Sunlake High School’s wrestling team can now lay claim as best in Pasco County.
The Seahawks outlasted 13 other schools and about 200 wrestlers to win its first-ever Sunshine Athletic Championship on Feb. 10 at Pasco High School.
For the Seahawks, depth won out.
Sunlake (189 points) claimed three individual champions — Ross Jennings (106 pound), Sullivan Harris (113 pound) and Tyler Estep (182) — and six total finalists— Jennings, Harris, Estep, Jake Koener (145), Mathew Paduani (160) and Cayman Wiseman (220) — to edge team runner-up Land O’ Lakes (180 points).
Sunlake had three individual champions and six finalists across the 14 weight classes — more than any other school.
“It’s a good momentum. Definitely a good confidence builder,” said Sergio Matos, Sunlake’s head coach.
“I knew it was going to be a tight, tight team race with Land O’Lakes, but I felt confident that our kids would deliver,” he said.
Though pleased with the overall showing, Matos acknowledged the Seahawks have plenty to work on in advance of the District 8-2A tournament this weekend.
That starts with improving technique and hitting the film room.
“A few things come to mind are bottom (positioning), getting better control on top, and pulling the trigger on our feet,” Matos said.
Pasco High displays youthful potential
In addition to Sunlake and Land O’ Lakes, the event host — Pasco High School — likewise delivered a strong showing with its fourth place finish (152 points), just narrowly behind third place finisher River Ridge High School (154.5 points).
Pasco had two individual champions — sophomores Jake Thornton (120 pound) and Travis Knowlton (126), and four finalists — Thornton, Knowlton, sophomore Colson Mullis (132) and junior Tim Johnson (195).
The achievement was even more notable considering the Pirates have a young roster missing varsity wrestlers in several weight classes and a first-year head coach in Josh Thornton.
The Pirates also have been without senior leader Cameron Lee, who earned Second-Team All-Conference honors last season in the 170-pound weight class. Lee broke his forearm early in the season, Thornton said.
“We don’t even have a full team right now. Our bread and butter, our core — almost all of them are sophomores,” Thornton said.
“They’re showing up and willing to work, and it’s starting to show on the mats now, too,” he said.
The injury bug also hit another standout wrestler recently. Mullis had been dealing with a knee injury the past three weeks prior to his runner-up finish at 132 pounds in the conference championships.
“He hasn’t wrestled in the room at all. He’s only been running and doing rehab stuff. It was impressive to see him get second against (Anclote’s Owen Lott) who’s a state qualifier,” Thornton said.
Thornton is a former professional bicyclist with a background in boxing and judo. The coach draws upon that experience to show his wrestlers the importance of balancing endurance and intensity in matches.
“It feels like a sprint for 6 minutes,” he said, “and a sprint that someone else does not want you to win.”
The approach of endurance over muscle worked for Knowlton when he faced Wiregrass Ranch’s Alex Alvarez in the 126-pound finals.
“He’s much stronger than me, and I just tried to tire him out, and I took advantage of his shot and got around him, getting the two points,” Knowlton said.
“He ended up on his back, and I got some more points,” the wrestler added.
Meanwhile, Jake Thornton used previous knowledge of his opponent— Land O’ Lakes’ Dante Reese — in his win at 120 pounds.
“I’ve wrestled him before, and I just kind of knew some of his moves. I’ve been trying to work on my shot (takedown) lately,” Jake Thornton said.
Pasco next looks ahead to a tough district 7-2A which includes powerhouse programs such as Brandon and Lake Gibson high schools.
Despite its youth, the team is looking forward to the challenge this week and beyond.
“We’re a young team, but we’re a fighting team,” Knowlton said.
“We’re just very close-knit. As a young team that’s just going to be nothing but help us get better,” Jake Thornton said.
2018 Sunshine Athletic Conference wrestling results:
Sunlake (189 points)
Land O’ Lakes (180)
River Ridge (154.5)
Wiregrass Ranch (81.5)
Cypress Creek (64)
Wesley Chapel (26)
Individual championships (by weight class)
106: Ross Jennings, Sunlake
113: Sullivan Harris, Sunlake
120: Jake Thornton, Pasco
126: Travis Knowlton, Pasco
132: Owen Lott, Anclote
138: Solen Sheppard, Gulf
145: James Dutton, Gulf
152: Andrew Ferrell, Anclote
160: Khaled Khatib, Wiregrass
170: Mark Kieper, Wiregrass
182: Tyler Estep, Sunlake
195: Troy Royal, Wesley Chapel
220: James Buehrig, Hudson
285: Gabriel Schmenk, River Ridge
Individual runner-up (by weight class)
106: Devin Smith, River Ridge
113: Kyle Eldridge, Land O’ Lakes
120: Dante Reese, Land O’ Lakes
126: Alex Alvarez, Wiregrass Ranch
132: Colson Mullis, Pasco
138: Kevin Batey, River Ridge
145: Jake Koener, Sunlake
152: Scott Kren, Land O’ Lakes
160: Mathew Paduani, Sunlake
170: Mateo Feagley, Ridgewood
182: Justin Miranda, Fivay
195: Tim Johnson, Pasco
220: Cayman Wiseman, Sunlake
285: Demetrius Wright, Zephyrhills
Published February 14, 2018