) and Wesley Chapel’s Tony Ruggiero (120) scored close victories.
The Sharks’ team success at the Lakeland Center was unexpected. With only three state qualifiers, Nature Coast finished fifth in the standings in Class 2A by placing all three, including a sixth place from Dylan Savoury (182) and a second place from Sean Nguyen (106). Vovan’s 6-2 decision over Lehigh’s Jabari Lions cemented the team’s best finish ever.
“We have kids that have bought in to what we’re trying to do (at Nature Coast), and Brandon is one of those kids,” coach Mike Lastra said. “This is why we coach.”
Ruggiero’s 6-5 decision over Doral Academy’s Christopher Moreno capped off a great season for the Wildcat lightweight, who was emotional afterward.
“It feels amazing,” Ruggiero said. “I knew it was going to be a close match, but I had to stay focused and keep working the way I know I can.”
Other North Suncoast wrestlers were able to reach the finals but came up short in their quest for gold.
Besides Nature Coast’s Nguyen, Pasco’s Skyler White (138), Gulf’s Spencer Baxter (160) and Fivay’s Collin Hahn (182) fell in tough finals matches. For Hahn, the finish matched his older brother, Michael, for the top Falcons’ placing in school history.