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Five things you need to know

1. Springstead's Schuyler Swanton and Hernando's Brandyn Kuhn are expected to make legitimate runs at individual state titles.

2. With team leader Taequan Griffin academically ineligible until January, coach Mike Lastra also is coping with losing key returners like Preston Williams, Slayden McGregor and Nathan Dust - all of whom were expected to compete for region spots.

3. With a majority of last season's region runnerup squad returning, Springstead is expected to win a third straight district title while being in the hunt at the region and state levels.

4. The Hernando County Athletic Conference tournament will be hosted by Springstead on Jan. 24.

5. District tournaments start Jan. 29, region tournaments will begin on Feb. 9, and the state tournament begins Feb. 15

Season outlook

1. Springstead: The Eagles return seven state qualifiers and two other region qualifiers from last season's team. All-American Schuyler Swanton is expected to contend for a state title in the 103-pound weight class as Springstead looks to improve on its sixth-place finish at states.

2. Hernando: The Leopards lost two of the four best grapplers in the county (David Pritz and Michael Combs) to graduation along with their coach (Matt Smith). New coach Brian Flanagan is at the helm with state qualifiers Brandyn Kuhn and Jesse Graham back to lead an influx of young talent.

3. Central: Turmoil and disciplinary action clouded Central's 2005-06 season. By midseason, the program had been disbanded. Former Springstead coach and Central alumnus Roy Reyes takes the reins of the program from long-time coach Alan Solomon. With little experience returning under the new coach, Reyes is looking to rebuild a strong wrestling tradition at the school.

4. Nature Coast: The Sharks take an early-season hit with Taequan Griffin unable to dress due to academic ineligibility. Coach Mike Lastra did a good job last season of molding an inexperienced team into a contender by season's end. If history repeats itself, Nature Coast could challenge Hernando and Citrus at districts.

District assignments

Class 2A-5: Springstead, Central, Dunedin, Land O'Lakes, Ridgewood, River Ridge, Groveland South Lake, Tarpon Springs, Wesley Chapel.

Class A- 5: Hernando, Nature Coast, Lecanto, Citrus, Crystal River, Dunnellon, Citra North Marion, Ocala Trinity Catholic, Ocala West Port, The Villages.

By the numbers

9 Individual state championships Springstead has had.

12 Individual state championships Hernando has had.

2 Individual state championships Central has had.

0 Individual state qualifiers Nature Coast has had.

7 Combined number of seasons Hernando County wrestling coaches have been with their respective programs.

5 Schuyler Swanton's place at the 2006 Cadet & Junior Nationals in Fargo, N.D., this past summer.

75 Miles from Springstead to the Lakeland Center, home of this year's state championships.

40 Wins needed by Brandyn Kuhn to capture David Pritz's school record for career wins.

Fond farewells

Michael Combs, Hernando: The 2005-06 Times Hernando/Citrus Wrestler of the Year moves on after four astounding seasons at Hernando. A finals loss at state was tough to swallow, but Combs still holds a place as one of the top grapplers to come through this county.

Seth Metz, Springstead: In a neck-and-neck race for the Wrestler of the Year crown, Metz finished just behind Combs after a controversial head-to-head match. He also will be remembered as an elite mat veteran after a runnerup finish at state last season.

David Pritz, Hernando: Pritz really did have a disappointing state trip in 2005-06, but in his final three seasons, the proof was in the pudding. As a sophomore, he finished second overall at 160. As a junior, he finished fifth overall at 171. In his final season, he took home third overall at 189.

Steve Leon, Springstead: Leon was one of the strongest 130-pounders on the mats last season. His qualifying for states was a pleasant surprise, and the Eagles will miss his 44-14 record.

Andy Leavine, Springstead: Leavine was a transfer from Central that filled a huge gap for Springstead. A two-time region qualifier, he never really scraped the surface of his potential on the mats. The heavyweight class is a tough position to fill, so he will definitely be missed.

Tony Grossi, Nature Coast: A transfer from Springstead, this region qualifier was the behind-the-scenes leader for Nature Coast's budding program. He worked harder in the weight room than any other competitor around, but due to injuries his senior season, he never reached full potential.

Walter Acosta, Springstead: Acosta was disappointed by his inability to qualify for state as a senior after doing so as a junior. But his leadership was key over the past three seasons in the rebirth of the wrestling program at Springstead.

Super Seven

C.J. Cook, Springstead

Cook has a chance to finish as one of the best four-year grapplers in school history after qualifying for state as both a freshman and sophomore.

Schuyler Swanton, Springstead

Swanton catapulted himself into a role as the county's premier wrestler this past summer after a runnerup finish at state and earning the first All-American billing in school history. He finished 2005-06 with a 46-5 record.

Mike Heagney, Springstead

Possibly the most improved wrestler on Springstead's team in 2005-06, Heagney turned the corner sharply. After going 11-34 his sophomore season, he totaled a 43-10 record as a junior before finishing sixth in the state at 189.

Steven Bliss, Springstead

After transferring to Springstead last season as a sophomore, Bliss qualified for state for the second time in as many seasons. Though he only had 25 wins, he made the moves in the postseason when they counted.

Brandyn Kuhn, Hernando

After qualifying for state the past three seasons, Kuhn is left as the leader for the Leopards. Last season, after a 42-8 record, he finished sixth in the 145-pound weight class at state.

Jesse Graham, Hernando

A key member of the Hernando football team, Graham achieved far more on the mats as a sophomore last season than was expected. He opened some eyes by qualifying for state and winning a match while he was there. Before it was over, he finished 32-14 on the season.

Keith Hansen, Springstead

Hansen enters his senior year with a major boost of confidence after qualifying for state last season. Hansen went 41-10 overall and has moved up one weight class to 152 pounds for this season.

Others to watch

Central: Nathan Brazeau, Gilbert Perez, Miguel Molina

Hernando: Daniel Pritz, Taylor Rotunda, Chris Bishop

Nature Coast: Taequan Griffin, Lee Lehman, Alfredo Lindo

Springstead: Bobby McCarthy, Cesar Acosta, Skylar Huff, Thad Klenovich

CHECK IT OUT

Sixth Annual Sebastian River Shark Invitational

Where: Sebastian River High, Sebastian

Time: Saturday - Weigh-ins: 8 a.m. First round: 10 a.m. Finals: 6 p.m.

Teams: Hernando, Kissimmee Life Academy, Melbourne Eau Gallie, Titusville, Punta Gorda Charlotte, Orlando Timber Creek, Fort Pierce Westwood, Melbourne Palm Bay, Cocoa Space Coast, Okeechobee, Rockledge, Titusville Astronaut, Stuart South Fork, Martin County, Orlando University, Sebastian River

The skinny: It has been two weeks since Hernando, the defending champion of this tournament, kicked off its season with a tournament at Berkeley Prep. As expected, Brandyn Kuhn took first. The Leopards have not been on the mat in competition since then, and the question will be whether that has any effect against a very tough field. Palm Bay, University and Charlotte are the expected favorites.

10th Annual Cougar Invitational

Where: Durant High, Plant City

Time: Friday - Weigh-ins: 1 p.m. First Round: 3 p.m. Saturday - Wrestling resumes: 9 a.m. Finals: 6:30 p.m.

Teams: Springstead, Jesuit, Durant, Sarasota Riverview, Wharton, Lake Gibson, Lakeland, Plant, Sickles, Temple Heights, Naples Gulf Coast, Fort Myers Riverdale, Mulberry, Hillsborough, Merritt Island, Manatee, Tampa Chamberlain, Moore Haven, Bradenton Lakewood Ranch, Tampa King, Fort Walton Beach, Gainesville, Middleton, Lithia Newsome, Suwannee.

The skinny: The tournament is an individual bracketed tournament with Lake Gibson, Jesuit and Gainesville expected to be Springstead's top competition across the board. After kicking off the season this week with a home dual win over Nature Coast, returning state qualifiers Schuyler Swanton and Mike Heagney should get their first real tests at Durant.

Derek LaRiviere, Times correspondent

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