SEBRING - Eighteen high school wrestling teams descended on Sebring High School on Saturday to participate in the Spiegel Invitational. The result was nearly 10 hours of intense action, drama, and emotional highs and lows as the grapplers worked their way through the brackets.
In the end, Somerset Academy placed first in overall team points as the Panthers edged Palm Bay 175-174. Sebring followed with a third place finish with 149 points. Rounding out the top five was Lakewood Ranch with 145.5 points, followed by Avon Park tallying 123 points.
"Third out of 18 is not too bad," said Blue Streaks coach Josh Miller, "Somerset and Palm Bay are great teams and they bring a lot to the table. We're Happy, and know we could have been better, but overall happy."
Avon Park was just as upbeat.
"We had three winners. One second and one third place finish," said Red Devils coach Blake Germaine. "That's not too bad. To have five guys place and only nine weighed in is pretty good. This was a great tournament for us. There was a lot of competition."
Sebring and Avon Park not only did well in the team points, but each school had several wrestlers that battled to the very end in both the championship and consolation finals.
The Streaks sent five wrestlers to the championship finals, winning one match and earning second place finishes for the other four. They also had one wrestle in the consolation finals, which gave Sebring six wrestlers who placed in the top three and were able to make the podium.
Avon Park was not far behind as, four wrestlers reached the championship finals. Three won while another had a consolation final win. The Devils had five wrestlers reach the podium.
In the 106-pound class, Avon Park's Kenneth Egan lost to Hunter Reed of Lakewood Ranch, 4-2, for a second place finish.
Dre Neely of Avon Park continued his dominance in the 113 group, but barely won on points against Julian Ramirez of Belen Jesuit, 7-6, for a first place finish.
At 132, Sebring's Brandon Washburn finished in second place after he was pinned with 16 seconds left in the second round by Strawberry Crest's TJ McNamee.
In what Germaine called the best match of the night, Avon Park's Christian Suarez defeated Martin County's Joey McKenna in overtime by a score of 7-5. Suarez, trailing 5-3 as the final seconds were ticking off the clock, scored a take down to tie the score at 5 to force overtime.
In overtime, the score remained tied at 5 as the clock neared zero, and it looked as if a second overtime was on the horizon. Thanks to a sudden burst, Suarez dove into McKenna's midsection near the outside line. The momentum took both wrestlers down and nearly into the bystanders outside the circle as the buzzer went off. The referee awarded Suarez with the take down, giving him the 7-5 overtime victory.
With that being the most exciting match, the matches that featured Sebring's Casey Rickers and Ty Johnson were the most compelling as both fought injuries and showed visible pain while they wrestled.
Rickers, wrestling at 170, suffered an ankle injury a month ago and has not wrestled since. Though he won his first three matches back from hiatus, he continually iced his ankle between matches as it worsened during the day.
Rickers faced Tyler Wilson of Haines City and after the first two rounds Rickers held a slight 4-3 lead, but he was visibly limping and at times could not put any weight on his ankle. Wilson tried to attack the legs of Rickers in the final round, but Rickers successfully countered each time as he went on to win the match, 9-4.
Johnson, who has been suffering from back problems, was not as fortunate at 182. Johnson led 2-1 when Raekwon Reggler of Somerset Academy picked Johnson up and in an illegal move slammed him shoulder first into the mat, which aggravated a previous injury.
Johnson made it past the first round leading 3-1 and led 4-2 in the second round when the pain in his back became too much and he withdrew.
Avon Park's Delroy Blake again proved to be a force to be reckoned with at 195, as he cruised to a 20-7 championship final victory over Strawberry Crest's Farron Rainford.
Sebring ended the day with two heartbreaking losses at 220 and 285.
Sebring's Brandon Fuller lost to Tyce Nagel of Haines City 3-2 at 220 for a second place finish.
The Streaks Luis Sanchez and Nick Pavlakis of Steinbrenner were tied at 7 with seconds left in the match. Sanchez went low in an attempt for a take down. Steinbrenner avoided the take down attempt and reversed it as time ran off the clock for the 9-7 decision. With the loss, Sanchez placed second for the tournament.
"I was happy our younger ones fought pretty hard and our upperclassmen showed up," Miller said. "There were a couple of matches that did not go our way. There were four or five that we were up in and made mistakes - in the end which resulted in getting pinned or losing. So that hurts when you win the match but end up losing."
With injuries a huge concern, both coaches noted that it will be a close call on who wrestles in next week's district tournaments.
"Casey (Rickers) we will probably leave out of next week's tournament," Miller said. "And Ty (Johnson) is the same way, which stinks because they are two of our captains and it always hurts when two of your best guys are out."
Germaine also noted that though they are attending next week's tournament, practices will be modified to fine-tune techniques.
"We'll go into next week's tournament wrestling hard," he said. "But we've got to be smart. If someone has a nagging injury I may hold them out next weekend. But if we are feeling good and looking good, then we will wrestle everybody."
District tournament matches begin on Feb. 1 for both Sebring and Avon Park. The Streaks are in Class 2A-District 10 and will travel to Braden River, while the Devils, who are assigned to 1A-9, will travel to Frostproof. Matches for Avon Park start at 11 a.m. while the tournament opens at noon for Sebring.