Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

22 County Wrestlers Advance to State Tourney in Lakeland

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

22 County Wrestlers Advance to State Tourney in Lakeland

Article excerpt

Byline: Stephen Kindland, Clay County Line sports writer

Four Clay County schools will send 22 wrestlers to this weekend's state championships after placing among the top 10 teams in regional action Friday and Saturday, but it was state title challenger Clay High that stole the show in the Region 1-2A tournament.

Ten Blue Devils -- including five regional champions -- will travel to Lakeland this weekend after Clay dominated the 25-team regional tournament at Forrest High by outpointing second-place Niceville, 220.5-124.5.

Ridgeview and Middleburg also fared well in the Region 1-2A tourney, placing fifth and 10th, respectively. Five Ridgeview wrestlers made it to the state tournament, while Middleburg sends four.

Orange Park High took seventh place in the 31-team Region 1-3A tournament in Winter Park, and will send three wrestlers to the Lakeland Center for the three-day competition beginning tomorrow.

The trip south is nothing new for Clay High, which has placed in the No. 5 spot or better each of the past five years -- including a second-place finish by a single point in 1999 -- under coach Jim Reape.

"We just got to the point where success begets success," Reape said of his program. "We got the kids believing in themselves, and the parents have gotten behind it."

First-year Ridgeview coach Chris McNealy, who lifted a 2-8 team from last year into a 17-4 district title contender, said he is optimistic about the 5-year-old school's program as well.

He said regional champions Freddie Williams (112 pounds) and Curtis Dubberly (140) both have a shot at making the state tournament's final round.

"I think they can do it," McNealy said. "This marks the first time in school history that we're sending two regional champions to the state tournament at the same time."

McNealy said he's looking forward to next year because Dubberly and Mark Cercy (189 pounds) are his only two graduating seniors. Cercy placed fourth in the region, and will make the trip to Lakeland.

Middleburg coach Tommy Petrucci has reason to look forward to next season as well.

Petrucci said he is pleased with his team's showing in the regional, especially since he had no seniors competing.

"Four out of five [who qualified from districts] placed, and we sent two to the final round," Petrucci said. "I'm very happy."

But it's Reape who is riding high this year, despite his Blue Devils going up against a heavily favored Brandon team that has rung up 375 consecutive dual meet victories and sends a dozen wrestlers to Lakeland.

"We've got four, five, maybe six kids who think they can win a state title and four others who can get us some points," Reape said. "They don't expect Brandon is going to melt down, but if things work out -- if we take care of business and they [Brandon] have a rough weekend -- we can show people we're better than third or fourth. …

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