By SHANNON HEATON & CATHERINE CAVALLO
Northeast Florida Matmen
(Editor’s Note: Catherine Cavallo is a senior at Bishop John J. Snyder High School, planning to attend a Florida four-year university and study journalism. Catherine interviewed all coaches quoted in the story and took one action photo. Additionally, Rose Logan, who provided 13 head-and-shoulder photos of individual champions that are included with this story, is also a senior at Bishop Snyder and plans to attend Savannah College for Art & Design, for photography. Catherine’s and Rose’s efforts are part of an ongoing Matmen effort to encourage student journalism and its publication in an ongoing media platform.)
JACKSONVILLE — There may be better wrestling programs in the Southeast, but not many, than Camden County’s program just over the Florida/Georgia line in Kingsland.
This past weekend at the 2016 Westside Kiwanis Invitational tournament at Bishop Snyder, there was no team better than Camden’s B squad, which racked up 15 medals — including four weight-class titles — and dominated the field with 290 points at the two-day IBT tournament.
Together with fellow Georgian program Toombs County (236 points), the “northern” horde swept to a 1-2 finish, bagging half of the weight classes in play.
“I think we did pretty well. We brought 16 guys down here; we’re gonna have 15 guys place, so the overall performance was good,” Camden coach Jerry Fegel said. “They’re young guys, so they get lots of good mat time and valuable experience, and that’s gonna pay dividends for them in the future.
“You know, honestly, we always want to improve and look to get better. Really, I think we’ve had a pretty good overall tournament. I can’t think of one particular area where we need to improve, but in every area, you always want to get better on your feet, better on the bottom, and better on top.”
William Vincent (145), Cody Herrin (160), Ja’vonte Graves (182) and Rafael Wilkerson (195) won titles for Camden.
Toombs had three champions on the day, with Ricardo Santana (120), Gage Clark (132) and Ervin Mincey (220) all taking firsts.
“I think we performed well,” Toombs coach Sam Rodgers said. “We had some guys that lost on the front side of the bracket, and they wrestled back to place, so I was proud of that. We still have a lot of work to do, but we’re getting better. Next time from our team…hopefully we can win this thing next year.”
The Northeast Florida teams did perform solidly, led by #5 Buchholz, which had eight placewinners and one champion in Gant Moore (138). The Bobcats took third with 183 points, far outdistancing the other local teams in the field.
“They’re young, and they’re gonna get stronger, so it’s been a great weekend for us,” Bobcats assistant coach Frank Cousins said. “I think the hard work is starting to come to fruition now, so the kids are excited about the hard workouts paying off. Eight kids are gonna place and we’re excited. There’s other kids who were in good spots, so a great future for a bunch of young boys.”
#7 Oakleaf was next in fourth place, with 115 points, but left the tournament with three brackets, as Kyle Tairovski-Romeu (106), Ryan Rosano (113) and Ethan Gustilo (126) all won titles. Gustilo also was named as the tournament’s outstanding wrestler.
“Overall, we’ve done pretty well. Our young kids are growing, and our staple kids are getting better every day. We’ve got three in the finals today,” Knights coach Wes Champ said. “Just need growth from our heavier weights and our younger kids.”
Honorable mention Orange Park was three points back of the Knights in fifth place, with one champion in 170-pound Nartorian Lee. “We had mostly freshmen and new guys who haven’t wrestled before, so we’re still picking up and still learning things, but I’m really happy about our returners performing at this level,” Raiders coach Justin Daniels said. “We need more aggressiveness on top and more focus on technique as well.”
Nearby rival Westside was sixth in the event, scoring 106.5 points and grabbing the last two brackets behind the efforts of seniors Delmontae Davis (152) and Tariq Hookfin (285). “A couple of years ago, we had five wrestlers and now we have 16. They did excellent. Everybody won a match except for one kid, which is great. Next time we need a little bit more aggressiveness, aggressiveness but fair play,” Wolverines coach Chris McNealy said.
Rounding out the top 10 were HM-listed Ridgeview (97 points), Middleburg (85.5), Englewood (62) and #9 Sandalwood (61).
“Our performance was fine. We’re young, a lot of freshmen, so our expectations are not real high at this point in the season. I’m not disappointed in their performance at all,” Middleburg coach Rich Dusinberre said of the Broncos.
First Coast was 11th with 60.5 points, followed by West Nassau (59.5), Menendez (40), host Bishop Snyder (26), Episcopal (22) and Bolles (15). Terry Parker did not score.
A summary of each individual weight class follows:
106 — Sophomore Tairovski-Romeu had a pin and decision on both days of the tournament, winning 5-1 in the semis over Buchholz’s Bryan Perkins and then falling Camden’s Devan Gill in the final, in 1:23. Gill had pinned his way through the bracket to get to the final, including a fall in 1 minute over Toombs’ Martin Santana in the semi. Perkins had two falls on the back side to wrestle back to third, pinning Toombs’ Landon Claxton in 1:49.
113 — Rosano, a junior, had three bonus-point wins en route to getting to the final, pinning First Coast’s Jason Schwartz in 1:14 in the semis and then taking a 3-1 decision over Orange Park junior Frank Sawyer for the championship. Sawyer had a tech fall and pin to get to the final, falling Toombs’ Cruz Arredondo in 2:36 in the semi. Arredondo took two decisions in the consis to get back to third, downing Camden’s Nathan Orum 7-3 in that match.
120 — Santana pinned his way through the bracket, with two falls each day, including a fall in 2:45 in the semis over First Coast’s Seanjohn Adams and then a first-period fall (1:34) in the final over Buchholz sophomore Billy Green-Church, who had pinned his way through to the final himself, falling First Coast’s Gerard Taylor in 5:59. Taylor had a fall and major on the back side, winning 11-3 over Camden’s Caleb Piccard for third place.
126 — Outstanding wrestler Gustilo, a junior, had three pins in earlier rounds, including one in 1:46 over Buchholz’s DeAngelo Fletcher in the semis, but had to battle to the limit in the final against Camden’s Adam Allwine, surviving a 10-9 decision for the victory. Allwine had a major and fall on Friday, decisioning Ridgeview’s Tanner Belden 8-1 in the semis to reach the final. Belden won by fall twice in the consis, including a pin over Fletcher in 2:24 to take third.
132 — Clark dominated the top half of the bracket with a tech an d two first-period falls, including a 34-second stick of Westside’s Angelo Philpot, but Ridgeview junior Saeid Ejmali was sterner stuff, forcing Clark to go a full six minutes before taking a 5-2 decision. Ejmali had three pins, including a fall of Camden’s Drew Norris in 3:28, to get there. Middleburg’s Storm Mercado won five matches on the back side — four of those by fall, including a pin over Norris in 4:06 in the third-place match.
138 — Buchholz senior Moore had maximum points en route to the final, with a forfeit and two pins (among those a fall over Ridgeview’s Elisha Kull in 3:17 in the semis) to get to the final, but had to battle with Camden’s Tyler Dahlgren before taking title to the title with a 3-1 decision. Dahlgren pinned his way through the bracket, including a fall in 4:27 over teammate P.A. Ferguson in the semis. Ferguson won two decisions in the consis, shutting out Toombs’ Joe Cowart, 4-0, for third.
145 — Vincent bookended a pair of bonus-point wins in the middle of his weekend with two decisions. He pinned Toombs’ Justin Hall in 5:11 in the semis and then outlasted West Nassau junior Will Tharpe, 13-8, to win the bracket. Tharpe had had two falls and a tech in the semis, that coming over Camden’s Omega Clark. Sandalwood’s Cameron Bell, who’d lost 3-2 to Vincent in the first round, came all the way back for third, with five wins, including a 6-0 shutout over Clark for his final win.
152 — Davis, a senior, was never seriously challenged in his bracket, with a 10-0 major, two first-minute pins and a second-period fall to take the title. He pinned Oakleaf’s Donovan Gray in 3:39 to win in the semis, but needed just 41 seconds in the final to deck Orange Park’s Jacob Campbell, a freshman who’d had two falls and a 9-3 semifinal win over Camden’s Kaleb Askin. Askin broke back with two falls in the consis, pinning Gray in 3:56 for third.
160 — Herrin had a pin and decision on both Friday and Saturday. Saturday’s version opened with a fall in 3:16 over Toombs’ Brandon Hall, followed by a 6-3 win over Buchholz junior Jordan Mobley, who had a pin and forfeit on Friday, then edged Englewood’s Tavian Whitehead 4-3 in the semis. Whitehead battled back for third with a decision and then a fall in 3:38 over Hall to take the place.
170 — Lee had three of his four matches go the distance, but his first one on Saturday didn’t as he won by tech fall over Episcopal’s Christian Rickey, 17-1. Then, in the final, Lee edged Toombs’ Carson Roberts by a 3-2 to win the Raiders’ only bracket. Roberts had a pin and major on Friday, then downed Westside’s John Jones by a 6-3 decision to reach the final. On the back side, Camden’s Myles Starke won five matches, the last coming as a 7-1 decision over Pedro Menendez’s Max Worthington — who’d had to win four to put himself in contention — in the third-place match.
182 — Graves had a tight quarterfinal Friday, but otherwise was in control of the bracket, pinning First Coast’s Valois Ochoa in 1:52 in the semis and then handing Buchholz freshman Armando Acosta his first loss of the year, winning by fall in 5:12. Acosta had pinned his way through to get to the finals, falling Englewood’s Michel Augustin in 3:35 in the semis. Augustin wrestled his way back to third, pinning Toombs’ Jonathan Morales in 3:47 for that medal.
195 — Wilkerson had a pin and decision on each day, starting Saturday with a fall in 3:32 over First Coast’s Elijah Wilcox in the semis, and then gutting out a 3-1 decision over Middleburg junior Bryan Heflin to win the bracket. Heflin had a fall on Friday and then a walkover win in the semis to reach the title match. Toombs’ Cameron Panick won four times on the back side to take third, teching Wilcox, 16-1, in that match.
220 — Mincey pieced together a pair of falls to reach the championship match, falling Buchholz’s Jose Romero in 2:50 in the semi, but he needed all six minutes to turn back Orange Park senior Tyler Dehart, 5-3, to win in the final. Dehart also had two pins prior to the final, pinning West Nassau’s Blake Hodges in 1:31 in the other semi. Romero needed just 73 seconds in two consi matches to take third, falling Hodges in 40 seconds in that match.
285 — Wolverine senior Hookfin pinned his way through the bracket, falling Sandalwood’s Miguel Velazquez in 2:54 to reach the final, where he decked Camden’s Chris Hunt in 3:10. Hunt had two pins of his own, taking a walkover victory in the semi to get to Hookfin. Toombs’ Rolando Tinoco won four matches to take third, pinning Aaron Menden of Buchholz in 1:39 there.
Complete brackets have been posted on both Matmen platforms, on the Local drop-down page for the Northeast site and the Statewide drop-down page for Northwest.