For Stephen Pritz, wrestling has become much easier the last couple weeks.
According to the Hernando senior, opponents now are never stronger than him and rarely are they as talented on the mats. Consequently, Pritz has turned an average record into a winning streak.
One could say a weight has been lifted off his back. Actually, that's right on the money.
After competing for the first half of the season at 171, giving away nine or more pounds in every match, Pritz has settled into the 152 class, a much easier assignment for someone who usually weighs about 160.
The results show it is the right decision. Since moving down, Pritz is 9-0, including invitational wins at Zephyrhills and Springstead. At 171, he was 10-8.
"It was a pretty big transition," Pritz said. "I was like, "Man, I can eat everything I want.' Then all of a sudden, I can't. But I'm doing a lot better at 152, obviously."
Pritz entered the season as a two-time state qualifier at 140 pounds but had to compete at 171 for a while as coach Matt Smith struggled to find spots for a surplus of talent in the middle weights.
Returning this year were Addison Chipoletti (Class A state champion at 171), Charley Combs (state runner-up at 152) and Michael Combs (district champion at 145), not to mention Pritz' talented younger brother, David, a standout at 160.
Stephen Pritz' old home at 140 was effectively out of reach after a year of growing and bulking up, but simply moving one or two classes higher would be tough with all the other Leopards stars. Sitting him would be absurd.
So, Smith used him for a number of events at 171 while Chipoletti worked at 189. It was not an ideal situation, though Pritz handled the wrestling admirably even while he failed to give himself a fair shot with the actual weight (though he ate and ate, he never got above 162).
"I thought he wrestled well there. He was a bit quicker," Smith said. "He was placing at tournaments (third at Wakulla, fourth at Hernando's Kiwanis Invitational). It might have helped him a little bit. Now he's down at 152 and the kids are lighter, smaller."
Smith called his top members into a meeting shortly after school resumed and figured out how to make the most of the lineup, with the goal of improving on last year's second-place team finish at state. Now, it is set for the rest of the season with Michael Combs at 140, Charley Combs at 145, Stephen Pritz at 152, David Pritz at 160 and Chipoletti back to 171.
"Some of the other guys like Charley, he had to cut more weight," Stephen Pritz said. "That was harder for him, but we're both seniors and good friends, so he didn't mind doing it at all."
The payoff was obvious at Springstead on Saturday, as Pritz pinned Robinson's Josh Crook in 1 minute, 16 seconds to capture the 152 title.
"I think he was scared before he even got on the mat with me," Pritz said. "I could tell in the first 30 seconds how he was wrestling. I didn't even take him down, and he was on the ground.
"I went to a wrestling camp over the summer," he said. "They told us wrestling is about 80 percent mental. If you think you're going to win, most of the time you're going to win. I just think you have to be totally confident the whole time."
It also helps if the scales are balanced fairly.
_ John Schwarb can be reached at (800) 333-7505, ext. 1407. Send e-mail to schwarbsptimes.com.
Hernando is solid throughout the lineup, but clearly the middle weight classes are its specialty. In winning Saturday's Springstead Tournament, the Leopards finished no worse than second individually between 140 and 171 pounds:
140: Nate Pozzi (Mitchell) d. Michael Combs (Her) 16-2.
145: Charley Combs (Her) won by injury default.
152: Stephen Pritz (Her) pinned Josh Crook (Robinson), 1:16.
160: David Pritz (Her) d. Malcolm Shines (Plant) 6-3.
171: Addison Chipoletti (Her) tf. Seth Metz (Crystal River) 24-9.
_ Compiled by John Schwarb.