Every year, the county has one class in which it seems half of its best wrestlers are logjammed together, with four or five state qualifiers left to battle in one crucible of a division.
This season, that class is 135 pounds.
"That's an absolutely loaded weight class," said Land O'Lakes coach Brett Murray, whose 135-pounder, Bobby Castillo, enters as a dark horse at 23-8. "When he's on, he can wrestle really well."
The contenders are plenty, starting with defending champion Bryan Ryder of Gulf. The most experienced challenger is Ridgewood senior Anthony Jackson, but he already has lost to Mitchell's Gregg Steiner, who is 21-5. One of Steiner's losses is to Hudson's Craig Opie, a transfer from DeLand who pinned him in the final of Springstead's tournament earlier this month.
"I'm thinking it's (Opie) and Ryder in the finals," Hudson coach Dana Bentley said.
Zephyrhills' Marvin Johnson is another potential state qualifier. He has lost to Opie and Steiner and enters the conference tournament looking for revenge.
"That's the toughest class in the county," Bulldogs coach Matt McDermott said. "It's going to be solid. Most of those kids will be state qualifiers. Marvin has to get back to his style of taking people down."
Next month, the wrestlers are split into classes for district and region competition, but that does little to relieve the congestion. Opie, Castillo, Steiner and Jackson are in Class 2A, District 6 and will battle with four other schools for four slots in the region field.
Gulf, Pasco and Zephyrhills are in Class A, where Ryder and Johnson will have a slightly easier path.
UP A FEW CLASSES: One rivalry to watch is at 171, where Zephyrhills' Scott Calhoun and Pasco's Justin Craig could unseat Land O'Lakes' Clay Hulsey, the defending champion. Craig has beaten Calhoun, who leads the Bulldogs at 20-9, but the two could continue back and forth clear to Lakeland.
THEN DOWN SOME: Another close class should be 103, where Mitchell's Joey Fiore, 21-4 as a freshman, likely will run into Hudson's A.J. Reyes and Ridgewood's Shane Higgins.
MEANWHILE: Land O'Lakes' Scott Mays (189), Hudson's Tim Bentley (215) and Gulf's Cameron Neptune (heavyweight) should have little trouble winning this weekend.
_ GREG AUMAN