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Can anyone beat Ridgewood? Maybe not

By the time they were sophomores, they already were dubbed Murderer's Row, sure to lead Ridgewood wrestling to the county's elite before they were finished.

Now, twins Matt and Billy Bullwinkel, Keith Coghlan and Anthony Jackson are seniors, and Saturday's Sunshine Athletic Conference meet is the first step toward their final postseason and last shot at greatness at the state tournament.

The Rams, led by their fearsome senior foursome, are eager to improve on last year's third-place showing, and the rest of the county has anointed them the team to beat.

"I don't see anybody knocking off Ridgewood this year," said first-year Zephyrhills coach Matt McDermott, whose Bulldogs were believed to be a challenger to Ridgewood before injuries and wrestlers quitting likely took last year's runners-up out of contention.

Both Bullwinkels and Coghlan won conference titles last year, but the Rams still finished behind Gulf and Zephyrhills. Both were hit hard by graduation, however, leaving a clear path for the Rams to claim SAC supremacy.

"Ridgewood looks awfully strong," said Land O'Lakes coach Brett Murray, whose team will host the meet and has two returning champs in Scott Mays (25-3 at 189 pounds) and Clay Hulsey (12-2 at 171).

"Gulf and Mitchell seem to have good kids up and down their lineup, but we're probably the middle of the pack. We have a few standouts but also a lot of young kids."

Gulf, last year's champ now led by returning SAC champs Joey Pospisil (now at 112) and Bryan Ryder (135), might mount the best challenge to Ridgewood.

Mitchell entered the season with confidence, but coach John Marretta said his wrestlers have not come together the way he had hoped.

"The beginning of the season, I'd say things were looking really good, but I may have talked the talk before we were ready to walk the walk," he said. "This past weekend, individually, we had some kids wrestle real well. But from a team aspect, I'm disgusted. We looked horrible. Kids just weren't ready to wrestle the competition."

The Mustangs went 2-6 at a dual-meet tournament in Fort Myers, and 140-pounder Nate Pozzi lost his first match of the season, to Coghlan. Pozzi (22-1) likely will get another shot at Coghlan on Saturday, and Marretta said he isn't sure which was the advantage in a rematch: Coghlan's confidence or Pozzi's desire to avenge his only loss.

"It could really motivate him to work and see what we exposed in Keith over the weekend," he said. "But at the same time, Keith has to be confident because he knocked Nate into the loss column.

"I'm anticipating a good match there."

Schedule reductions have meant fewer dual meets, so many of the county's top wrestlers haven't faced each other, setting up rivalries that will continue at district, region and, potentially, state.

Among the biggest names entering with undefeated records against county opponents are Hudson's Tim Bentley (22-2 at 215), Wesley Chapel's Mike Apanovich (22-3 at 152) and Land O'Lakes' Jeff Ramer (29-5 at 145).


WHERE: Land O'Lakes High

FORMAT: Unlike last year, when coaches elected for an individual conference tournament and a dual-meet tournament, the SAC title will be decided exclusively by Saturday's individual tournament. The top four wrestlers in each class will be seeded, and in weight classes in which all nine schools field a wrestler, a play-in, or "rattail" match, will be randomly drawn. Points will be awarded for places first through eighth as follows: 16, 12, 9, 7, 5, 3, 2 and 1.

LAST SEASON: Gulf edged Zephyrhills by 6{ points to win the title with Ridgewood finishing third. Returning champions are: Ridgewood's Billy Bullwinkel (125), Matt Bullwinkel (130) and Keith Coghlan (140); Gulf's Joey Pospisil (103) and Bryan Ryder (135); Land O'Lakes' Clay Hulsey (160) and Scott Mays (189).

_ Compiled by Greg Auman.