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Here it comes: the first step to states

As is the case with a lot of things, the first step on the road to the state tournament is the most important. And two county teams that have been doing the most fashionable stepping in recent years expect to continue that trend in this weekend's district wrestling tournaments.

The Class 3A, District 11 tournament will be at Braden River Middle School in Bradenton. Osceola, Lakewood, Gibbs, Bradenton Bayshore, Bradenton Southeast, Port Charlotte, Punta Gorda, and Punta Gorda-Charlotte are competing. Wrestling begins at 10:30 a.m. Saturday. Consolations are at 6:30 p.m. and finals follow.

Last year, Osceola burned up the field in its district _ then 3A-7 _ capturing a 40-point win over Bradenton Southeast, producing four champions, and sending a school-record 11 wrestlers to the regionals. It was the Warriors' second straight district title, after winning it for the first time in 1990.

Meanwhile, Countryside will defend its 4A-7 title at Dunedin Saturday. Last year, the Cougars qualified nine for regionals, and won by 26.5 points.

"I think we have a good shot at winning it again," said Osceola coach Mike McKenzie. "It will be a lot tougher, because Charlotte is real tough, Bayshore is real tough, and Southeast is real tough."

Billy Carter (19-1 at 160) is the Warriors lone defending district champion. Nick Spataro is undefeated (19-0) at 152 for the Warriors.

Other Osceola wrestlers to watch are 103 Khang No, 112 Kiet Ngo, 125 Andy Mussen, 135 Todd Dimter, and 171 David Peleschuk. Also watch for Gibbs 103 Matt Blankenship, and 119 Damon Baldwin.

The top four finishers head to the 3A region () tournament at Auburndale next Friday and Saturday.

In 4A-7, the Cougars have defending champions; Kyle Bradley (119 last year) and 220 John Navakas. Along with Countryside, the field is Pinellas Park, Clearwater, Dunedin, Largo and Seminole. Some wrestlers to watch are Countryside 103 Randy Marcum, Pinellas Park 103 Jason Lange, Clearwater 103 Fred Hosley, Countryside 112 Billy Huzar, Pinellas Park 119 Jesse Cottrell, Countryside 119 Kirk Bradley, Seminole 130 Cory McNamee, Pinellas Park 130 Terry Diehl, Clearwater 130 Scott Hagenbuch. Largo 119 Kevin Lopeman, Seminole 125 Greg Smith, Countryside 135 Travis Williams, Seminole 135 Jeff Chappie, Countryside 135 Travis Williams, Largo 140 Rich Stegura, Pinellas Park 140 Larry Bettura, Clearwater 140 Tom Macon, Clearwater 145 Jeremy Walker, Dunedin 152 Joe Longano, Countryside 152 Trevor Bobb, Clearwater 160 David Hood, Countryside 160 Tom McAuley, Pinellas Park 171 Santiego Rivers, Countryside 171 Troy Fish, Countryside 18 Dan Hughes, Clearwater 189 Derek Baltich, Seminole 220 Carl Pushe, Pinellas Park 220 Wayne Richardson, Largo 275 George Maafu, Seminole 275 Gregg Marrocco, and Pinellas Park 275 John Murray. The top four in each weight class qualify for the 4A Region II at Brandon High School Feb. 21 and 22. Wrestling begins at 11 am at Dunedin with the consolations at 7 and finals at 8. Admission is $3 per session.

4A-District 8: The 4A-8 tournament is set to kick off at Manatee High School. Competing schools are Manatee, Cape Coral, Naples Collier, Boca Ciega, Dixie Hollins, Northeast, St. Petersburg, Sarasota and Sarasota Riverview. Area wrestlers to watch: Northeast 125 Joe Behrens. St. Petersburg 130 Danny Rodenhaver, Northeast 130 Aaron Leitner, Dixie Hollins 140 Billy Roosa, St. Petersburg 145 Tim Byrd, Northeast 160 Mark McKinnon, Northeast 189 Chad Suddarth, Dixie 189 Edwin Bryant. The top four in each weight class also go to the 4A-Region IImeet at Brandon.

3A-District 9: The 3A-9 tournament is at Land O'Lakes High School, and the field is Tarpon Springs, East Lake, Land O'Lakes, Gulf, and Ridgewood. Area wrestlers to watch: East Lake's 112 Travis Bernon, Tarpon Springs 125 John Forcella, East Lake 145 C.J. Leone, East Lake 152 David Steih, East Lake 220 Jeff Van Dusen. The top four in each class will also go to the 3A-Region III tournament at Auburndale High school next Friday and Saturday.

2A-District 5: The 2A district 5 tournament is at River Ridge High School. Weigh ins start at 8 pm and wrestling begins at noon. Consolations are at 6 pm and the finals are immediately after. Teams are Clearwater Central Catholic, Crystal River, Lecanto, River Ridge and Northside Christian. For CCC, keep an eye on undefeated Tom Coyle at 145, and 135 Steve Labrecque. From Northside Christian watch 275 Matt Seymour who is 15-1, and 103 Mike Johnson, who is 9-2.

Unlike the other divisions, class 2A does not have regionals, they go directly to the states.

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