NEW PORT RICHEY— Last season at Mitchell, there was a freshman lightweight who showed glimpses of talent. How he would fare in his high school career was up for debate because a lot of skilled freshman grapplers flare out early.
It's becoming obvious that 119-pound Anthony Ayers won't be one of those stories. During the summer, his family moved into Gulf's school district.
Though Ayers was leaving behind many friends and an environment he was just getting used to, he was walking into a wrestling room under the tutelage of Gulf coach Travis DeWalt and his staff.
The move hardly could have been better for his prep career.
"They definitely put more emphasis on conditioning and the technical side of the sport here," Ayers said. "Wrestling bigger matches during the year has helped me to have more confidence."
Gulf has separated itself as one of the elite Pasco County programs, and the addition of Ayers to an already strong lightweight stable couldn't have come at a better time. Jarod Carpenter (103 pounds), R.J. O'Conner (112) and Ladarious Jackson (152), postseason veterans, have worked with their new teammate during the season.
"Anthony had instant respect once he walked into the room because people knew who he was," DeWalt said. "He might not like wrestling bigger kids like Ladarious, but I tell him, 'If you can beat him, you shouldn't have any trouble with the best 119-pounders.' "
That work during the season and ability to boost his confidence on the mat might translate to a state berth and possible spot on the podium in Lakeland.
But first there are districts and Ayers should square off in the finals with Zephyrhills' Nick Hynes, a state placer at 112 pounds last year.
"We aren't going to use his age or grade level as a crutch," DeWalt said. "I'd like to get him to Lakeland and up on that podium."
Class 3A, District 6
When/where: Saturday; first round, 10 a.m.; finals, 5 p.m. East Lake High
Who: Mitchell, Countryside, East Lake, Largo, Pinellas Park, Palm Harbor University, Riverview, St. Petersburg, Sarasota
Outlook: Mitchell is having a down season after its top two grapplers from 2008, Jessey Lorentsen (Springstead) and Anthony Ayers (Gulf), transferred. Billy Kostakis (140 pounds), Shea Taylor (152) and Ryan Cassidy (215) look like the Mustangs' best chances to advance to regionals, possibly state. Past that, the lone North Suncoast program in 3A-6 will have difficulty making waves with grappling mainstays like Countryside, East Lake, Sarasota and Pinellas Park among the opponents. East Lake snagged the title last season, stopping Countryside's run of six consecutive district championships.
Match of the tournament: Billy Kostakis (Mitchell) vs. Layton Ayers (Countryside), 140 pounds
Class 2A, District 5
When/where: Saturday, first round, 11 a.m.; finals, 5 p.m. Dunedin High
Who: Springstead, Central, Dunedin, Ridgewood, River Ridge, Wesley Chapel, South Lake, Tarpon Springs, Land O'Lakes
Outlook: Springstead is aiming for its fifth consecutive district crown. Six of the Eagles' individual grapplers are favorites to win titles in their weight classes, including Richie Bliss (103), Cody Ross (119), Nick Soto (125), Colton Zimmerman (135), Shawn Landgraff (145) and Thad Klenovich (160). There are four other Eagles who have a good chance of taking their classes also. Host Dunedin will be Springstead's top competition thanks to former state placer Antonio Talley (171). Central should also be strong, returning two state qualifiers from last season, Kenny Supple (130) and Danny May (215), and team leader Vince Ramirez (140).
Match of the tournament: Antonio Talley ( Dunedin ) vs. Jessey Lorentsen (Springstead), 171 pounds
Class A, District 5
When/where: Saturday, first round, 10 a.m.; finals, 5 p.m. Citrus High
Who: Hernando, Nature Coast , Citrus, Crystal River , Dunnellon, The Villages, Lecanto, North Marion Trinity Catholic, West Port
Outlook: Citrus has won the past three district titles, and the Hurricanes look poised to capture their fourth. Hernando will put up a fight to dethrone the host with former state placer Daniel Pritz (135) and former state qualifiers Max Morrill (152) and James Davidson (171) leading the charge.
Match of the tournament: Daniel Pritz (Hernando) vs. David Gonzalez (North Marion), 135 pounds
Class A, District 6
When/where: Saturday, first round, 10 a.m.; finals, 5 p.m. Sunlake High
Who: Pasco , Gulf, Hudson , Wiregrass Ranch, Zephyrhills, Sunlake, Lake Highland Prep, Agape Christian, Jones, Bishop Moore
Outlook: This district might be the one that has lost the most depth in the area because of graduation. In the end, it might not matter with Gulf looking for its third straight title here led by Anthony Ayers (119) and Ladarious Jackson (152). Sunlake has burst onto the scene as the Buccaneers' strongest rival. If the Seahawks are going to steal this season's title, they'll need huge performances from former state placer Jarrett Baker (189) and Devon Johnson (171). There are other programs with strong leaders looking to upset the field, including Zephyrhills (Nick Hynes, 119) and Pasco (Trevor Drake, 140).
Match of the tournament: Anthony Ayers (Gulf) vs. Nick Hynes (Zephyrhills), 119 pounds