LAKELAND — Battling Lake Gibson for nearly the entire tournament, Springstead’s wrestlers maintained a confident strut heading into the championship finals of the Class 2A state meet Saturday in Lakeland.
Turns out they had good reason for their confidence.
The Eagles crowned five individual champions and won the program’s first team championship with 185.5 points, pulling away from Lake Gibson (164).
Former coach and Hall of Famer Bob Levija gave the thumbs-up sign to Springstead coach Eric Swensen from the crowd when the Eagles clinched title.
“All the hard work that’s been put in over the years has translated into this night,” Swensen said. “The amount of time that these boys have put in together, it’s a culmination of that.”
The Braves competed above expectations to give Springstead a run, but it was the persistence of elite Eagles that took the trophy in the end.
Richie Bliss (103 pounds) finished his high school career with a third state title, the most for any competitor in school history. He defeated Harmony’s Ariel Dominguez by technical fall 15-0.
“In one way, it’s upsetting because this is my last time ever wrestling in a Springstead uniform,” Bliss said. “Getting three (titles) says a lot for this team because I took my intensity and brought it over to the state tournament.”
Virgil Toms (130), Nick Soto (135) and Cody Ross (140) each repeated with state gold for Springstead. Shawn Landgraff (152) won his first state title with an amazing finals performance, pinning Largo’s Chris Johnson in 2 minutes, 44 seconds. The five individual titles ties for the most in program history as well.
John Dreggors (285) was the lone Eagle to drop a finals bout. The junior’s runnerup finish to North Marion’s Matt Pringle came via pin in 1:23.
Jordan Rivera (112) became the most successful freshman in Springstead history with a third-place finish. He won his consolation final 7-3 over Lake Gibson’s Skylar Moody.
Gulf’s run at defending its Class A title never materialized, but what did come to a thrilling conclusion was Ladarious Jackson’s undefeated senior campaign. The 171-pounder breezed through to the finals, where his chief rival, Hernando’s Zach Pritz, awaited.
Pritz knocked off Space Coast’s Xavier Londono in the semifinals to create the match. Jackson, who considers Pritz a friend, was cheering for his eventual combatant.
“It was a pretty special moment,” Jackson said. “It doesn’t happen in every weight division that you get to finish your career against someone you respect so much.”
Jackson has never lost to Pritz in their high school careers, though no two are more familiar with each other locally, having wrestled five times this season and many more in previous years. Jackson, the Gulf star, won this final meeting, too, an 8-3 decision.
“I feel like I was able to put on a clinic this season,” Jackson said. “It didn’t matter who was in front of me, I felt like I was going to win.”
The Buccaneers’ Anthony Ayers (130) won his second consecutive title with a pin in 3:30 over Suwannee’s Aaron Fountain. With Jackson, they became first two-time champions in Gulf history.