By SHANNON HEATON
Northeast Florida Matmen
GREEN COVE SPRINGS — Fleming Island coach PJ Cobbert called it at the end of Friday’s first day of wrestling at the 18th annual Green Cove Springs Rotary IBT this past weekend.
At that point, he noted that the semifinal round — one way or the other — would either separate his team from Clay, or would either separate the Blue Devils from it.
On Saturday, after the semifinals had concluded and the tournament began to work its way through the consolation rounds, Cobbert’s prediction came true, as Fleming Island had pushed its way into the lead, with seven finalists to Clay’s six.
Then, in the finals, the Golden Eagles converted on five of those seven title chances — taking two of the three Fleming/Clay matchups in the finals — to steadily pull away for the team title, 282-259, in the 40-team tournament, in which no other team in the tournament had half of Clay’s total.
“Money rounds count,” Cobbert said of Fleming’s push, which netted the Golden Eagles a tournament-high 10 medal finishes when the tournament concluded well into Saturday evening. “We might have left 30 points at home, without (120 starter Deandre) Demus.
“We just have to keep getting better every week. Go full tilt. And get everybody back in the lineup.”
First up on the title trail was Briar Jackson (106), the weight class’s 3 seed.
Jackson had three first-period falls in Friday’s rounds, then made a first-period takedown stand up in a 2-1 semifinal win over The Master’s Academy’s Dylan Kohn. In the final, Jackson scored first against Clay’s Louis Gagliardo with an escape in the second period, then overcame a Gagliardo reversal in the third with one of his own for a 3-2 decision.
“In the dual meet (#UncivilWar2017), I was better on my feet, and I kind of knew at the end I had to come and get it,” Jackson said of his mat wrestling providing all the points against Gagliardo.
The victory in the final gave Jackson 50 wins for the season and was the third time he met up with Gagliardo during the course of the year.
“Usually, I feel pretty good when I’m up 2-0. I like getting that first takedown, but I’ve learned that sometimes I have to sit back and be patient,” Jackson said. “I like how things’ve gone this year. I haven’t lost since Knockout, and want to take this (momentum) right into the state tournament.”
Kohn rallied from the loss to Jackson to take third at 106, with a 6-0 consi-semi win over Florida High’s Brooks Dyer and a 2-0 decision over Carrollwood Day’s Jonathan Conrad, the top seed. Dyer took fifth place over Middleburg’s Tazz Hampton, who was unable to wrestle the place-round match due to winning five consi-round victories earlier in the day Saturday.
At 113, Fleming Island made it back-to-back titles, as Albie Snedaker continued with a successful return to the Golden Eagle lineup after losing several weeks to injury.
Snedaker also had three falls on Friday, then shut out Oakleaf’s Ryan Rosano, 4-0, in the semis. His final against top seed Ben Buhler of Tampa Prep was one of the more back-and-forth matches in terms of momentum swings.
Snedaker jumped out to the early lead, 6-2, behind a 3-point nearfall, and had a takedown in the second, but then had to hold off Buhler’s late charge for a 12-9 decision.
“It was hard coming back (to the lineup). I got really gassed, but I’ve been running a lot this week, and now I’ve got two weeks to get ready for districts,” Snedaker said. “Getting that turn, that was big because it got me the lead. When he (Buhler) got into my legs, that concerned me.”
Having Jackson and Demus bookend him in the lineup has been a big help getting Snedaker back up to speed. “Briar never stops,” Snedaker said of Jackson. “He’s the best drill partner. Pushes me every day. It’s a tough room and tough practice every day.”
Rosano would rally back to take third after losing to Snedaker in the semis, posting a shutout of his own with a 7-0 win over Episcopal’s Kyle Hopkins in the consi semis. He then duplicated that in the third-place match against Tampa Prep’s Riley McGill, with another 7-0 win. Hopkins then trailed University Christian’s Daniel Porter, 9-3, at one point, before hitting a double and later securing the fall over Porter in 4:30 to take fifth.
That Jason Davis (182) won his weight class wasn’t terribly remarkable, but how he won it was a bit unusual — although it later made sense — for him.
Davis had two quick pins on Friday to reach the semis and didn’t need a lot of time to post a five-point move there against Englewood’s Michel Augustin, but at some point — as Davis later related — he aggravated a knee issue sustained earlier in the week in practice, and that slowed his offense down and gave Augustin a chance to nearly catch up in a 6-4 decision.
“I was taking a shot and immediately started feeling it (earlier in the week). Took the same shot, felt the same way and then I was having to go on one leg the rest of the match,” Davis said.
In the final, though, Davis seemed not to be much the worse for wear, back to his usual self against Florida High’s Will Haigler in the final, winning by fall in 2:39.
“Not many will get in on my legs; (Lake Highland Prep’s Bryce) Rogers did, off my own footwork,” Davis said. “We’ve been a really banged-up team this year. We haven’t had one tournament with a full team yet.”
Augustin would rally back for third, pinning Buchholz’s Armando Acosta in 44 seconds in the consi semis. He didn’t have a third-place match, as Niceville’s Jordan Hines was limited by the five-match rule. Acosta won the fifth-place match, by medical forfeit, over Middleburg’s Bryan Heflin, who lost 8-3 in the consi semis to Hines.
Ryan Smenda (195) picked up a second back-to-back title situation for the Golden Eagles with his victory. Smenda had just one match on Friday, with a major decision in the round of 16 and won by forfeit in the quarters.
That set up a semifinal against Creekside’s Corey Grower, in which Smenda picked up takedowns in both the first and second periods before winning by fall in 3:14. In the final, Smenda was able to escape from bottom against Clay’s Kaleb Collins, then added a late takedown in the final 10 seconds for a 3-0 victory.
“I have to improve on defense,” Smenda said, asked about the takeaway from losing in the finals of the Flagler Rotary the previous weekend. “He (Fletcher’s Narek Stepanyan, who was absent from Clay due to a high fever) took me down with a sweep single in OT. I just have to keep perfecting the craft. Last week, things got really heated, but this week I feel a lot better.”
Smenda credited a sense of perspective as key to Fleming’s team win.
“Our team steps it up, every week. PJ didn’t hype it up to us. He told us that it was just another tournament. Just go out and win. Go out and compete, and if you compete, good things are going to happen.”
Grower came back from the semifinal loss to Smenda to take third, with falls in the consi semis over Oakleaf’s Dexter Moore (44 seconds) and over North Florida Christian’s David Lunn in 4:54. Moore won by forfeit over Bartram Trail’s Brooks Harp to finish fifth.
The last championship for Fleming Island came about in the final match of the tournament, with Jose Concepcion outlasting Bishop Kenny’s Josiah McCallum, 3-2, in double overtime.
Concepcion wno by fall twice on Friday to get into the semis, where he scored in both the first and third periods to win 5-0 over Middleburg’s Robert Barnard.
In the final against McCallum, both wrestlers were able to get out from bottom but not score otherwise, creating a 1-1 score into extra time. McCallum was hit with a second stall warning in double OT and gave Concepcion an escape, for a 3-1 lead. When McCallum took down, Concepcion rode for 25 seconds, then let McCallum go as time expired for a 3-2 decision.
“It was evenly matched. Same strength, came down to who wanted it more, and I wanted it more and was in better shape,” Concepcion said. “Winning this match was really about strategy.”
Additional placers for the Golden Eagles were Paul Detwiler (152), who medical-forfeited to Tampa Prep’s Anthony Artalona in the finals, and Brandyne Mackey, who dropped a 1-0 decision to Clay’s Kurt Jackson in the 220 final. Trace Insalaco (132) and Ben Sann (160) both were third in their brackets, with both only taking losses to the eventual champions. Jalyn Robinson (170) added a fifth for Fleming.
Brackets will be posted to the website on Monday.