The Season 2016-17: Sandalwood

SANDALWOOD

You can see everything I have on the Saints in 2016-17 here –>  SANDALWOOD

Win/loss record: 6-11 in dual meets. Please review the attached document for a summary of the Saints’ performance in IBT events.

Season in a nutshell: After two years of sizable senior classes had come in and moved on, just remaining atop the Jacksonville city scene was going to be difficult enough for the Saints this past year. Sandalwood had a mixture of very experienced kids and very young kids, and the very young kids took a lot of lumps, given that most of them were freshmen and therefore did not have middle-school experience coming in. Most of the experienced kids, juniors most of them, carried the load in difficult circumstances in IBTs and in dual tournaments. Sandalwood finished in the bottom half at Westside Kiwanis, Ridgeview Rumble and Tournament of Champions, but did pull together a solidly-competitive showing at Gateway, finishing second this year. After an 0-5 start in duals, the Saints were .500 the rest of the year, with five wins at Flagler Duals in mid-January, their last dual event of the year. Sandalwood will return just six post-season starters after a third wave of seniors leaves, so bringing new blood in for 2017-18 will be a key motivation this off-season and next fall.

2016-17 MVP: After coming up just short of the state tournament a year ago, senior 145 Cameron Bell lost his opening-round match at the Westside Kiwanis to the eventual champ. Bell wrestled back to take third, and then just kept on winning, ripping off 19 matches in a row, and he wouldn’t lose again until Lake Mary’s Tournament of Champions, where he fell to an eventual state champ in the semis, and went on to take fourth in that event. After the Lake Mary event, in early January, Bell would only lose to one wrestler prior to the state tournament (at least according to results I have). He won at least eight matches at Flagler Duals, took his second Gateway Conference title and it was not until the finals of the Flagler Rotary that Bell would take a loss. He would win Clay’s Rotary title at 145 the following weekend, then District 1 two weeks later. Bell had two falls and a decision to ensure his place at states, losing to that same opponent he faced at Flagler in the final. At states, as the Saints’ lone representative this past season, Bell was 1-2, with a pair of one-point losses on the first day of the tournament.

2017-18 captain: Junior 170 Dillon Morency won a Gateway Conference title in 2016, and while he isn’t the only tie to the Saints’ Gateway run of leadership, he is probably the most-decorated returner who was a part of those teams, and for that alone he will be a key cog in Sandalwood’s fortunes in November and going forward. Morency won an Optimist title at Terry Parker, dominating the 182 bracket. He dropped down to 170 later on in December and went 5-0 at Buchholz’s holiday tournament, helping to fuel an 11-2 start. After some tough sledding at Tournament of Champions, Morency won seven matches in a row between Flagler Duals and Gateway this year, where he finished second. After an early exit at Flagler Rotary, and an early loss at Clay’s Rotary, Morency won five matches on the back side to earn a podium finish there. He lost to the eventual District 1 champ in the semis, but rallied back to finish third, going 1-2 at the Region 1 tournament. It’ll be his experience that will be most needed going forward.

Heaton’s Hero: Freshman 126 Blake Friend — the younger brother of senior Saint Cole Friend — won his very first high-school match at Terry Parker in the Optimist tournament. After that win, Friend would not earn another contested victory until Gateway Conference, seven weeks later. He would not be in the lineup between Optimist and Tournament of Champions, going 0-2 there, but did pick up a couple of forfeit wins at Flagler Duals. There were two matches where he would win by fall — one at Gateway and one at Clay’s Rotary — but all of his matches that were losses were losses by fall. But Friend hung in there, staying in the room and staying in the lineup, and for that persistence, Blake Friend is the Heaton’s Hero for Sandalwood.

Projected returning starters for 2017-18 (with year in school as they’ll be next year): Leon Cruz (senior, 113, district 4th, 2-2 at regions); Nakeem Murphy (sophomore, 120, 0-2 at districts); Blake Friend (sophomore, 126, 0-2 at districts); Owen Murnin (sophomore, 132, 0-2 at districts); Lavaughn Brown (sophomore, 152, 1 match from regions); Dillon Morency (senior, 170, district 3rd, 1-2 at regions). Also: Devin Smith (sophomore, 195, did not compete in post-season); Gustavo Martinez (sophomore, 220, 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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