By SHANNON HEATON
Northeast Florida Matmen
JACKSONVILLE – The first half of December was a trying couple of weeks for the Fernandina Beach wrestling team.
New head coach. Lots of new starters. New identity.
And with all of that newness crashing around the Pirate wrestling room, growing pains would, inevitably, ensue, taking the form of a 1-6 start in dual meets.
Wednesday night at Raines’ Douglas White Gymnasium, the Pirates hoped to finish off 2014 on a better note, and did, with a pair of victories over Florida School for the Deaf & Blind (43-27) and the host Vikings (48-24).
“We’re not really where we need to be yet,” Fernandina coach Jay Helm said. “With a lot of young wrestlers, it makes it hard to match up in the room. But coming here, and getting some good matches, helps a lot.”
Fernandina Beach (3-6) took its ease and took in the action of the opening round of the triangular, as Raines (5-5) took down FSDB, 31-30, in a criteria victory on the basis of the most falls (4-2).
Then the Pirates hit the mat with early runs, jumping out to a 28-6 lead over FSDB (0-3) and going up 18-0 and 48-6 over Raines.
Double winners on the night for the Pirates were Jade Welsh (138), Jesse Henn (160), Brad Lucas (195) and Hynson Cole (220).
“We figured out pretty quick at the North Florida Duals (11 days ago) that we had to work harder and we had to learn how to make weight, too,” Helm said. “But we win as a team and lose as a team. The kids are coming together as a group, supporting each other, and in the long run that will pay off.”
The host Vikings stayed at .500 in duals in the midst of a bit of a grueling schedule that saw Raines going against north Florida’s best last weekend at the Capital City Classic and getting some holiday competition this weekend at Lee’s Backyard Bash. Although Raines was giving up five forfeits Wednesday night, there was a reason for it.
“No practice, no wrestle,” Vikings coach Brian Gilbert said of the lack of starters. “These kids have to learn that no matter how athletic you are, you’ve got to learn how to wrestle. You can’t just use athleticism. You have to have technique, doing the stuff you’re drilling in practice, and then put that to use in the match. When we get that, we’ll be all right.”
Joseph Haynes (2 pins at 113), Jaquan English (2 pins at 120/26), Demonta Bell (2 pins at 152) and Qiuan Smith (1 pin at 285) were double winners for the Vikings. In the FSDB dual, Tyrann Baxter (195) came back from a 10-1 deficit to collect a fall there.
As for the Dragons, though they’re searching for their first dual win of 2014-15, they took another step toward forging a new identity of their own although, like Raines was Wednesday night, numbers are a continuing issue.
“Every time we step out on the mat, we’re gaining more experience and gaining continuous improvement,” FSDB coach Travis Homewood said. “But we’ve got more heart than talent right now. We have a sixth-grader, two seventh-graders and an eighth-grader on the varsity, just because we don’t have any other bodies.”
AJ Rice (132) and Wesley Homewood (170/82) were the Dragons’ lone double winners on the night.