LAKELAND — Since before the season began, it has been speculated that this would be Springstead's best shot at a state title in the program's history.
As Day 1 of the state wrestling finals wrapped up at the Lakeland Center on Friday night, the Eagles were within striking distance of first-place Oviedo in the Class 2A standings. Springstead has six of the eight competitors it brought to the tournament in the semifinals.
"We knew going into this that it was going to come down to (the finals)," Springstead coach Eric Swensen said. "There are just too many variables."
Springstead, a perennial state placer behind powerhouse Brandon in years past, found itself in position to compete for the title when Russ Cozart's dynasty was reassigned to Class 3A this season. Brandon leads the team standings in 3A heading into today as well.
One of the combatants to get through for the Eagles was top-ranked Cody Ross at 135 pounds. In his second-round match, he narrowly escaped with a win over Palmetto Ridge's David Tanguma. After falling behind 2-1 in the third period, Ross found himself on the verge of being locked out of the finals already. He fought back to tie the match with less than 30 seconds remaining and won with a takedown in overtime.
"It might help me, it might wake me up," Ross said. "No one's going to let me win just because I'm Cody Ross."
In addition to Springstead's Richie Bliss (103 pounds), Virgil Toms (125), Nick Soto (130), Ross, Shawn Landgraff (152) and Kenny Cox (215), a handful of other North Suncoast hopefuls scrambled their way to the semifinals.
While a run at a Class A state team title hasn't materialized for Gulf as it originally had hoped, the Buccaneers do have two favorites in the semifinals with their eyes on gold and one more who has worked his way into the fray. However, the program is still in third place, behind Suwannee and Northside Christian.
Ladarious Jackson (152), who made the championship final last season, and Anthony Ayers (119), who continues to maintain an undefeated record, have yet to be challenged in the tournament. R.J. O'Connor (135) placed at state last season as well, but after not being in the lineup for disciplinary reasons for the first month of the schedule, he now finds himself two matches away from a state crown.
Hernando's Daniel Pritz (145) continued his march toward the podium in Class A with strong performances on the first day. The two-time state placer hopes to gain another medal after convincingly sweeping his first two bouts.