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River Ridge revels in wrestling title

Don't tell River Ridge wrestling coach Russ Schenk that his team's Class 2A, District 5 title wasn't such a big deal.

Sure, there were only five teams on the mats at the new school's gymnasium. Sure, only six of the 28 finalists had to wrestle more than one match to earn a berth at next weekend's Class 2A state meet. And there was no shortage of room for fans in the stands.

This was the Knights' first team championship ever _ a humongous step forward for a rookie sports program. Schenk wasn't about to let that moment be tainted by structural rulings set forth months ago by the Florida High School Athletic Association.

"Just let the kids wrestle, you know?" Schenk said, not wanting to let anything spoil this historic moment in River Ridge history.

Schenk pointed out that the Class 3A district they might have joined with Gulf and Ridgewood high schools included only five teams this year. And, with teams from Pinellas, Hernando and Citrus counties, the 2A-5 meet presented a much larger talent pool.

Eight River Ridge wrestlers advanced to the district tournament finals, but only Tony Gazzarato (119) and Adam Dodd (171) were victorious. Dodd's surprising pin of top-seeded Joey Festante of Lecanto in 2:57 clinched the team title for the Knights.

"I thought we could have possibly come out with five champions," Schenk said. "But I'm pleased. This group has worked harder than any team I've ever been associated with."

Not every wrestler had to work that hard to reach the top. Crystal River boasted three district champions, led by 152-pounder Bobby Fisher, who barely broke a sweat on his way to his first district title.

"I haven't had a full match all day," Fisher complained.

Actually, the sinewy junior didn't even wrestle the equivalent of two periods of competition. Fisher was one of the few champions who had to survive three matches for a title. All three were pins in a combined time of 3 minutes and 13 seconds.

Fisher wrapped up his championship by manhandling Dominic Marchesano of River Ridge and pinning his shoulders in slightly more than a minute. Marchesano will be at the state meet despite a season record of 5-11.

"I was expecting a tougher match in the finals," Fisher said moments after his quick pin. "I guess I just wanted it worse than he did."

Fisher knows to expect a much tougher route to the finals of next weekend's Class 2A state meet. "I just want to place in the top four at state," he said. "That's my goal."

Romulo Camargo claimed another title for the Pirates in the 125-pound class with a thrilling 7-6 upset victory over top-seeded Chad Darling of Lecanto in the finals. Bret Johnson beat Paul Ilardo of River Ridge 13-11 in the evening's only overtime match.

Tim Fisher (112) and heavyweight Robbie Hauter were the only other Crystal River wrestlers who earned state meet berths with runner-up finishes.

Seven Lecanto wrestlers will compete at River Ridge next weekend and three of them won district championships. Jason Brulfer (112), Barkley Shoemaker (135) and David Bissonnette (220) stood proudly upon the top step of the awards podium after their victories.

Darling, Festante, Ron Sloan (145) and Shawn Maynard (189) also will complete their season at the state tournament.

Competition begins at the Knights' home gymnasium on Friday at 3 p.m. Consolation rounds are scheduled for 6 p.m. on Saturday, followed by the championship round.

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