By SHANNON HEATON
Northeast Florida Matmen
KISSIMMEE — Fleming Island has never had a state champion in wrestling before this year. Never been a team runnerup before this year.
No question, the Golden Eagles peaked at the right time this post-season, with District 1 and Region 1 titles prior to fending off all challenges — except that of four-time defending state champion South Dade — at the Class 3A state tournament at Silver Spurs Arena last weekend.
In the process, the unquestioned leader among the wrestlers in the room — senior Jason Davis — finally broke through after two seasons of placing third in 2015 and 2016 to take Fleming Island’s first state championship.
But for all of that at the end of the night, the mood was more about steps taken rather than objectives accomplished among those in green and gold.
“South Dade has set the bar high, and we want to get where they are,” Golden Eagles coach PJ Cobbert said. “It seems like every year we’re getting better, though.
“The kids in our room, they all expect to win. It’s about putting together a great weekend. And they know it’s true, because they have a coach that won four. We talk about it every day. You’ve got to have a great (state) tournament. That’s what it’s all about.”
So consider it a pretty good tournament, with Fleming Island holding off St. Thomas Aquinas by 3 1/2 points, securing the runnerup team trophy with Davis’ title win at 182, to outpoint STA 106.5-103.
Flagler Palm Coast, led by 126-pound champion Avery Holder, was 10th in the tournament, with 48.5 points. Buchholz and Fletcher tied for 21st place, with 21 points and one medalist apiece, while Atlantic Coast and Sandalwood tied for 58th place, with two points. Oakleaf and Robert E. Lee were tied for 70th place, with no score for both.
Below follows a summary of the District 1 wrestlers that made it to the second day of the tournament:
In a battle of 1 vs 2 in the semis, Fleming Island’s Briar Jackson couldn’t stay with the offensive firepower of eventual champion and South Dade freshman Bretli Reyna, who won by tech fall (16-1 in 5:46) over Jackson. Jackson then had two pins on the back side, with a fall over third-ranked Riverview sophomore Tyler Forrest in 4:14 in the consi semis and then a second fall over 11th-ranked Cypress Bay junior Santiago Portilla in 2:58 for third place.
Unranked Buchholz sophomore Bryan Perkins lost his one match in the blood round on Saturday morning, falling 10-3 in the consi quarters to Forrest, who wound up finishing sixth in the tournament.
Another battle of 1 vs 2 in the semifinal round, with second-ranked Flagler Palm Coast junior Michael DeAugustino attempting to defeat top-ranked Malyke Hines of Osceola in the semifinals. This time, it was Hines who had the answer, with a late takedown in a scramble and three-point nearfall that pushed his lead out to 7-1, sending DeAugustino into the wrestlebacks. There, DeAugustino decisioned eighth-ranked Freedom junior Smaill Saint Pierre, 8-3, in the consi semis, then shut out fifth-ranked St. Thomas Aquinas senior Stephen Moreno, 5-0, to take third for the second time and place for the third time.
Top-ranked Flagler Palm Coast junior Avery Holder was the first north Florida wrestler to win a state championship Saturday night, beginning the day with a tech fall in 4:35 over Miami Coral Park’s third-ranked senior Marcus Abreu, in 4:35 (17-2) score. That sent Holder into the finals against fourth-ranked Forest Hill senior Pablo Asenjo. Holder did the most damage from the mat, with a pair of reverses to nearfalls — one in each period — scoring four points in both. That was enough offense to hold off Asenjo, 8-6, and bring a state championship bracket back home to Palm Coast.
Holder reax: “It’s the best feeling in the world right now. One of the best I’ve ever had. I don’t know how to put it into words yet. (On the reverse to cowcatcher for four points in the 3rd period) Actually, this week was the first time I’ve hit that move. Coaches have been preaching it to me, that I had the ability, but I didn’t hit it first until the semis and then again tonight in the finals. He wasn’t letting me hit my go-to moves…I still have work to do. I’m happy with winning, but I want to be better than I’ve been and accomplish even more than I’ve accomplished so far.”
Buchholz fourth-ranked senior Gant Moore had a pair of one-point wins to reach the third-place match and medal in his final high school event. Moore edged Riverview (Sarasota)’s 10th-ranked Zack Buchanan, 6-5, to assure his place on the podium. Then, in the consi semis, Moore downed eighth-ranked St. Thomas Aquinas senior Vinny Sessa, 4-3, to get into the medal match against second-ranked Southwest Miami junior Alex Urquiza, who held down Moore’s offense and took an 8-1 victory, sending Moore to fourth.
Fleming Island third-ranked junior Paul Detwiler was the only wrestler in the tournament to push eventual champion and top-ranked St. Thomas Aquinas senior Bryce Marcus into a six-minute match, but Detwiler couldn’t solve the champ, falling 13-5 and dropping into the wrestlebacks. There, though, the footing was easier, as Detwiler pinned 14th-ranked Hagerty junior Oliver Hart in 2:52 in the consi semis, then decisioned fourth-ranked Southridge senior Antony Kinsey for the second time in as many days, this time by an 8-6 count for the third-place medal.
Top-ranked Davis ground down his Saturday opponents en route to the title, simply overpowering their offense in tieups and front headlocks, and making one score stand up in both matches. First of those was a 3-2 win over sixth-ranked Sickles senior Hamid Salahutdin in the semis, setting up a matchup of 1 vs 2 in the finals, with second-ranked senior Jorge Loy of Forest Hill there. Davis escaped out and got a takedown in the second period and that was enough for a 3-1 decision and the Golden Eagles’ first state title.
Davis reax: “We had a runnerup in (2014 finalist) Evan McCall, and I looked up to him a lot as a mentor. I learned that anybody who believes it and wants it, mentally and physically, can do this. Just took the matches one at a time, not getting in bad positions. It’s hard to think about that every match. Have the same level of intensity, focus on my offense and stop his offense. Just basics. Doing things it’s taken years to get right…(on the accomplishment) It doesn’t stop with this. You can’t let up after you do something like this. I’m still training for the next level. Teamwise, second is a big goal that we have accomplished. It’s not first, but it’s the next step, a step that we had to take, and hopefully those coming after me will take the next step and reach the top.”
Third-ranked Fletcher senior Narek Stepanyan took another step toward a third local 3A title in the semifinals, handing ninth-ranked East Bay senior Kevin Clayton his first loss of the season with an 8-3 victory, putting Stepanyan into the final against top-ranked and undefeated defending champion Josiah Gittman of St. Thomas Aquinas. Like Gittman did on Friday to Stepanyan’s district rival Ryan Smenda, he did to Stepanyan in the finals, with a whirlwind of offense and not allowing Stepanyan any successful attacks, taking a 10-0 decision and making Stepanyan the runnerup.
Stepanyan reax: “(Is Gittman the best you’ve seen) Probably. I think he’s really good on top, that’s what separates him from everybody else. I knew he was very good on top, and I was going to try to stay away from it. My plan was to beat him on the feet…It means a lot (to make the finals). It’s not what I wanted. I wanted to get first, but second’s still good for it only being my third year wrestling.”
Smenda won his first match in the blood round, pinning eighth-ranked Marshal Sweet of Killian in 2:08 to ensure he would win a medal. After a consi-semi 3-1 loss to Clayton, Smenda came back to finish fifth, winning over sixth-ranked Chase Sharp of Lakewood Ranch for the second time in as many days, this time by a 9-0 major over Sharp in the fifth-place medal match.
Fleming Island senior and fourth-ranked Brandyne Mackey and Atlantic Coast unranked senior Kurk Jackson had a showdown in the blood round, with the winner earning a medal. That consi-quarter battle went Mackey’s way, with an 8-3 decision, ending Jackson’s tournament. Mackey then fell in double-overtime in the consi semis to Region 1 rival and second-ranked Winter Springs junior Montana Lewis, 3-2, and then took another one-point loss in the fifth-place match to John I. Lennard’s Johan Albuquerque, 1-0, to finish sixth.
After winning in the ultimate tiebreaker in Friday’s quarterfinals to assure himself of a medal, unranked Fleming Island junior Jose Concepcion faced off against eventual champion Kyron Taylor of South Dade, falling 5-2 in the semis and dropping into the wrestlebacks. In the consi semis, Concepcion lost by fall in 58 seconds to Coral Gables eighth-ranked junior Jaafari Stephens, then sustained a 3-2 loss in the fifth-place match to third-ranked Jordan Earle of Forest Hill, to wind up sixth in the tournament.