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Gator seeks history at SAC meet

It's a feather in his cap, for sure, just not the prize he is aiming for.

When Scott Mays steps on the mat for the Sunshine Athletic Conference meet Saturday at Ridgewood, the senior has a chance to become Land O'Lakes' first four-time all-conference wrestler.

"I'm sure Scott's main honor he wants comes at the end of the season in Lakeland (at the state meet), but this is one of those steps along the way and one of those things people will remember you for a long time," Land O'Lakes coach Tom Carr said.

"It's a chance for Scott to make his mark solid on the Land O'Lakes wrestling team. A lot of people who come through programs are very good wrestlers. But when you achieve something like this, you can leave your legacy behind."

All Mays has to do is place among the top two in his weight class, 215 pounds.

Neither Travis DeWalt of two-time defending conference champion Gulf nor Pete Smith, who started Ridgewood's program in 1983, can remember a four-time all-conference wrestler from their schools.

"We'll have a couple this year who have an opportunity to become two-time all-conference, but that is far behind a four-timer," DeWalt said. "That's almost unheard of."

Said Smith, "Any time you can take a conference from your freshman year to your senior year, that's pretty impressive."

Of course, there is a world of difference between placing at conference and winning at state, and Mays, who placed fourth at 189 last season, continues to seek his first state championship.

The conference meet, which was part of the state tournament series before being moved to the middle of the season, serves as a stepping-off point for the second half of the season, when district, region and state championships will be decided.

It also allows wrestlers to send messages to opponents they will face in district tournaments. Gulf, Pasco and Zephyrhills compete in Class A, District 8. Hudson, Land O'Lakes, Mitchell, Ridgewood, River Ridge and Wesley Chapel are in 2A-9.

"Every time you step on a mat, it's one step closer to the state series," DeWalt said. "I don't care if it's a Christmas tournament. I don't care if it's just a local tournament. Every valuable step you take on that mat, it's in one direction, either toward the state tournament or moving in steps away from it."

Based on early-season results, Gulf and Zephyrhills appear to be the teams to beat with Land O'Lakes and Pasco close behind. But DeWalt, whose squad defeated Zephyrhills 44-30 at the recent Gulf Invitational, said there is no clear favorite.

"In my view, we're a top-four finisher," he said. "What place we take will be indicative of how they wrestle that day."

Land O'Lakes comes off an up-and-down showing at two tournaments last month in Orlando. Facing some of the top teams from around the state, the Gators placed eighth at the Lyman tournament and 18th at Oviedo.

Mays led the way at Lyman, winning the 215-pound class. Bobby Castillo (140) and Evan Stack (145) placed third, and Kyle Weber (112) took fourth. Castillo sustained his first loss of the season, to three-time state champion Jason Robbins of Oviedo 9-5 in the semifinals.

Mays suffered a rare loss at Oviedo, falling 4-3 to Elijah Charles of Green Cove Springs Clay in the 215-pound final during the individual portion of the two-day tournament. Mays defeated the Nos. 3 and 5 seeds before losing to Charles on an escape with two seconds left in double overtime.

Land O'Lakes went 2-2 in the dual competition, beating Ocala Forest and Berkeley Prep. The Gators lost to MasonOhio and Hernando despite Mays' upset of two-time state champion Addison Chipoletti of Hernando at 215.

Ridgewood, which went 3-2 at the Gulf tournament, hopes for a stronger showing. Kevin Galason, Pat Kelly, John Mareno, Matt Sluiser and Shane Higgins represent the Rams' best chance for titles.

"We've got four or five individuals who could do well, and that could make the difference," Smith said. "But there are some good teams out there. I look at it as anybody can grab it."

SAC TOURNAMENT

WHEN: 10 a.m. Saturday

WHERE: Ridgewood

SCHEDULE: Weigh-ins, 8:30 a.m.; preliminary matches followed by the first round, 10; semifinals and wrestlebacks, noon; consolation semifinals, 2 p.m.; third-, fifth- and seventh-place matches, 4; finals, 6.

SCHOOLS: Gulf, Hudson, Land O'Lakes, Mitchell, Pasco, Ridgewood, River Ridge, Wesley Chapel, Zephyrhills.

DEFENDING TEAM CHAMPION: Gulf won the past two seasons.

RETURNING CHAMPIONS: Shane Higgins (Ridgewood), Scott Mays (Land O'Lakes), Kevin Boyd (Wesley Chapel).

AT STAKE: Trophies for the top two teams and medals for the top four individuals in each weight class.

ADMISSION: $5 per session (Session I _ 9:30 a.m. to conclusion of consolation semifinals; Session II _ 4 p.m. to conclusion of finals).

_ FRANK PASTOR, Times staff writer

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