By Shannon Heaton (@QChawkeyeinFL)
Clay. Fleming Island. Two teams. One mat. A whole county isn’t big enough for the two of them.
It’s the Uncivil War, and expect a ton of fireworks Wednesday night when these local wrestling titans meet up. Clay is #1 in the Northeast Florida Matmen team poll, #3 statewide in Class 1A, while Fleming Island is #2 locally and #7 in 3A. The Blue Devils seized the early advantage with a decisive win at the Green Cove Springs Rotary two weekends ago. Now, the venue moves to Fleming Island for what should be THE powerhouse dual of the season.
After JV matches and a brief Senior Night program, varsity action is scheduled to begin around 7. Here’s Edge of the Mat’s take match-by-match at what to expect Wednesday:
106 – Andrew Klopman/Cody Taylor (Clay, Taylor is #11 in 1A at this weight) vs. Joseph Cooper (Fleming Island). Clay has some options in the first three weights and may try to exploit them. Klopman was 15-4 before giving way to Taylor two weekends ago at this weight, but was at 106 last weekend at Suwannee, where he finished second. Taylor is ranked #2 at this weight, while Cooper is #3. Taylor beat Cooper 1-0 at Clay two weekends ago, but Cooper knocked off #1 Austin Wynn of Creekside at Palm Coast last weekend (Klopman had, also, earlier in the season at Bishop Snyder).
113 – Taylor/Dale Browning (Clay, Browning is #5 in 1A) vs. Chase Robison (Fleming Island, #3 in 3A). Clay’s strongest lineup has Taylor wrestling here and Browning at 120, but Browning was named the Outstanding Wrestler at this weight at Suwannee last weekend, where he pinned the statewide #3 in 2A in the first period of the title match. Browning is ranked #1 locally at 113, based on his dominant performance at Clay – where he pinned his way through the bracket. He didn’t face #2 Robison along the way though, as Robison was eliminated from the tournament in earlier rounds due to a flagrant disqualification, which the Golden Eagles successfully appealed.
120 – Browning/Caleb Wyman (Clay) vs. Xaiver Sampsel (Fleming Island, #12 in 3A). Should Browning bump up to this weight, as many expect, it would match up the local top-ranked wrestlers at two weights, as Sampsel is the top-ranked 120 this year. Sampsel got some tests at Clay two weekends ago, coming from behind in both the semis and finals to win the weight class, and followed that with a fifth-place finish in a deep Palm Coast bracket.
126 -- Julian Summa (Clay, #14 in 1A) vs. Evan McCall (Fleming Island, #2 in 3A). This would be a rematch of the Clay Rotary final from two weekends ago, a match McCall won handily by major decision, 11-3. Getting as many bonus points as possible would be critical for the Golden Eagles here. McCall is far and away the top 126 in the area, but Summa moved into the top-5 this week (#4, based on results through January 4) and proved he’ll be a force to be reckoned with in the future.
132 – Dylan Martin (Clay, #4 in 1A) vs. Charles Cuthbert (Fleming Island, #3 in 3A). A matchup of seniors with contrasting personalities on the mat. Cuthbert is #1 in the weight and Martin is third, but Cuthbert has taken it to every other local 132 in the area. Cuthbert and Martin have yet to meet this season. Bonus points for Fleming might be a must here, too, for the Golden Eagles to have a chance.
138 – Austin Luke (Clay, #7 in 1A) vs. David Detwiler (Fleming Island, #7 in 3A). Another #1 vs. #2, as at 113. However, Luke (#1 locally) and Detwiler (#2) did meet at Clay Rotary two weekends ago, with Luke taking a 7-4 decision. Luke hasn’t gotten in as many matches as Detwiler this season, as he’s been rounding into form after injuries hampered his start, but he controlled the pace against Detwiler then.
145 -- Adam Breindel (Clay, #1 in 1A) vs. John Martorano (Fleming Island, #8 in 3A). Another #1 vs. #2. Kind of a theme there, but this one is also a rematch of the Clay Rotary final. There, Breindel dominated early, got his knee dinged mid-match and had to hold off a furious charge from Martorano at the end before winning, 12-11. Both are capable of huge flurries of points in a very short amount of time.
152 – Imier Almanzar (Clay, #3 in 1A) vs. Jason Davis (Fleming Island). Senior vs. freshman, and two weekends ago Almanzar (ranked #1 locally) pinned the HM-listed Davis in the second period of their semifinal match at Clay Rotary. This should be Clay’s match to win, and collect bonus points besides. But there is one possible wrinkle out there. Fleming Island hasn’t – yet – had the services of junior Trevor Betros, who transferred over from University Christian to start the academic year and who has been out with knee issues. An Almanzar-Betros matchup would be a very different, far less predictable affair, plus would give the Golden Eagles a bit more flexibility in setting lineups the rest of the way up.
160 – Caleb Loyd (Clay, #10 in 1A) vs. Jerome Abbott (Fleming Island). Two seniors who don’t get the recognition of some of their peers, but who have been quietly solid all season. Abbott is #2 locally at this weight, Loyd is #4. They were on opposite sides of the bracket at Clay Rotary and did not meet. Loyd lost to University Christian’s Daniel Folkner, whom Abbott decisioned in the final. Transitive property, however, does not always work in wrestling, though, so don’t necessarily expect a Fleming win. This will be a good tossup.
170 – Tristain Sichmeller/Trevor Larson (Clay, Sichmeller is #11 in 1A at this weight) vs. Heath Whiddon (Fleming Island). Again some flexibility for Clay over the next few weights. Whiddon is the #2-ranked 170 locally and has been state-ranked this year before injury in December caused a temporary setback. He finished a solid fifth at Clay Rotary, losing only to two state-ranked wrestlers after an unfortunate draw put him in the quarters against local #1 Kuba Kaszuba of Bishop Kenny. Sichmeller was at 182 at Clay Rotary, but had a solid third-place finish at Suwannee in this weight class, while Larson was one match short of placing at Clay Rotary at this weight and was fifth at 182 in Suwannee.
182 – Sichmeller/Larson/Kaleb Collins (Clay) vs. Devin Farrar/Austin Smenda (Fleming Island). Lots of possibles at this weight. Collins was third at 195 at Suwannee for the Blue Devils last weekend and wrestled 195 for Clay at the Rotary, but has spent most of the season at this weight. Farrar was Fleming’s 182 at Palm Coast last weekend, where he was one match short of placing, but, if healthy, Smenda is probably the Golden Eagles’ best here. He hasn’t seen a lot of local action recently, however.
195 – Collins/Jon Whiting (Clay) vs. Smenda/Peter Martorano (Fleming Island, #7 in 3A). Collins has handled the move up well, but Whiting is also more than capable of competing here – Whiting started the season at this weight, and also finished third at 220 at Suwannee last weekend. As for Fleming Island, it would make the most strategic sense to put Smenda, if healthy, in here (where he wrestled a year ago) and move Martorano up to 220 – assuming that he can go. He was injured at the Lyman tournament last month and hasn’t been in the lineup since that date. Fleming also has a freshman, Michael Stanick, who saw a lot of off-season time with the team and could theoretically be put in the mix here or at 220.
220 – Whiting/Jarron Leeds (Clay) vs. ????? (Fleming Island). The Golden Eagles have not fielded a 220 in any dual or tournament this season. But this is the Uncivil War. Winning is the priority here. If Smenda and Martorano are both healthy enough to compete, I would expect this weight to be filled by someone wearing green and gold Wednesday night. Otherwise, it’s an easy six via forfeit for Clay.
285 – Roland Samec/Jayvin Tobler (Clay, Samec is #13 in 1A) vs. Kihim Carr/????? (Fleming Island). Samec and Tobler have wrestled in equal measure during dual competitions, but Samec (1st HM at 285, therefore effectively ranked sixth) has been the consistent choice in tournament formats and has more big-match experience, with a year of post-season matches under his belt. Carr has appeared only a few times in the Fleming lineup and not at all since the Kiwanis tournament in mid-December. It would not surprise me (at all) to see Farrar at 182, Smenda/Stanick at 195/220 and Martorano – the best of Fleming’s uppers – at 285.
If you can get there Wednesday night, you will not be disappointed – by the quality of wrestling, by the atmosphere, by the stakes involved.
As big as the Uncivil War might be Wednesday, and it’s huge, Saturday’s got a three-pack of powerhouse events planned that should provide plenty of sizzle all on their own. Closest in to Jacksonville will be the Gateway Conference tournament at First Coast, which starts Friday at 1 p.m. (no school in Duval County that day) and picks back up Saturday at 9 a.m. If last weekend’s battle at Terry Parker’s Army Duals is any indication, it won’t be a cakewalk for anyone to claim the title.
Fletcher started the year as the presumptive Gateway favorite, and the Senators have tradition and a solid lineup on their side, but both Ed White and First Coast boasted 6-1 records at Terry Parker – with the Commanders beating the Buccaneers by just one point during the course of the dual. Both Ed White and First Coast have cracked the local top 10 during the course of the season, as has Forrest, which may also play a role this weekend. Mandarin, too, was 6-1 at Terry Parker, with its lone loss coming to #5 Bishop Snyder, and has been hanging around the honorable mention lists all season. The Mustangs have shown more strength in duals than tournaments thus far this season, however, and that may play a hand in their outcome this weekend.
Another draw of big interest will be at Orange Park, which hosts its annual 10-way dual event Saturday. Two pools of five teams will get four pool matches in, then cross pools to determine first through 10th places. In addition to the Raiders, local teams in the field are Bishop Kenny, Baker County, Nease, Oakleaf, St. Augustine and West Nassau, plus nearby Matanzas and Palatka and the #7-ranked team in Class 2A statewide, Tallahassee Lincoln. Wrestling starts at 9 a.m., with a potential wrapup of all competition by 4 p.m.
Bartram Trail will also host a duals tournament on Saturday, with Bishop Snyder, Creekside, Bolles, Pedro Menendez and Ponte Vedra scheduled to appear. That tournament is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. Fleming Island, Fernandina Beach and Yulee will cross the border for Camden County’s duals event on Saturday (8 a.m. start), with Middleburg, Ridgeview and Duval Charter all competing in Buchholz’s duals tournament Saturday starting at 9 a.m. Finally, Providence and Columbia will enter the land of the giants Saturday, competing in Florida powerhouse Brandon’s Ippolito tournament starting at 10 a.m.
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