High school wrestling received a major facelift thanks to the Florida High School Athletic Association this season. Not only are the districts different, giving the area representatives in six districts and three regions, but weight classes have been changed across the nation as well.
Wiregrass Ranch, one of the better programs in the area last season, was district runnerup. In the worst-case scenario for the Bulls, the team moves up to Class 3A and is in the same district as state powerhouse Brandon. The rest of the programs on the North Suncoast have been moved around as well. Teams from the area were included in only three districts and two regions last season.
The adjustments to the weight classes are the first complete overhaul of classes in 23 years. Ten of the 14 weights are not the same for 2011. Where the lightweights were more closely bunched together previously, those classes have now been moved up to make room for a new 195-pound class. This should test the depth of many schools through the transition.
Preseason top four
1. Springstead: The defending Class 2A champion is coming off the best season in school history, and many would think that the Eagles may be in trouble in 2011. Sure, they lost four of their five individual state champions, but multiple St. Petersburg Times Coach of the Year Eric Swensen is known for reloading. With three elite freshmen coming into the mix, that looks to be the case again.
2. Fivay: The second-year program might enjoy a surge reminiscent of its football brethren. With five grapplers ranked in the Scout.com preseason polls and another with the potential to get there before season’s end, the Falcons could find themselves legitimate contenders for a first district title.
3. Gulf: Only two seasons removed from the first state wrestling title in North Suncoast history, the Buccaneers are still a solid team, but the gap between them and the rest of the area programs is closing. Gulf’s new district doesn’t help much with powerhouse Northside Christian in the mix.
4. Nature Coast: Coach Mike Lastra’s newfound commitment to offseason competition has vaulted his unit into one of the best. The Sharks have three wrestlers ranked in the Scout.com preseason polls, led by former state qualifier Mitch Lambert. If they can improve on their school-best 22nd-place state finish last season, they can join the conversation of the consistently solid teams, especially after losing both of their state qualifiers from 2010.
North Suncoast preseason team
106: Matt Landgraff, Fr., Springstead. Although he’s in only his first season at the high school level, Landgraff is no stranger to the sport. The brother of state champion Shawn Landgraff, he is a two-time All-American (Virginia Beach in 2009, Fargo in ’11).
113: John Ortiz, Jr., Sunlake. After being named a three-time All-American this offseason, Ortiz gets back to work on the stage where he placed sixth in the state last season. The junior is already the most-decorated grappler in the school’s short history.
120: J.P. Gamez, Sr., Pasco. In a deep weight class, Gamez takes the cake after placing third at state last season. He’ll have to deal with the likes of Gulf’s Forrest Swartsel, Springstead’s Steven Pavao and Fivay’s Sean Speer. With 138 career wins, the senior could become one of the area’s best ever this season.
126: Josh Herrera, Fr., Springstead. The second Eagle freshman to make the list is also an All-American after a trip to Virginia Beach this summer. Since he trains with one of the state’s elite programs every week, don’t be surprised if he enjoys a run similar to Jordan Rivera’s last season.
132: Jordan Rivera, So., Springstead. Speaking of Rivera, he has bumped up 20 pounds in weight this season. Surprised? Don’t be. It’s all muscle for last year’s freshman phenom. He shouldn’t have any issues placing in Lakeland again.
138: Sean Redman, Sr., Springstead. Nicknamed “Buddha” because of how much weight he loses for the season, Redman is one of the leaders who brings everyone together in practice. He’s not too shabby on the mat, with a state qualifying run last year.
145: Jared Young, Sr., Hernando. The middleweight came seemingly out of nowhere last season to earn a state tournament berth. With state finalist Zach Pritz likely out for the season with a torn ACL, Young will be counted on to carry the team.
152: Cody Ross, Sr., Springstead. Ross is the odds-on favorite for Wrestler of the Year after winning his second state title last season and going for his third. He will be counted on to move into the spotlight with the losses of Nick Soto, Shawn Landgraff, Virgil Toms and Richie Bliss.
160: Nick Popolillo, Sr., Wesley Chapel. After qualifying for state last season, Popolillo focused on his craft. Attending amateur tournaments around the country, the Wildcat standout showed he is ready for a legitimate run in Lakeland.
170: Jake Smith, Sr., Springstead. A transfer from Plant City this year along with his brother Will (220 lbs.), he made an impact the past couple seasons for the Raiders.
182: Connor Ross, Fr., Springstead. Make it a freshman hat trick. The younger brother of Cody Ross will make an immediate impact.
195: Thomas Gupton, Sr., Springstead. “Gump” made leaps and bounds from the beginning of last season. The improvement was so great that he ended up stamping a ticket to Lakeland. If he can make similar gains this season, we could see him on the podium in February.
220: Mike Hahn, Sr., Fivay. You could argue no one got hotter in the postseason. With SAC and district titles under his belt, the Falcon heavyweight boosted himself to a fourth-place state finish.
285: John Dreggors, Sr., Springstead. Dreggors suffered one of the most devastating individual losses at state last season when the heavily favored junior fell in the final to North Marion’s Matt Pringle. How did he respond? He won four national titles this summer and earned his second through sixth All-American honors.
Others to watch
Anclote: Chris Sorrick (113), Vitor Demelo (138)
Central: Puerto Rico Nieves (170)
Fivay: Cole Minion (106), Sean Speer (120), Jesse Barker (126), Dominick Grilli (182)
Gulf: Anthony Agazarm (113), Forrest Swartsel (120), Spencer Baxter (145), Jeff Kruse (285)
Hernando: Zach Pritz (170)
Mitchell: Hunter Martin (120), Max Gebler (145), Jarrett Frisbie (152), Travis Carr (160), David Hayes (170)
Nature Coast: Sean Nguyen (106), Will Ruiz (132), Mitch Lambert (160), Peter Holoman (195)
River Ridge: Kyle Arends (120)
Springstead: Steven Pavao (120), Will Smith (220)
Sunlake: Wesley Wood (120)
Weeki Wachee: Dante Padilla (106), Andrew Vreeland (152)
• Nov. 19, Wildcat Invitational at Wesley Chapel
• Dec. 2-3, Cougar Invitational at Durant
• Dec. 3, fifth annual Solomon Duals at Central
• Dec. 9-10, 30th annual Kiwanis Invitational at Hernando
• Dec. 9-10, Mustang Duals at Mitchell
• Dec. 10, Fivay Invitational
• Dec. 16-17, 13th annual Gulf Holiday Duals
• Dec. 30-31, Knightdale Duals in North Carolina
• Jan. 6-7, 23rd annual Springstead Invitational
• Jan. 13-14, 2nd annual Shark Fest Duals at Nature Coast
• Jan. 14, Seahawk Duals at Sunlake
• Jan. 28, SAC Championships at Fivay
By the numbers
21 Wins needed by Springstead’s Cody Ross to be the school record holder (Matt Booker, 162)
7 Victories Sunlake needs to give coach Russ Schenk 300 dual wins for his career
6 Consecutive district titles won by Springstead
5 Ranked preseason wrestlers on Fivay team
3A-6: Bloomingdale, Brandon, Durant, East Bay, Newsome, Plant, Plant City, Riverview, Tampa Bay Tech, Wiregrass Ranch
2A-7: Central, Citrus, Hernando, Land O’Lakes, Lecanto, Nature Coast, Springstead
2A-8: Dunedin, Mitchell, River Ridge, Sunlake, Tarpon Springs, Zephyrhills
A-8: Anclote, Crystal River, Dunnellon, North Marion, Fivay, Hudson, Pasco, Trinity Catholic, Weeki Wachee
A-9: Berkeley Prep, Carrollwood Day, Middleton, Robinson, Spoto, Tampa Bay Christian, Tampa Prep, Wesley Chapel
A-10: Admiral Farragut, Calvary Christian, Clearwater Central Catholic, Gulf, Indian Rocks Christian, Lakewood, Northside Christian, Ridgewood, Shorecrest