By SHANNON HEATON
Northeast Florida Matmen
JACKSONVILLE — For years, Middleburg has chased its Clay County brethren…Clay…Fleming Island…and, in district competition, Orange Park.
For years, those chases have usually not resulted in the outcome that the Broncos would otherwise want.
That is, until Saturday, as #5 Middleburg wrote a new chapter in the Clay County wrestling story, with five individual champions, 10 Region 1 qualifiers and a team championship at last, as the Broncos overcame #7 Orange Park, 160-141, to win the 2A-District 3 title at Terry Parker.
“It’s been a long run,” a visibly-relieved Rick Wetherill, Middleburg’s coach, said afterward. “It means that these guys have done what it takes to win a championship, through hard work, focus and dedication.
“I’m so proud to be their coach as we now move on to the next challenge, which is regions (at Chiles next weekend).”
Practice through the week this week gave Wetherill a thought that this might actually happen for his Broncos, who led by just three points going into the final round.
“We were relaxed, focused and felt appropriately confident,” Wetherill said. “The guys were really good at being consistent. They got better every week; slow start, big finish. They improved not just in their technique, but also in their physical fitness and their heart.
“I always tell the guys: you wrestle to win, you don’t wrestle to not lose. These guys have worked all season to come to districts to put it together and wrestle to win.”
Orange Park also qualified 10 for regions, with three champions on the day. Ed White finished third, with 135 points, four district champs and eight qualifiers.
Ridgeview outpointed Englewood, 102-92, for fourth. The Clay County Panthers finished with nine qualifiers, while Englewood had one champion and nine qualifiers.
Terry Parker was sixth with 62 points and Stanton seventh with 14. The Braves had one champion, with six qualifiers, while the Blue Devils’ lone wrestler qualified out.
Below falls a summary of the doings on the day:
106 — Matmen HM Robert Sheridan of Middleburg won by tech fall in the semis, but his championship match with Orange Park’s Dean Ganci was much closer, as Sheridan needed a late flurry to come from behind for a 7-6 win over Ganci, who’d reached the final with a major decision in the semis. Ridgeview’s Hunter Click, who’d lost to Ganci, came back with a fall in 1:40 over Englewood’s Tyler Crawford to take third place.
113 — In a three-person bracket, Matmen #9 (statewide #16) Briar Jackson of Middleburg was able to score twice and make those moves stand up in the final — his only match of the day — against Matmen #10 Frank Sawyer of Orange Park, taking a 5-3 decision. Sawyer reached the final with a fall over Terry Parker’s Chris Walker, who had a walkover for third.
120 — Matmen #2 (second statewide) Marcus Reid needed 58 seconds to reach the final and controlled the pace in the title match against Matmen #10 Justin Trinh of Ridgeview, taking a 5-1 decision. Trinh reached the final with a major decision in the semis against Middleburg’s Austin Benton, who came back to take third with a 29-second fall over Terry Parker’s Reema Sabella.
126 — Like Jackson, Middleburg senior Dylan Rossetti (Matmen #6, statewide #16) only wrestled once, and did so with the pain of a broken collarbone besides, but secured a takedown with 12 seconds left to turn back Orange Park’s Jeremiah Watson (Matmen #5 at 132, statewide #13 at that weight), 6-5. Watson had reached the final with a major decision against Ridgeview’s Tanner Belden, who had a walkover for third.
132 — Orange Park top seed Saeid Ejmali (Matmen #7 at 138, statewide #13 at that weight) had a fall in the semis and then had to overcome an early rush against Ridgeview’s Trevor Belden (Matmen HM, statewide #15 at this weight), rallying with a few different turns to take a 17-12 victory. Belden needed extra time to win in OT, 8-6, in the semis against Ed White’s Darrell Lampkin, who rallied for a 40-second fall over Middleburg’s Storm Mercado for third place.
138 — Ed White’s Darien Tucker (statewide #9) won by decision in the semis and then needed just 1:22 to fall Ridgeview’s McKenzie Williams to take home the title. Williams reached the final with a major decision in the semis over Orange Park’s Dashner St. Vilus (Matmen HM at 145), who pinned Englewood’s Dustin Williams in 1:20 for third place.
145 — Ed White’s Juwan Lee (statewide #13) had a fall in the semis and then put on an offensive clinic in the title match against Matmen HM Mitchell Mika of Stanton, taking a 16-9 decision. Mika, the Blue Devils’ lone competitor, had a 10-3 decision in the semis. In the third place match, Ridgeview’s Nick Robinson, who lost by fall to Lee in the semis, pinned Englewood’s Marcus Elam in 3:47 for the win.
152 — Englewood junior Tavian Whitehead (Matmen #9) had a 49-second fall in the semifinals, and was able to score and ride against Middleburg’s Cody Eastwood in the championship, adding a district title to his Gateway Conference win with a 5-2 decision. Eastwood won by fall in the semis to get to the final. On the consi side, Terry Parker’s Boakai Kanneh, who’d lost by fall to Whitehead in the semis, was able to fall Ridgeview’s Stephen Richardson in 39 seconds for third.
160 — Nartorian Lee (Matmen #2, statewide #10) won by fall in the semis and then picked up a late takedown to overcome Ed White’s Sergio Jordan (statewide #15), 5-3, in the championship match. Jordan reached the finals with a fall over Englewood’s Zykeim Sermons (Matmen #10), who rallied with two wins to take third, including a 6-5 decision over Terry Parker’s Landon Dains.
170 — Middleburg’s Jonathan Shoen (Matmen #2, statewide #5) won three matches — two by fall and the third by tech — to take the title, pinning Daryn Tucker Brown (Matmen #5) in 2:32 during the championship match. Brown advanced with a 6-3 decision over Englewood’s Michel Augustin, who came back with a fall and a 5-2 decision for third over Orange Park’s Reed Danielson.
182 — In a back-and-forth title match that saw top seed Aquana McCalop (Matmen #6, statewide #15) almost flat twice, it was McCalop that was able to secure the pin, in 4:48, against Matmen #9 Bryan Heflin of Middleburg. Heflin had advanced to the final with two pins, the second against Englewood’s Chase Hamilton, who came back to take third with a 14-8 decision over Ed White’s Robert Carley.
195 — Ed White senior Atyrus McDonald (statewide #7) hit a late score and turn to overcome a deficit against Matmen #5 Kurt Jackson of Middleburg, winning the title with a 7-5 decision after a 30-second fall in the semis. Jackson had advanced with a fall in 4:28 over Orange Park’s Ben Elliot, who came back with a fall of his own for third, in 1:35 over Englewood’s Emrah Kalabic.
220 — Like Briar Jackson and Rossetti, Middleburg’s Ammon Meeks only got to wrestle once Saturday, but the ninth-ranked (Matmen) Meeks (statewide #16) made it count, overcoming statewide #15 Avery Wilds of Ed White by an 8-2 decision in the final. Wilds had advanced to the final with a fall over Ridgeview’s Brandon Wilkerson who won by a walkover for third.
285 — Ed White’s Kelton Johnson (statewide #6) had three matches Saturday, with an injury-default victory and two falls in the semis and finals, the last a 53-second fall over Englewood’s Brandon Hudson, who reached the final with a pin of his own. That fall came in the semis against Terry Parker’s Matthew Walls, who came back with a medical-forfeit win in the consi semis and fall over Orange Park’s Deon Williams for third.