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Springstead High's wrestling team gets lock on Class 2A title

SPRING HILL — Over the years, there have been many sources of pride in the world of high school sports in Hernando County.

Perhaps no program, however, has been as consistently good for as long as the wrestling program at Springstead High School. And on Saturday the Eagles added another piece of hardware to the school's trophy case, walking away with the Class 2A state championship for the second straight year.

Springstead couldn't even find its nearest challenger in the rearview mirror, defeating second-place Lake Gibson by 79 points — 171.5 to 92.5.

In addition to the team championship, the Eagles took three individual titles: Sean Redman at 145 pounds, Cody Ross at 152 and John Dreggors at 285.

Excellence in wrestling has a storied past at the Spring Hill school.

Founded by Bob Levija, who is still the school's athletic director, the program flourished under his guidance in the 1980s and '90s, placing as high as third at the annual Florida High School Athletic Association state championships, something Levija's team did in 1991, 1997, 1998 and 2001.

After Levija finally handed over the reins to former Central High wrestler Roy Reyes, the Eagles struggled to live up to their reputation. Levija, who prided himself on the program he had built, found that unacceptable and decided to make a change.

Going to great lengths to find the perfect leader and mentor, he hired Eric Swensen in 2004. Not only did Springstead regain its status as an elite program, it surpassed previous accomplishments.

On Saturday in Lakeland, the Eagles won their second consecutive team championship with a lineup made up mostly of first-year varsity wrestlers. At the beginning of the season, when asked about Springstead's chances to repeat, Swensen laughed and said this year's squad "wasn't close to last year's team."

The 2011 state title-winning Eagles squeaked out a win over Oviedo to take their crown. Saturday's win was a blowout.

"At the beginning of the season, that was true," Swensen said of his prediction as he clutched the state championship trophy Saturday. "But like (assistant) Sal (Basile) said all season long, we never had a team with a higher ceiling or more potential than this group of guys had in all the years we've been coaching."

Among that group were two seniors, Ross and Dreggors, who in some ways couldn't be more different, yet are a lot alike.

Ross and Dreggors have been wrestling since before high school, and people have always touted their potential, so both of them knew that they were expected to be state champions eventually.

Ross, a calm and even-keeled grappler, always seems in control of himself when he competes. He turned that into a historic career for Springstead, setting the all-time mark for wins — 186 — and tying Richie Bliss for most state titles — three.

"I wanted to make a statement (at state), and hopefully I did that," Ross said.

Dreggors began his career at Citrus High School, but always seemed bogged down by the stress of working toward a state title. He broke down emotionally many times after both wins and losses. After losing in the state finals as a junior, despite his team's victory, he was nearly inconsolable. That all changed last weekend with his 5-3 overtime victory over Olympic Heights' Mike Kosoy.

Ross and Dreggors have won six national titles and been named to 12 All-America lists. But what brings them the most pride is the achievements they've earned in Springstead uniforms — being part of the fraternity of 16 wrestlers who have won 25 titles for the Eagles since 1991.

Swensen was happy for both seniors and for the rest of his team.

"I like to see the boys do well," Swensen said. "When they do well, I get happy. I got emotional a couple of times over the course of the tournament. Not for myself, but for them. I like to see my boys succeed."

The freshmen from this year's class, who got a taste of success, are next in line.

Josh Herrera and Conor Ross made the state finals. Ross followed in the footsteps of his older brother, Cody, who made the state finals in his first season as well. Matt Landgraff, the younger brother of another former state champion, Shawn Landgraff, made the semifinals last weekend as a freshman as well.

Like the past, the future for Springstead wrestling appears bright.

The legacy likely will continue.

. Fast facts

Springstead state wrestling champions

1991: John Lane (145 pounds)

1996: Corey Hill (145)

1997: Corey Hill (152)

1998: John Stevenson (112), Dustin Swanton (119)

1999: Dustin Swanton (125)

2000: Jimmy Stevenson (125)

2001: Matt Booker (135), Gerard DeCristofaro (140)

2007: Schuyler Swanton (103)

2008: Schuyler Swanton (112)

2009: Richie Bliss (103)

2010: Richie Bliss (103), Virgil Toms (125), Nick Soto (130), Cody Ross (135), Kenny Cox (215)

2011: Richie Bliss (103), Virgil Toms (130), Nick Soto (135), Cody Ross (140), Shawn Landgraff (152)

2012: Sean Redman (145), Cody Ross (152), John Dreggors (285)

Source: Springstead High School

Springstead High's wrestling team gets lock on Class 2A title 02/21/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, February 21, 2012 9:38pm]
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