(Editor’s Note: Fletcher’s title-win story is coming Monday)
By SHANNON HEATON
Northeast Florida Matmen
JACKSONVILLE — Sandalwood might not have won the 2017 version of the Gateway Conference tournament on Saturday, but that didn’t stop the twice-defending champion Saints from feeling good about Gateway weekend nevertheless.
Despite a group that lost several solid seniors from the 2016 team, and a slow start to this season, Sandalwood pushed its way up the ranks throughout the weekend to finish second overall with 128 points.
The Saints outpointed Westside (114.5) and Mandarin (110) for the runnerup spot in the 14-team tournament.
“I couldn’t have been more proud of kids. Great for the fan base, great for the school and great for the community,” Sandalwood coach Casey Gibson said. “The Bell twins have been great leaders, them and Cole Friend.
“We had six or seven freshmen and first-year wrestlers, and they showed what mindset needs to be about, what pace needs to be about, what intensity needs to be about, what conditioning needs to be about. They’re like two drill sergeants, pushing the team, and with as many newer kids as we’ve got, with their leadership those kids had some success.”
Saints senior Cameron Bell (145) won his second Gateway title this past weekend, with a Friday fall in the quarters, a 4-2 win over Atlantic Coast’s Tywaine Rochebrun in the semis and then pinned Westside’s Jacob Boyd in 3:32 after building a 7-0 lead.
“The first time (in 2016) was a tough match, first time being able to compete in conference. This time, I was ready. I worked my tail off. It’s my tournament,” Bell said. “It’s a business trip, just taking care of business.”
Despite the Saints’ inability to three-peat as a team, Bell pointed to the positives. “We were not expecting to win, as far as team points. We stayed humble all season,” he said. “I’m looking forward to seeing what’s coming with Sandalwood wrestling. They will have great coaching, with great technique.”
As happy as Bell was to defend, he was equally happy to see twin brother Chandler win at 160. “I’ve trained him to be as good as he is, to be better than me,” Cameron said. “I’d rather see him win than me win.”
Chandler Bell did win at 160, with a Friday fall in the quarters, 15-2 major over Westside’s Matthew Gathright in the semis, and then a 14-7 decision in the final over Terry Parker’s D’Angelo Johnson.
“The last half of the season (a year ago, when Chandler was hurt) was tough, one of the toughest experiences of my life,” Chandler said. “Came in, wrestled hard, this just showed me that I have to keep executing. It’s a good learning experience for district, regional and state.”
Chandler has always been the bigger Bell, but as the slightly-younger one, deferred to Cameron. “He’s my big brother and I look up to him. I walk in the footsteps he set down before me,” Chandler said of his brother. “He sets the example in the room.”
Stoddards come through for Ed White: The Bell twins weren’t the only family affair on display this past weekend, as brothers Tyler (106) and Justin (138) Stoddard of Ed White also took home brackets Saturday afternoon, with the Commanders finishing eighth in the team race at 77 points.
Tyler Stoddard, a freshman in his first year of wrestling, got the family started on the right foot, pinning his way through the 106 bracket, with a fall Friday and a fall over Wolfson’s Keayon Gray in the semis. In the final, he took down Westside’s Demarcus Wilson with 1:31 left in the first period. 13 seconds later, he had the title.
“Pretty good. I mean, I was doing anything I could, just trying to win the championship,” Stoddard said. “The conditioning is really tough. You’ve got to be ready for that period. But the feeling when you win is great.”
Justin Stoddard, a junior and spot starter for the Commanders in the previous two seasons, has been one of this year’s team captains in the wake of so many Ed White graduates from the 2015-16 team moving on.
No matter. He had a Friday fall, a 13-10 semifinal win over Mandarin’s Jake Kamins and then used a late takedown in the third period to overcome Wolfson’s Sai Hassalla, 5-4, for the second bracket to the Stoddard family.
“It’s great for us and all the people who came to support us,” Stoddard said of the two White wins. “This year gave me a chance to be captain, a chance to show everyone I can lead. It’s a boost of confidence. It’s another step to further achievements.”
But he was proud of his younger brother — but also glad he could share bragging rights.
“Honestly, I’m really proud of him,” Justin said of Tyler. “He really didn’t know how to wrestle, and I told him I wasn’t going to show him anything if he wasn’t going to put in the hard work. And he did.”
Heavy hearts: With coach Brian Gilbert in the hospital all weekend, Raines wrestlers Joseph Haynes (126) and Jaquan English (132) both won their second Gateway titles with thoughts on their mentor as well as on winning.
At 126, Haynes had a Friday pin, semifinal fall over Ed White’s Jacob East and then tallied five takedowns in a 10-4 decision over Fletcher’s James Knox in a match that showed his choice this season to favor a deliberate approach rather than an all-out attack.
“Last year, everyone was talking just about how strong I was, and this year I want to show them, also, the techniques I use. That’s basically the difference for me. All I did was watch every move he (Knox) did. Now, I take my time, watch what you do,” Haynes said.
Haynes didn’t wrestle as a sophomore two years ago, and credited Gilbert with bringing him back from the streets. “He changed me around totally. I wasn’t taking it serious, I wasn’t wrestling how I was supposed to. Even though my dad’s not around, he (Gilbert) is that person I look up to as a father,” Haynes said. “It’s not hard at all (to wrestle without Gilbert in the corner). Even though he’s not here physically, I hear him telling me what to do.”
English, a junior, also won for the second time with a fall on Friday, semifinal pin over Westside’s Angelo Philpot and then a 16-4 major — in which he’d built a 10-0 lead — in the finals over Fletcher’s Ivante White.
“It’s tough (not having Gilbert), trying not to put too much emotion into it,” he said. “We have to take that energy and focus on the mat. I know what he would want me to be doing, and he would want me doing what I do best.”
That’s being aggressive. “Just seeing moves, attacking right away and not over-thinking,” English said. “Our schedule helps us a ton, because we know there are kids that are better out there. We know we have to work harder.”
Spikes sees way through: One of the more intriguing final-round outcomes came at 152, where Mandarin’s Adam Spikes withstood the flurry of offense against Westside’s Delmontae Davis, getting a second-period takedown and third-period reversal.
Those scoring maneuvers, plus Spikes’ ability to ride, turned a 4-0 Davis lead into a 7-6 Spikes win, just a week removed from Davis’ 14-8 win over Spikes at Terry Parker’s Army Duals.
“From that loss, I learned that I had to try to be aggressive but also smart,” Spikes said. “Stay calm and keep working on the things talked about in practice.”
Spikes had a Friday fall and an 8-2 semifinal win over Raines’ Alonzo Davis, to get to Delmontae Davis in the final.
And Davis was stronger on the feet, but on the mat, Spikes had the advantage, whether on bottom or top. “I take that as an advantage for myself,” Spikes said of his mat wrestling. “You have to be quick, react without overthinking. I knew I had to be a litle more aggressive.
“It’s my senior year. I don’t want to be disappointed with the rest of my life. I wanted to do something.”
Heavy hands: Three years ago, with several of the state’s best heavyweights found right within the Gateway, making forward progress was a struggle for then-freshman Tariq Hookfin of Westside.
But those years of taking losses at some tough kids’ hands meant Hookfin was slowly becoming better and better, and that process paid off Saturday, as Hookfin won the title at 285.
Hookfin had two pins on Friday, a 10-3 win in the semis over Fletcher’s Stanley Hollenbach, and then outlasted Wolfson’s Ronald Brunson in double-overtime, getting a key escape for a 2-1 decision.
“Even though it’s my last year, there is still more to accomplish,” Hookfin said. “I knew he (Brunson) was a big dude. I had to keep my head in the game, hand-fight, and listen to my coach.
“I knew it could come down to an escape. Offseason (wrestling) has helped me a lot. I can pace myself, keep my mind in the game.”
Rams find another title: As they did last year, 11th-place Englewood (51 points) did have one individual champion.
But it wasn’t defending champion Tavian Whitehead who won. Instead, it was fellow senior Michel Augustin, who had three first-period falls en route to winning the 182-pound championship.
Augustin had a fall on Friday, then pinned Sandalwood’s Friend in the semis and, in 1:44, First Coast’s Valois Ochoa for the title.
“I wrestled 182 in 10th grade; finally, I’m actually wrestling in the right weight class,” Augustin said. “It (winning) is a big thing, because it opens other opportunities (at school), help other see the benefits you get from wrestling, and I want to go on to bigger things, too. It feels great.”
Thirds: At 106, Wolfson’s Gray took third without having to win a match, as he had a bye in the consi-semis and third-place opponent Mitch Conover of Mandarin could not continue. At 113, Sandalwood’s Leon Cruz had two falls on the backside after a 7-5 semifinal loss to First Coast’s Jason Schwartz, pinning Wolfson’s Aries Fahnbulleh in 2:36.
First Coast’s Seanjohn Adams (120) lost on Friday to Atlantic Coast’s Kevin Thompson, but didn’t lose again after that, with three consi-round wins — including an 18-3 tech of Thompson for third. At 126, Ed White’s East had a quick pin and then a wild win over Atlantic Coast’s Marco Hunter, 9-8.
At 132, Lee’s Vicente Waugh had a long road back after dropping a 15-6 major to Westside’s Philpot in the quarters, winning four backside matches, including a fall in 4:31 over Mandarin’s Jamison Harris for third. Lee’s Darius Wells (138) lost 9-6 in the semis to Wolfson’s Hassalla, coming back with a pin and 6-3 win over Fletcher’s Matt Moffitt.
After falling to Cameron Bell, 4-2, in a match that felt like a conference final, Atlantic Coast’s Rochebrun had two easy wins on the consi side, pinning Mandarin’s Noah Colbert-Santana in 2:25 for third at 145. At 152, Stanton’s Mitchell Mika lost to Westside’s Davis, but then had a pin and won by injury-default over Raines’ Alonzo Davis.
Owen Beining (160) of Fletcher rallied from his semifinal loss by fall to Parker’s Johnson, with a pin and 9-2 third-place win over First Coast’s Devante Wyatt, while Landon Dains (170) of Terry Parker, after a semifinal loss to eventual champion Julion Fix of Fletcher, had a pin and 8-4 win over Westside’s John Jones.
Friend (182) came back from his loss by fall to Englewood’s Augustin with two decision wins, downing Westside’s Calvin Altman 7-2, with Atlantic Coast’s Jamari Broussard (195) coming back from a 1-0 defeat to Fletcher’s Narek Stepanyan with a tech fall and pin in 2:53 over Paxon’s Jacob Loveland.
At 220, Mandarin’s Andrew Hudgins had two backside falls, the second in 1:22 over Ed White’s Damian Deleston for third, while Atlantic Coast’s Darius Idlebird (285) had four wins on the back after a quarterfinal loss by pin to Wolfson’s Brunson. Idlebird pinned Sandalwood’s Miguel Velazquez for third.