LAKELAND — It has been 20 years since Travis DeWalt stood atop the podium as a member of Gulf's wrestling team with a gold medal around his neck signifying his individual state title.
Saturday night at the Lakeland Center, now the Buccaneers coach, DeWalt brought the school a coveted team championship, winning the Class A state title by 9.5 points.
The Buccaneers also became the first North Suncoast wrestling program to ever win a state team title.
For Gulf (110 points), it was a perfect storm that allowed it to claim the top spot over Live Oak Suwannee (100.5).
Despite not being armed with as many qualifiers as some of the other programs involved, the strength of the Buccaneers' finish came on the shoulders of Anthony Ayers (119 pounds) and Ladarious Jackson (152), who both won individual championships, as well as the placings of six other Bucs (Jarod Carpenter, 112; Richard O'Connor, 135; Michael Mesagno, 160; Jacob Ritter, 171; Christopher Palasky, 215; Jeffrey Kruse, 285).
Ayers pinned Tampa Bay Christian's Troy Joyce in the final in only 36 seconds.
Jackson, the state runnerup last season, wouldn't be denied this time around. With his grandmother, 83-year-old Juanita Johnson of St. Petersburg, in the stands, he emerged with a 3-2 decision over Jacksonville Bolles' Daniel Igel.
"I won all these matches for my grandmother, and she got here right before my match," Jackson said. "I was kind of cocky last year, but I listened to my coaches today, and now I'm a state champ. I couldn't ask for a better feeling."
In Class 2A, Springstead (156.5 points) established the North Suncoast mark for the second-best finish at the state tournament, equaling Hernando's runnerup finish in Class A in 2003.
The Eagles, a favorite to win a team title themselves coming into the weekend, came up a little short behind Oviedo (161.5). However, Springstead finished with the most individual champs in the classification, and in program history, with five.
Richie Bliss (103), Virgil Toms (125), Nick Soto (130), Cody Ross (135) and Kenny Cox (215) surpassed the previous high of two titles in one campaign that the team had in both 1998 and 2001.
"It should show that you've got to put in the work and you've got to put in the effort," Springstead coach Eric Swensen said. "They're a good group of guys. To win a state title, you have to wrestle a perfect tournament, and we didn't have a perfect tournament."
The embarrassment of riches on the podium didn't end there for North Suncoast programs. Hernando's Daniel Pritz (145), in his fourth and final opportunity, broke through for an individual title with a 14-8 decision over Clay's Casey Soileau in Class A.
Among the most notable state placers was Nature Coast's Scott Cronin (125). He already became the first in school history to 100 wins and the first with a region title earlier this season. When he defeated Suwannee's Josh Key 10-2 in his final career match for fifth place, he became the first Shark to ever earn a medal at the state level.
"My mom came up to me before and told me it was my last match," said Cronin, who had just lost to Key 14-2 the previous day. "I knew I didn't want to go out with a loss."