Palm Harbor University is the class of Pinellas County wrestling, winning PCAC titles and notching the county’s best finish at state the past two years.
While the ’Canes are positioned stronger than ever in 2014, they will graduate eight wrestlers from their starting 14. The door is open for new Pinellas powers to challenge Palm Harbor in its county supremacy.
At least two teams are up to that task, but first they must contend with each other.
Dunedin is an established power while Indian Rocks Christian is emerging. The Falcons have seen wrestlers reach state wrestling immortality three times. The Golden Eagles have had one wrestler make the podium at fifth place. The Falcons field 14 wrestlers when they take the mat. The Golden Eagles only have nine.
Why is this the new rivalry?
“The truth is, they (IRC) are in the driver’s seat,” Falcon coach Marc Allison said. “They have some tough kids that are putting us in a position where we might be the underdogs.”
How does a public school like Dunedin manage to be an underdog to a tiny private school? Dunedin, while much larger than IRC, is still small enough to slip under the enrollment standard of up to 1,480 students for Class A. Dunedin finds itself sharing District 11 with IRC after the re-alignment. And IRC’s wrestlers, to the man, are all top flight.
“They (IRC) are usually in a position where all of them have potential to reach the finals,” Allison said.
The Golden Eagles’ most impressive result so far this year came at the Jerry Mita Invitational, where 23 teams from all over the Tampa Bay area converged. PHU ran away with the team title but the Golden Eagles shocked the rest of the field by coming in second.
“Nobody expected us to go in there (Jerry Mita) and take second place,” Golden Eagles coach Jay Dugmore Jr. said. “I was thinking top four, but to take runnerup, that’s huge in my book.”
The Golden Eagles took eight wrestlers to the Jerry Mita, and four made the finals: senior Jared Wolfenbarger (126), junior Jay Dugmore III. (132), eighth-grader Erich Byelick (145) and sophomore Conner Allshouse (152). Byelick and Allshouse even emerged as champions.
But that’s not to say the Falcons are a team of 14 tomatoes. They have seven wrestlers ranked in the top 15 in Class A by Scout.com, and seniors Anthony Dampier (170) and Marc Allison IV (145) are ranked fifth.
Inevitable clashes between Dunedin’s Brandon Ditro (ranked 10th) and Wolfenbarger (ninth) at 126, along with Dunedin’s Allison (fifth) and Byelick (third) at 145 will go a long way toward determining which team will hoist the district trophy on Feb. 1.
Photo: IRC’s Jared Wolfenbarger grapples against Palm Harbor University’s Jared Prince in the East Lake Invitational final.