The Season 2015-16: Clay

Clay

You can see everything I have on the Blue Devils in 2015-16 here –> CLAY

Win/loss record: 23-8 in dual meets. Please review the attached document for a review of the Blue Devils’ performance in IBT events.

A quick disclaimer: We received all team dual results for Clay this year, but we did not get all individual match-by-match results (we want very much for this to not be an issue next season). Therefore, in constructing the season, Clay’s own compiled year-end stats were very helpful — but required us to work backward from state, which was a little unusual. So we have most of the starters showing, in capitals, a combined record from the Battle at the Beach & Troy Smith Duals events that would have to be accurate in order to make the math work on the final season record.

Season in a nutshell: Clay found itself back in Region 1 after a two-year absence, and the slogan — “A New Era Begins” — was proven behind the Blue Devils’ 17th consecutive district title and what Clay hopes will be a new string of region titles as well, with a runnerup finish at states, the highest team finish of any team in the coverage area. The Blue Devils also brought home IBT wins at Somerset Scuffle and Clay Rotary; they were the only team in the coverage area to finish no lower than second place in any tournament they entered in 2015-16. At districts, Clay won 13 of the 14 weight classes; seven of those district champs return, but there are a number of kids waiting their turn to take over a roster spot, plus Clay never really rebuilds. It just keeps dominating with new kids.

2015-16 MVP: This is another one of those teams where there could be several MVP candidates, but when you’re the local newspaper’s wrestler of the year and in the running for the area’s athlete of the year per another media outlet, there is no other best choice for MVP than state champion Derek Miller, who came in from Kentucky during the off-season, started making his mark at Disney Duals and never really stopped. Miller won 11 matches in a row from the Smoky Mountain Duals over Christmas break through the finals of the Somerset Scuffle, but most importantly put together a 12-match win streak to close out the season after falling in the finals at Clay Rotary, winning 10 in the post-season. You saw Miller steadily get better and better from the start of the year to the end, avenging three key losses from earlier in the year down the stretch from Uncivil War through the tournament series. Great kid, great addition to the Blue Devil room this past season.

2016-17 captain: A program like Clay’s won’t lack for leadership on the mat or off — there are three returning region champs, after all, and three region runners-up that would be captains at a lot of programs, but in the spirit of just choosing one, it’s hard to overlook the progress that Chris Merring made in going from starter and state qualifier to state finalist in 2015-16. Merring had a few opportunities during the course of the year where even simply starting was in jeopardy (more on that in a little bit), but once he made the mental commitment to doing what it took for that, the physical reward — in victories — piled up, as Merring won both district and region titles after not winning a regular-season IBT this past year, pinning his way into the finals. On the state’s biggest stage, Merring did struggle some, but he wrestled his way into the chance for a state title, something only 84 kids in Florida could boast. Tons of talent in the room — at his weight and around it — helped him get there, and will help him keep his team there in 2016-17.

Heaton’s Hero: Normally we would look at a wrestler that struggles — always a relative term in the Clay room, because Clay kids that struggle might be among most teams’ better kids — so instead we’re going to turn this one on its head. Peyton Hughes saw plenty of mat time as a varsity competitor in 2015-16, and plenty of success as well, winning the Somerset Scuffle at 113, (9-7 over teammate Merring in the final), splitting matches with Merring at Westside Kiwanis, and reaching the finals of Clay Rotary after winning what might have been the best match I saw all year in the GCS Rotary semis. I made mention on more than one occasion that Peyton Hughes was the best wrestler in the coverage area that was not ranked. And he did not get a chance to show it in the post-season, losing a wrestleoff to Merring that probably had a state-level feel to that match. It’ll be fun to see them both in the lineup next year. Peyton Hughes is the Heaton’s Hero for Clay.

Projected returning starters for 2016-17 (with year in school as they’ll be next year): Louie Gagliardo (sophomore, wrestled 106 this past year, District 3 champ, Region 1 runnerup, 5th at 1A states); C. Merring (senior, wrestled 113 this past year, District 3 champ, Region 1 champ, 1A state runnerup); Dylan Taylor (sophomore, wrestled 120 this past year, District 3 champ, Region 1 runnerup, 6th at 1A states); Keath Sawdo (senior, wrestled 145 this past year, District 3 champ, Region 1 champ, 5th at 1A states); Connor Green (junior, wrestled 152 this past year, District 3 champ, Region 1 3rd place, 6th at 1A states); Garrett Weseman (junior, wrestled 160 this past year, District 3 4th place); Abbott Taylor (sophomore, wrestled 182 this past year, District 3 champ, Region 1 runnerup); Kaleb Collins (senior, wrestled 195 this past year, District 3 champ, Region 1 champ, 3rd at 1A states). Also: Hughes (sophomore, wrestled 113 this past year, did not compete in post-season); Cody Taylor (senior, wrestled 132 this past year, did not compete in post-season); Ryan Rivers (junior, wrestled 220 this past year, did not compete in post-season).

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I covered wrestling for 15 years up north and "retired" in 2011. But as I thought I had in 1992, I couldn't stay away. Started Northeast Florida Matmen in 2013, Northwest Florida Matmen in 2015. New initiative this year is to create a space on my sites where ALL Florida results can be stored, searched, reviewed and used by my readers, with NO COST TO THEM.

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