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Country stars aim to travel down the title road // CLASS 4A

Central High is up two state qualifiers from last year. Hernando High is down three. But both programs are searching for the same thing at the Class 4A state tournament today and Saturday _ an individual championship.

Hernando got one last year with Reppard Gordon, who won the 152-pound class. But he graduated, as did all of the Leopards' qualifiers except for Courtney Elms. Then a freshman, he returns to battle in the 125 division after a fourth-place finish in the region tournament.

The Leopards' stronger hope, however, lies with another sophomore _ Richard Gant, who failed to qualify last year but has compiled 29-2 record at 119, including the Class 4A, Region II North title.

Gant was 19-7 in his first season, on the edge of qualifying for state in his first year but was sent packing by Jack Waller of Citrus High, an opponent he previously had beaten.

Hernando coach Dennis Percevecz said Gant came back with "much more desire" following a club wrestling experience over the summer, and that Gant is "afraid to lose. He can't stand it."

Despite having no region champions, Central might bring back a title depending on how the brackets pan out. Keith Meehan (135), Jon Mikail (145) and Alaric Thieshen (275) all reached the region final before falling.

Of the three, Meehan would seem to have the best shot. He was 23-6 entering the final against Hudson's William Flood, who edged Meehan 4-3. Meehan had not given up a point in the tournament until the final.

Thieshen, who at 6 feet 10 was a dominating lineman for the Central football team, has been powerful all year in recording a 22-2 record at 275. But he was manhandled in the region final by Pasco's Andre Johnson, who pinned Thieshen in 1:22 and at 24-1 is considered a strong contender for a state title.

Mikail has an outside shot at placing; the region was dominated at 145 by Zephyrhills' Stephen Dion, who defeated Mikail in the final and is one of the North Suncoast's other best shots at a title.

Mike Mallin has a better chance _ he reached the state semifinals last year and has been very strong at 189, improving to 30-3 with a consolation final victory at region. The region's top two placers, David Walker of Osceola and Tampa Robinson's Chris Adams, also have only three losses each.

Also qualifying for Central was Chris Glover, whose 5-4 loss to eventual champion Matt Mueller in the region meet relegated him to the 130 consolation bracket, where he picked up two pins to take third. At 27-6, Glover also has a shot at placing.