LAKEWOOD RANCH — Lakewood Ranch High wrestling coach Pat Ancil doesn’t gauge success on how many tournament titles the Mustangs win in any given season.
For Ancil and the rest of Lakewood’s coaching staff, tournaments are merely a means of building up for the district, regional and state meets. And it’s the team’s performance in those meets that Ancil uses to measure his team’s success from year to year.
“That’s where the season really begins,” Ancil said of the meets.
Last season, the Mustangs advanced 10 wrestlers to the regional meet — the most in school history — with then-sophomore Kyle Riley-Hawkins qualifying for the state meet in the 171-pound weight class.
But although Lakewood recorded its best performance in school history last season, the team has even higher expectations this year — which include making it to the state meet as a team and crowning at least one state champion.
“We could’ve done a lot better last year, but we’ve definitely improved since then,” Riley-Hawkins said. “There’s a lot more dedication (this year), so hopefully, we’ll be a competitive team this year and do better than we did last year.”
After switching to a new district, which now will pit Lakewood against rival Braden River, Palmetto and Southeast, among others, the Mustangs decided to step up their intensity — starting with the level of competition.
Lakewood will compete in a number of stiff tournaments this season, including last Saturday’s Ed Kilpatrick Classic at Citrus High School, at which the Mustangs finished fifth. The 16-team tournament featured at least eight teams ranked in the top 10 in the state in their respective classes.
“The kids are going to be battle-tested as a group several times this season, but the only way for a wrestler to get better is to wrestle the best competition (out there),” Ancil said.
Leading the way for Lakewood this season will be Riley-Hawkins (189), Mike Myers (160), Nick Schilson (140), Mike Dauphinee (130) and Evan Dipsner (103).
“There’s going to be a lot of different competition, and hopefully as a team we’ll get better not having to face the same people every week,” Riley-Hawkins said.
The Mustangs will return to the mats at 8 a.m., Dec. 11-12 in the Jerry Mita Classic at Pinellas Park High School.
The Braden River wrestling team may not have had the depth like some of the elite wrestling programs in the area last season, but what the team lacked in size, it more than made of for in dedication and commitment.
The Pirates sent all 12 wrestlers to the regional meet, where Trevor Barnes qualified for the state meet where he placed seventh. And now with the majority of the team returning this season, Braden River has high expectations this season.
“We’re expecting to do some great things,” coach Dane Schlick-Trask said. “We have the best crop of young lightweight wrestlers that we’ve ever had at Braden River, and that’s something that we’ve been missing in the past. This year we have a half-dozen really good, young solid wrestlers.”
Leading the way for Braden River this season will be Barnes (189), Frank Bianco (125), Tom Dedona (130), Cooper Christman (140) and Caleb Deedrick (160). Additionally, the Pirates also welcomed their first female wrestler this season. Kayla Furry (119) wrestled in the kids wrestling organization for several years in Michigan before moving to Florida. So far this season, Furry is 3-1, having pinned her opponents in all three of her wins in the first period.
“Frank and Trevor — we’re looking at them as the anchors, so they kind of bookend the rest of the team,” Schlick-Trask said. “Hopefully, the younger guys will watch how they practice and train and emulate that level of perfection they strive for when they practice.”
Braden River opened its season Dec. 2 at Venice, which proved to be a valuable learning experience for the Pirates.
“We had a really good match against Venice,” Schlick-Trask said. “There were some matches there that were very winnable, but we showed some inexperience. I think if can get some more mat time, then eventually some of those close matches will go our way.”
The Pirates will return to action at 7 p.m., Dec. 16, at Lakewood Ranch.
Contact Jen Blanco at [email protected].