Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Pinellas: District wrestling tournament preview

Countryside is still the only Pinellas County team to win a state wrestling title.

In the early 1990s, the Cougars were under the direction of legendary coach David Frayer, who led them to a team title in 1990.

Lean years followed for the county.

In 2002, the Cougars were the only Pinellas team to claim an individual state title. Leading the way were Matt Turtzo and Steve Spicuzza, who won back-to-back state titles in 2002-03. They became the feel-good story for county wrestling and their likenesses still hang in the Countryside gym.

Now there is a pair on this year's Countryside team that hearkens to the Turtzo/Spicuzza days and it could mark resurgence in Countryside wrestling.

"It's crazy how similar they are," assistant coach and unofficial team historian Jason Reynolds said.

Junior Cain Martin and sophomore Alex Kantelis conjure memories from Reynolds' 21 years coaching the team.

"They have each other as partners and they're both so competitive; they hate when one scores on the other," Reynolds said. "They argue with each other over points all the time."

The 2014 tandem might not outwardly look like Turtzo (140-pounder) and Spicuzza (135). Martin squeezes down into the 106 weight class and Kantelis wrestles at 113, but the dynamic is the same. Turtzo was the experienced wrestler who convinced football player Spicuzza to wrestle. They became great friends and wrestling partners.

Martin coaxed Kantelis into the wrestling room one day.

"(Kantelis) came in and started beating me up," Martin said. "The first time going against him he took me down and I was like, 'Oh, okay, I guess we're pretty even.' "

Kantelis had started wrestling with coach Chris McClure's Wildcat Wrestling Club but never wrestled competitively in high school, until whipping Martin in room F-4 at Countryside High that day. It hatched an intersquad rivalry that strengthens this year's team as it prepares for the Class 3A, District 7 tournament.

"It creates a dynamic in here; I want 14 just like them," McClure said.

Reynolds recalled the tandems being great friends but also hypercompetitive on the mat.

Martin has had two eye-opening tournaments this year. At the Southside Duals in December, he wrestled up a class at 113 and went 6-0, knocking off Class A eighth-ranked Brandon McQuinn of Anclote. And last weekend, he went 9-0 at the Logan Kushner Duals at Palm Harbor University. Martin is ranked seventh in Class 3A; Kantelis has climbed to 15th at 113 pounds.

So Kantelis is happy for Martin, right?

"Kantelis was mad," Reynolds said.

Turns out it was McQuinn who bounced Kantelis from the semifinals at the East Lake Invitational. McQuinn got Kantelis again in the semis at meet a week later. Kantelis was sick for the Southside Duals and is just now getting back to full speed.

"The first Monday I came into the weight room and looked at (Martin) and said, 'That's messed up,' " Kantelis said.

The rivalry that moves from friendly to fierce drives both to higher goals.

"It's funny, some days we're pulling them off of each other, other days they're best friends," McClure said. "It makes them tighten their focus."


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