For three years, Alex Dinielli's toughest competition was one of his own teammates.
As a freshman he understood his learning role at the junior varsity level, but as a sophomore and junior he had to compete against Jordan Anastassiou just to get a shot at East Lake's varsity lineup. Anastassiou, however, turned into one of the best wrestlers in the state, and Dinielli's chances to compete in varsity never opened up.
With Anastassiou graduating and Dinielli a senior, the 285-pound slot has finally changed hands. But did the three-year wait take its toll on the guy Eagles' fans call "Mambo?"
Not a bit.
Dinielli heads into this weekend's region tournament with a 40-0 record - 38 of those on pins. Coach Joe Bedits isn't surprised.
"I knew what he could do because he was actually a pretty close match to Jordan last year, and Jordan was the top heavyweight (in the state) most of last year," Bedits said.
Dinielli really got the urge to wrestle varsity his sophomore year. But rather than slack off or simply wait his turn, he trained even harder and got a lot of help from the guy ahead of him.
"Jordan and I wrestled real hard the last three years I was with him," Dinielli said. "We've been wrestling for so long, we knew what each other does."
Fans may look at a first-year senior wrestler like they would a freshman, but Bedits said he never had a doubt.
"He had two days of freestyle Greco training with me," the first-year coach said. "He went to his first tournament (during the summer) and launched a big kid - launched him right to his back, five-point throw, and pinned the kid off the throw."
That opponent was no slouch. He was Dylan Mundella, the Times' 2006-07 wrestler of the year.
"I know this is new to me, but I've faced big competition before in the preseason and even through the regular season," Dinielli said. "I just have to get myself ready for it. I can't let anything intimidate me."
Wrestling region preview
When: First rounds start at noon Friday followed by two rounds of wrestlebacks. On Saturday, semifinals and wrestlebacks are at 10 a.m. Consolations are at 6 p.m., and championship bouts about 7:30.
Admission: $6 each session
Up next: The top four in each weight class move on to state, Feb. 14-16 at the Lakeland Center.
Class 3A-2 at East Lake: Wrestlers from 31 schools will be on hand, including Countryside, Largo, Palm Harbor University, Pinellas Park and St. Petersburg.
Class 2A-2 at Poinciana: County schools competing are Dunedin and Tarpon Springs.
Class 2A-3 at Palmetto Ridge High in Naples: County schools competing are Boca Ciega, Clearwater, Dixie Hollins, Gibbs, Lakewood, Northeast, Osceola and Seminole.
Class A-3 at Golden Gate High in Naples: County schools competing are Admiral Farragut, Calvary Christian, Clearwater Central Catholic, Indian Rocks Christian, Northside Christian and St. Petersburg Catholic.