Sure, Brandon is the team to beat in this weekend's Hillsborough County Championships at East Bay. But Plant City's Willie Joyce and Cody Chaney are aiming to wrestle away an individual title or two.
The seniors came close in last weekend's Ippolito Memorial Tournament, with both advancing to their respective finals before losing to Brandon wrestlers. Joyce was pinned in three minutes, 54 seconds by Devan Berrian at 120 pounds and Chaney lost a 170 match 3-1 to Jacob Haydock, a former state champion from Oklahoma.
The Raiders have two other formidable wrestlers in Cameron Perez (126) and Matt Benton (132), who each took fifth in their weight classes to help Plant City place seventh at the Ippolito tournament. That represents nine spots better than at last year's Ippolito.
"I was excited with that finish," Plant City coach Nick Ferrario said. "I was pleasantly surprised since after the first day (of the two-day competition) we were 14th."
Joyce and Chaney going up against their Brandon counterparts could play out again in Saturday's finals. Earlier this season, Joyce and Chaney came out on top in division finals against Berrian and Haydock.
"At county I'm pretty much expecting similar results as at Ippolito," Ferrario said. "Individually, we're doing good with those guys."
A three-time state qualifier at Brandon (Class of 2001) whose best finish was fourth as a 189-pound senior, Ferrario is well aware of what it takes to advance to that level. He lists Joyce and Chaney as team leaders and legitimate state contenders.
"I tell them being in the big show (states at the Lakeland Center) is a lot different than doing the dual meets," Ferrario said.
Joyce has been there twice, placing fourth at 103 and fifth at 112 as a sophomore and junior, respectively. He enters the county matches with an impressive 40-3 record.
"He's a tad undersized, but he's holding it well," Ferrario said.
Chaney has yet to make states and was injured most of last season, but Ferrario has high hopes.
"He's definitely the hardest worker on the team," Ferrario said. "He's always pushing himself and he's a good motivator for the team."
As for the Raiders' two other standouts, Benton is a three-sport athlete (football, track) who qualified for state last year but did not place.
"He gets to work and doesn't complain about anything," Ferrario said. "He's an athlete. He's going all year between football and track."
Ferrario said Perez, a sophomore, "is quick. He has some good technique."
Lumping Brandon, Durant and East Bay together, Ferrario said his team faces a major challenge in the rest of the meets. With county and districts on the horizon, the Plant City coach is not thinking as much about states as he is about advancing a handful of his wrestlers to a level before that.
"I'm thinking (Joyce, Chaney, Benton and Perez) can definitely qualify for regions," he said. "Getting out of regions is going to be a tough one."
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Class 3A-6 at Durant
Teams: Bloomingdale, Brandon, Durant, East Bay, Newsome, Plant, Plant City, Riverview, Tampa Bay Tech, Wiregrass Ranch
Schedule: Feb. 4. First match at 11 a.m., finals at 4
Class 3A-7 at Alonso
Teams: Alonso, Chamberlain, Clearwater, Countryside, East Lake, Freedom, Gaither, Palm Harbor University, Seminole, Steinbrenner, Wharton
Schedule: Feb. 4. First match at 9:30 a.m., finals at 4
Class 2A-9 at Armwood
Teams: Armwood, Blake, Hillsborough, Jesuit, King, Lennard, Sickles, Strawberry Crest
Schedule: Feb. 4. First match at 11 a.m., finals at 5
Class 2A-10 at Osceola
Teams: Boca Ciega, Dixie Hollins, Gibbs, Jefferson, Largo, Leto, Osceola
Schedule: Feb. 3. First match at 10 a.m., finals at 4
Class A-9 at Robinson
Teams: Berkeley Prep, Carrollwood Day, Middleton, Robinson, Spoto, Tampa Bay Christian, Tampa Prep, Wesley Chapel
Schedule: Feb. 4. First match at 10 a.m., finals at 5