FROSTPROOF - Avon Park was down 20 points heading into the final round of Saturday's Class 1A-District 9 wrestling tournament. Adding to the Red Devils woes, six of their seven wrestlers would have to grapple with opponents from Lakeland's McKeel Academy for a shot at an individual title.
The result? Avon Park won all seven championship matches to capture the district title by eight points, edging the Wildcats 170-162 in Frostproof.
"Ten overall going to regionals and seven that won a championship," said an elated Blake Germaine, the Devils' wrestling coach. "I thought it would have been good if we got five. I didn't think that we were going to get a district championship as a team. But everybody showed up and wrestled tough. If we had only won five, we wouldn't have won the district title."
The Devils seven district titles went to Dre Neely in the 113-pound class, Junior Pontinela (120), Christian Suarez (152), Kenny Egan (106), Chris Garcia (160), John Dor (182), and Delroy Blake (195).
Wrestlers that finish in the top four of their weight class also move onto regionals, and Avon Park sent three more Devils to the next round thanks to one third place and two fourth place finishes.
"John and Chris surprised me," Germaine said. "I knew coming in that they would be the No. 1 seeds. But I also knew they had tough matches _ kids that they had beaten before and would have to wrestle again. Chris got a pin in the first and John ended up teaching his guy. I keep telling them that hard work pays off."
Dor, a sophomore, earned his district title just one year removed from quitting the wrestling team. Germaine said his turnaround has been huge.
"He comes into practice and he works hard. He wants to get better. He has so much talent, but he is only a sophomore. He's going to be good if he sticks with it and keeps working his butt off."
The Devils will travel to Tampa's Berkley Prep on Friday for the Class 1A-Region 3 meet. The regional champions, along with the top four finalists, move on the to state tournament in Lakeland.
Sebring, meanwhile, was also vying for a district title on the mat last weekend. The Blue Streaks were at Bradenton's Braden River Saturday competing in the Class 2A-District 9 tournament. Sebring placed third with 132 points, a solid finish behind Naples' Palmetto (2nd - 167.50) and Venice (1st - 169).
"It was a pretty good day," said Streaks coach Josh Miller. "Venice and Palmetto are both ranked in the top 10 in the state. And Sarasota and Lennard are both solid teams, and we placed over both of them."
The Streaks also advanced 10 wrestlers to regionals, three of which earned district titles. Casey Ricker (170) his match with a thrilling, triple-overtime victory. Ty Johnson (182) won his match with a pin and so did Luis Sanchez, who captured a district championship in the heavyweight class.
Other Streaks with top four finishes included Brandon Washburn (2nd - 138), Nestor Peralta (3rd - 113), Dakota Slade (3rd - 145), Jacob Figur (3rd - 160), Nick Brod (3rd - 195), Brandon Fuller (3rd - 220), and Nathaniel Acosta (4th - 162).
"That's the most I've ever sent to regionals," Miller said. "I'm really pleased with the outcome."
The Streaks will be wrestling at Charlotte High School in Punta Gorad on Saturday in the Class 1A-Region 3 meet.
"We have a good shot at sending a handful of kids to the state tournament," Miller said. "Maybe even a few with regional championships from some of my seniors who impressed me in the district meet."