HOLIDAY — Before heading full speed into the postseason, Gulf hopes to continue the theme of the past two seasons. First the Buccaneers flex their dominance over the rest of Pasco County by winning the Sunshine Athletic Conference title, then they move on to the rest of the state.
The Buccaneers don’t plan on ending that streak in 2011. After winning the first North Suncoast state championship in history last season when the program walked out of Lakeland with the Class A crown, the team knows how important momentum can be. An SAC trophy served as the prelude for Gulf, and coach Travis DeWalt expects that to be the case again.
“This is another steppingstone toward the state series,” DeWalt said. “My kids know how important this is as well, and they take it very seriously.”
With the lineup he returns, the mentor is able to analyze his group, seeing who is prepared. Anthony Ayers (130 pounds), R.J. O’Connor (160) and Ladarious Jackson (171) are defending individual state champions who won SAC titles the past two seasons.
Jeff Kruse (285) placed third in the state last season and won the SAC crown in 2010. Anthony Agazarm (103), Austin Hayes (145) and Chris Palasky (215) are also favorites in the lineup for the Buccaneers.
“I’m a hard man to please,” DeWalt said. “A lot of these guys are young and have been wrestling out of their level for most of the year, so this is a good gauge for me to see where we’re at.”
Wiregrass Ranch, which placed as runnerup 83 points behind Gulf at last season’s conference tournament, should be the top competitor again. The experienced team is back, and it is deep in every weight class.
The Bulls were still able to place nine members of its lineup, including five in the finals. Kyle Koesling won the 103-pound individual title and is a favorite to square off with Pasco’s J.P. Gamez in the 112-pound final this season. The program also returns with David Hill (125), Dylan Koesling (130), Mason Bradford (135) and Elliot Morales (140), all of whom were all-SAC last year.
The newest school in the area should make an impact as well, if not in the team standings, just with a big name. Fivay’s Sean Speer (119) is one of the top-ranked grapplers in the state, according to Scout.com. He is the favorite to win the individual conference title at his weight class if he’s on point. He’ll deal with competition from Gulf’s Forrest Swartsel.
Among the other top competition at the tournament is Zephyrhills’ Frank Morrison (215), River Ridge’s Andrew Herr (189) and Wesley Chapel’s Nick Popolillo (152). Each should make waves. Popolillo won a conference crown last season at 145 while Herr, a transfer from Springstead, was undefeated for a long stretch this season.
Sunshine Athletic Conference Championship
Where: Anclote High
Saturday: Weigh-ins, 8 a.m.; first round, 9; finals, 5 p.m.
Teams: Anclote, Fivay, Gulf, Hudson, Land O’Lakes, Mitchell, Pasco, Ridgewood, River Ridge, Sunlake, Wesley Chapel, Wiregrass Ranch, Zephyrhills
2009-10 champion: Gulf
Favorites: Anthony Agazarm (103), Gulf; J.P. Gamez (112), Pasco; Sean Speer (119), Fivay; David Hill (125), Wiregrass Ranch; Anthony Ayers (130), Gulf; Mason Bradford (135), Wiregrass Ranch; Elliot Morales (140), Wiregrass Ranch; Austin Hayes (145), Gulf; Nick Popolillo (152), Gulf; R.J. O’Connor (160), Gulf; Ladarious Jackson (171), Gulf; Andrew Herr (189), River Ridge; Chris Palasky (215), Gulf; Jeff Kruse (285), Gulf