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Young Bulls emerge as contenders

After dropping its season-opening match to Brandon, Bloomingdale has emerged as perhaps the second-best team in Hillsborough County.

The Bulls followed their 78-0 loss to the Eagles with consecutive wins against Newsome (52-21), Plant (76-6), Armwood (57-16) and Jefferson (70-9) in a five-way meet hosted by Bloomingdale on Nov. 18.

"Although the score may not have shown it, the Brandon match was not that bad for us, considering the power of their team this year," Bloomingdale coach Donny Peek said. "The Brandon match was like a state championship finals for us."

Brandon has nine state placers back, including three returning champions, from last season's state title squad, and could have the toughest team in its history.

"We have one of our most competitive schedules ever this year," Peek said. "We also have a very young team. In the East Lake Tournament this weekend (Friday and Saturday), we hope to see some more improvement."

Senior 152-pounder Kyle Paladini is among those who have stood out early for Bloomingdale. In his match against Brandon's Keith Koziel, he was down 5-0 early, but battled back to yield only a 7-4 decision. He has won all four of his matches since.

The Figari brothers, 119-pound junior Austin and 135-pound sophomore Chris, are other standouts for the Bulls. Both have the capability to place in the top six at state in their respective weight classes. Another set of siblings, George (103) and Robbie (130) Conner, also possess the potential to place at state.

100 WINS AND COUNTING: Chamberlain senior Patrick Spano started his final season of high school wrestling with more than 100 wins. He scored wins No. 100 and 101 in the state tournament last year while finishing fifth in Class 3A at 152 pounds. He is back at 152 this season and has a 7-0 start that includes five pins. His career record stands at 108-35 with 66 pins.

BIG WEEKEND TOURNAMENTS: Brandon and Bloomingdale are set to travel to East Lake on Friday and Saturday for the East Lake Invitational.

The 22-team field also features perennial state powers Miami Southridge, Clearwater Countryside, Lakeland George Jenkins, Venice and host East Lake. Action starts Friday at 2 p.m.

Durant, meantime, is hosting its most prestigious invitational in years, with 32 teams on the mats Friday and Saturday. Several state team contenders and more than half a dozen defending individual state champions are scheduled to compete, including Miami Southwest, Miami Braddock, Live Oak Suwannee, Lake Region, Lake Gibson, Jesuit and Durant. Action starts at 2:45 p.m.