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First 2A-A state wrestling meet begins today at River Ridge High

River Ridge High beat out Jacksonville Bolles last month to serve as host for the state's first Class 2A-A wrestling tournament.

Don't expect Bolles to take a back seat again.

River Ridge coach Russ Schenk said Bolles is the team favorite in the tournament that runs today and Saturday.

"Bolles only has nine qualifiers compared to the 13 that some schools have, but they come from a much tougher district," Schenk said.

Bolles features two-time state 140-pound champion Chris Bono, who won his titles while competing in the Class 3A tournament. Because of the growing interest in wrestling in Florida, a separate Class 2A-A tournament was created this year.

The new River Ridge High and Bolles were the two leading candidates to host the tournament and River Ridge was picked by the Florida High Schools Activities Association for its more central location and new state-of-the-art gymnasium.

The facility will be put to the test this weekend as 224 wrestlers from about 40 schools from around the state will compete in two sessions today and Saturday. Tickets for each session are $4.

Preliminary matches begin at 3 p.m. today and conclude at 5 p.m. Quarterfinals run from 7-9 p.m. On Saturday, semifinals will be contested from 10 a.m. to noon and wrestlebacks from 12:30 to 3 p.m. Consolation matches to determine third and fourth place begin at 6 p.m., and the state championship finals follow at 7:30 p.m.

While wrestlers compete for individual titles, their victories earn points that determine the team champion. River Ridge, a first-year team that has no seniors, is the District 5 champion and qualified eight wrestlers for state. (The top two wrestlers in 14 weight classes from eight districts throughout the state qualified.)

River Ridge had three individual district champions _ 119-pound junior Tony Gazzarato, 171-pound freshman Adam Dodd and 220-pound junior Dean Hill. Schenk said all three are capable of winning state titles.

"If they wrestle smart, they can win," said Schenk, who was a Class 3A state champion at 158 pounds for Tarpon Springs in 1982. "They know how to hit some moves, and if they have a good day they can challenge."

Schenk added that he would be happy if the Royal Knights finish among the top 10 teams.