KISSIMMEE - The wrestling state duals championship series, staged Friday and Saturday at Osceola High School, saw the rise and fall of the two most storied programs in Clay County high school …
KISSIMMEE - The wrestling state duals championship series, staged Friday and Saturday at Osceola High School, saw the rise and fall of the two most storied programs in Clay County high school grappling; Fleming Island and Clay, as both came home empty-handed Saturday night.
“It was a death by 1,000 cuts for us,” said Clay coach Jim Reape, who watched his young group of Blue Devil wrestlers battle against perennial region 1-1A nemesis Wakulla High before losing a tough 36-35 region championship match on Friday. “We have a lot of young guys out there and I take the blame for not giving them enough coaching to avoid little mistakes and leaving points out there. We lost the coin flip too.”
For Fleming Island, state runner-up since the inception of the state duals championships in Class 3A, also had a young and new-faced lineup from the usual gristle of past seasons, romped to the region finals with convincing wins throughout only to fall 39-27 in the Final Four match with Riverdale High. Riverdale High would advance and eventually lose to still defending champion South Dade High, 45-21, in the championship final.
“They (Riverdale) matched up well with us and we had two matches we were winning and got caught for pins,” said Fleming Island coach P.J. Cobbert. “I learned more about this program from this loss than I’ve ever learned as a coach; just details. These guys are snake-bit and will be a tougher team from here on.”
Cobbert, who has brought Fleming Island to state prominence since his inception, called the summer of 2020 a major difference for his squad.
“This freshman class did not have the type of summer that most of Fleming Island wrestling has had with nationals, hard training, weight training and all that,” said Cobbert. “I saw something after the match when they got together as a team and there was some tough talk.”
Fleming Island rolled to the Final Four with wins over Flagler Palm Coast (56-16), Buchholz (58-19) and Timber Creek (55-19) in Friday’s region championship.
“Riverdale had five hammers that we figured pins and the match that was costly was Ethan Hoffstetter (285) who wrestled great against a state qualifier and lost in overtime,” said Cobbert. “Riley Holton had a great match and is returning to great form. We had some situations where we’re winning and they throw big-time moves and get pins.”
Hoffstetter’s match hinged on two questionable technical violations that proved costly in overtime.
“We didn’t get the pins we needed,” said Cobbert. “You’re going to see a different team in a month.”
Both teams will be facing off in the Tussle of Muscle in early February.
“They are going to come to wrestle us, we know that,” said Cobbert, of facing Clay at possibly Flagler and Clay Rotary than the dual meet.”Clay’s got a bunch of scrappers.”
For Reape, who returned to the helm at Clay after a Hall of Fame nomination and a job change for long-time assistant Hunter Hill, who took over after Reape stepped down, the return to the championship rounds of competition for his young squad will only steel the team for the next phase of the wrestling season; the individual championships in March.
“We’ll coach them up to finish off points and avoid situations to give up points,” said Reape. “There are moments in tight wresting that come to that experience dictates the next move or the ability to be patient, back out and restart. We had some opportunities to hold leads, get pins and add points that, again, my fault, we did not capitalize.”
Against Wakulla, last year’s duals Class 1A runner-up and fifth in 1A in traditional and missing a handful of graduate state meet athletes, Clay, uncharacteristically out of top 10 12th in 1A last year, roared to three early wins in bonus points with Gunner Ivey, Chandler Thomas and Luke Boree scoring with a major, a pin and a major to jet start the upset-minded Blue Devils.
“Three young guys just wrestling hard and setting the tone,” said Reape.
The next phase of the match saw a pin-fest from both teams with Dominic Martin, Cale Hoskinson and Garrett Tyre; all three state qualifiers last year with Hoskinson third and Tyre finishing fifth, flatting their opponents, but Wakulla holding court with pins of their own.
In the penultimate match of the day, Maverick Rainwater, a sophomore state qualifier at 106 last year, held an 8-1 advantage though most of the third period, but could not get the three needed points for a major as Wakulla played keep away as the score would teeter on the final match at 120 pounds.
“The bonus points kept the match even and we knew the last two would be tough matches,” said Reape. “Rainwater wrestled about as good as he ever has. Same with Dalton Huckleberry in the last match (lost 5-3 to third-ranked in Class 1A Ray Hatchman, fourth 120 last year) and I know it stings, but we will regroup and learn and see them again.”
Clay advance through with wins over Episcopal and Yulee; 62-7 and 62-10.
For Fleming Island, who has not wrestled a normal Fleming Island schedule of south Florida tournaments since the early December Danny Byron Invitational, the road back to Kissimmee was a question mark.