The Season 2016-17: Clay

CLAY

You can see everything I have on the Blue Devils in 2016-17 here –>  CLAY

Win/loss record: 21-5 in dual meets. Please review the attached document for a summary of the Blue Devils’ performance in IBT events.

Season in a nutshell: It’s tough to summarize a season like Clay had, even in the long extended paragraphs of #TheSeason style. On the one hand, at least in my personal experience of the past four years, it might have been the most injury-filled season the Blue Devils have had. Multiple starters were out of the lineup at various points of the year, and then there were other kids who simply left the squad (the team’s starting lineup looked somewhat different at the end of the year than it did at the start). There were tournaments missed due to weather, with events that had to be rescheduled as a result. There were new events that tested the group’s nerve and ability, like Knockout and the way that the District 3 event started for the Blue Devils. But, on the other hand, this is Clay. Where other programs might not have overcome these challenges, the Blue Devils persevered, battling through to a 7-1 record at Jensen Beach, a runnerup finish at Buchholz and a 7-1 record at Clay’s own 1A Dual Championships, losing only to the eventual 1A state champion. Other than Knockout (where Clay was the top 1A team in attendance), the Blue Devils were first or second in every IBT or roundrobin event they entered, continuing their streak of district titles (18 and counting) and defending their region title. A lot of teams would like to have the returning talent Clay does (seven post-season starters, three of them state medalists, will be back) for 2017-18, with a lot of depth waiting in the wings.

2016-17 MVP: In a lineup with many stars (we’re going to see this with a couple of teams as we hit the finishing tape, Clay being the first of three), it can be difficult to separate out one wrestler (I don’t envy the Blue Devil coaches at the awards banquet) as “most” valuable. There’s two kids that could be here/should be here, but only one can be named, so with almost exactly duplicating post-season resumes, I’ll go with the wrestler who was able to stay in the lineup all season, and that would be senior 145 Keath Sawdo. After an early loss at Jensen Beach, Sawdo ripped off 15 wins in a row, with that streak only coming to an end at Buchholz, when he bumped up to 152. In January, Sawdo bagged another 14 in a row, with a loss only to the top-ranked 1A 145. A couple of matches later, Sawdo took another loss while bumped up, then won another 15 and it wouldn’t be until the final night of the season where he would lose again, with a win in the Blue Devils’ Rotary tournament, District 3 and Region 1 titles along the way. In a season that saw so much in the way of injury and setback, Sawdo was an absolute pillar in the middle of the lineup for the Blue Devils this year.

2017-18 captain: Like the MVP award, there’s a couple of different possibilities to consider here, but in looking at more or less three comparable resumes (all of whom will be strong leaders next season), I’m going to go with the rising senior, and that means junior 220 Kurt Jackson, who came over to Clay for this season. Jackson had few instances this year where he would get himself in bad situations, as he sometimes tended to do as a younger wrestler while trying to attempt moves a much smaller kid would be more likely to try. Jackson won his first 23 matches, with only a 3A state champion standing in his way. In fact, state champs gave Jackson three of his four losses this year, and the fourth he was able to eventually get back, winning 13 in a row after that one. He was second at Knockout, first at Somerset Scuffle and at Clay’s Rotary tournament in regular-season tournaments, needing just 93 seconds to roll through the District 3 event. After a tougher but still successful Region 1 title run, Jackson lost only in the semifinals, dominating his other contested matches in taking third. He’ll anchor the Blue Devil upper-weight book end in 2017-18.

Heaton’s Hero: Not a lot of state qualifiers that go on to finish a match short of a medal get listed here. Heck, there’ve been several teams that saw their seasons come to an end at the region level. But junior 132 Dylan Fabiani burst upon the Florida scene as a solid to up-and-coming 106 pounder two years ago, had some struggles with weight control and had his season cut short by it. Then, last year, we didn’t see him in the lineup (although every time I went out Green Cove way, he was in attendance). Fabiani came back to the team this year, with his first appearance at Ridgeview Rumble, obviously a bit bigger but also, I think, a bit more humble. After an OK start (16-12, which many wrestlers would take but OK in Clay circles), Fabiani really found a groove, going 14-5 down the stretch, with a District 3 title, a loss only to the eventual state runnerup at Region 1, and nearly pinning a four-time state champ at states. Welcome back, Dylan Fabiani, the Heaton’s Hero for Clay.

Projected returning starters for 2017-18 (with year in school as they’ll be next year): Louie Gagliardo (junior, 106, district champ, region champ, state 3rd); Justin Byler (junior, 113, district 3rd, 1-2 at regions); Peyton Hughes (junior, 126, district champ, region champ, state 3rd); Dylan Fabiani (senior, 132, district champ, region 3rd, 1 match from state medal); Dylan Taylor (junior, 152, district champ, 1 match from states); Jackson (senior, 220, district champ, region champ, state 3rd); Ryan Rivers (senior, 285, district runnerup, 1 match from states). Also: Jacob McKee (sophomore, 106, did not compete in post-season); Gabe Peddichord (senior, 126, did not compete in post-season); Justin Merring (junior, 152, did not compete in post-season); Dalton Wright (senior, 160, did not compete in post-season); Garrett Weseman (senior, 160, did not compete in post-season); Carson Yost (senior, 170/182, did not compete in post-season); Isiah Clifford (sophomore, 170/182, did not compete in post-season); Joe Grelli (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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