The Silver Spurs Arena was bustling on the first weekend of March for the FHSAA state wrestling championships in Kissimmee, Florida. Dozens of schools from across the state attended the event with at least one athlete. Many schools, such as Nature Coast, Weeki Wachee, Springstead, and Hernando High, brought multiple. Hernando County was well represented at the event, with the schools bringing two, four, five, and twelve wrestlers, respectively. As the Sun will be covering Hernando High and its pair of state champions separately, this will be a look at the performances of the other three squads.
For Nature Coast athletes, their time at the tournament would be cut short. Coming in as the 15 seeds in their respective weight classes, Nature Coast’s Ben Goyoneche and Kaden Etheridge had an uphill battle to fight. Unfortunately, the pair of Sharks’ qualifiers fell in their first two bouts in the 2A 120 and 138 weight classes. This eliminated them and the school from contention on day one of the competition.
Weeki Wachee fared more favorably in this regard, but Thursday did claim two names from the Hornets’ four-person contingent. Ricky Bowermeister and Jisir Allen also dropped their first two matches on opening day in the 2A 145 and 182 weight classes, respectively. The news improved for Weeki, though, as ninth-seeded Addison Breeding split his bouts on day one in the 2A 126 weight class and advanced to Consolation Round 2 on Friday. That is when Breeding met Asher Bacon on mat six. After starting strong with a takedown roughly 35 seconds into the match, Bacon tied it up moments later before pinning Breeding to the mat in the first period to take the victory. Finally, Nick Guy saw the most success of the Hornets wrestlers over the weekend as he advanced to the consolation semifinals on Saturday. Competing in the 1A 106 weight class, Guy took eighth place in the semifinals following a 12-4 defeat to Wakulla High’s Connor Brown.
Of these three schools, Springstead saw by far the most success in Kissimmee. The Eagles brought a trio of female wrestlers. Gianella Walczak was the first to be eliminated in consolation round 2 for the 105 weight class. The fifteenth-seeded Walczak fell 13-11 to McKeel High’s Madelyne Bombardier after battling back from a 10-4 deficit midway through the bout. Despite the relatively early Friday exit, Springstead Wrestling Head Coach Mike LaRocca felt she fought hard and was pleased with her performance at the state tournament. Emma Bauknight came into the competition as the highest-seeded player on the Eagles’ roster at number five in the 115 weight class. She placed seventh in the consolation semifinal round on Saturday. Her final match versus Lilyana Gargano earned Bauknight the seventh spot when she won by fall over Gargano in the opening period. Jasmine Serrano advanced the furthest of the Springstead girls as she parlayed her nine-seed position in the 120 weight class into fifth place in the consolation semifinals after defeating Bell Creek’s Abby DiCenzo 13-6.
Though the Eagles’ Vincenzo Lee also saw himself eliminated from the competition on Thursday, Coach LaRocca feels the sophomore’s situation was more nuanced than the losses might indicate. “Even though he went 0-2, he just had some really tough kids,” the Springstead coach said. “Kind of a bad break in the draw is what you’d say. Every kid that he wrestled that was in his bottom quarter they were just studs. He went out there, and he wrestled his a** off, and he’s only a second-year kid. I would have to say 120, looking at it, was arguably one of the toughest weight classes in 2A… It was a tough, tough weight class.”
Josh Gallo advanced the furthest of all Springstead players at the event as he took third place in the consolation semifinals of the 2A 138 weight class. Though he would come up just short against Jesuit’s Draven McCall in a tight 1-0 defeat in three periods, Gallo’s final match would be the inverse. In a thrilling overtime victory over Lake Gibson’s Ny’Travious Walker, Gallo broke open a 5-5 stalemate with a takedown in the final two seconds to take the 7-5 victory over Walker. The Springstead head coach shared some constructive criticism and praise in his appraisal of Gallo’s performance at the state tournament.
“Josh wrestled great,” Coach LaRocca said. “I mean, he kind of did himself a disservice by not taking the regional title. They put him on the harder side of the bracket, which put him against the number two and the number one kid in the state. You know, which he wrestled a great match in his quarterfinals match. Went out there the way I know he can wrestle. Then his semis match, you know the kid is number one and was tying him up a little bit, but I don’t think Josh was giving it… He went a little conservative, but I’m proud of the way he performed. 1-0 match. It’s tough when you’re at that level. That’s usually what you’re going to get in those matches.”
Heading into the state championship Coach LaRocca had one very important piece of advice to share with his players, and the advice was simple: the state tournament is different. With everyone chomping at the bit to win at this event, the Springstead coach noted that players can throw their records out the window as that does not matter once they step into that arena. “It doesn’t matter,” Coach LaRocca said. “If you are 40-0 or 0-40, kids just wrestle different when it gets to the state series. You can’t take anybody lightly. Everybody wants to become a state champ. Everybody wants to be a region champ. Everybody wants to be a district champ. It’s just another level that some kids get into a mental zone that it’s like, ‘I’m not going to lose,’ and you have to go in with that mindset.”