Grapplers on to state

Highlands County will have four representatives at the 2014 state wrestling finals.

Avon Park's Dre Neely and Delroy Blake captured individual championships at the Class 1A-Region 3 meet at Tampa's Berkeley Prep Saturday, while Sebring advanced Casey Ricker and Luis Sanchez onto the state finals at Saturday's Class 2A-Region 3 meet at Charlotte High (Punta Gorda) thanks to two top-four finishes.

The state championship matches will be held Friday and Saturday at the Lakeland Center. The weigh-ins for both days is at 8 a.m., with first round matches starting at 10.

"Delroy looked great all weekend," said Avon Park coach Blake Germaine. "We had a tough draw, too. There were close to 34 schools there, with a lot of tough competition. I'm proud of how all the guys stepped up to the challenge."

Wrestling in the 195-pound class, Blake pinned his first two opponents before defeating McKeel Academy's (Lakeland) Fouad Salem with a technical.

Neely, meanwhile, didn't seem phased by the big stage of the regional championships. Only a sophomore, Neely (113) beat Lemon Bay (Sarasota) senior Jack Lipp with an 8-5 decision.

"Dre looked great against his first two guys, but he just didn't look like himself in the finals," Germain said. "But he still pulled off the win. And that's what it's all about - pulling off the win whenever you don't wrestle your best."

Germaine added that he was also pleased with his team's overall performance, especially considering the high level of competition

the Red Devils faced.

"This was our first time being in a new region and seeing a bunch of those teams," Germaine said. "There were some really tough schools. It was a really good tournament and an eye-opening experience for our younger kids. They got to see what they'll need to do over the next few years."

Avon Park faced a number of schools from the Tampa Bay area. But the Devils tallied an impressive 83.5 points as a team, good for a seventh place finish.

Meanwhile, Sebring sent both of its wrestlers onto state via pins. Ricker (170) suffered an unconventional loss to Lakewood Ranch's (Bradenton) Ty McLeod, as Ricker was whistled for a defensive pin while he had McLeod in a guillotine hold. Sanchez (285), however, flattened Fort Myers' Michael Delago to advance. Ricker finished fourth with the loss while Sanchez placed third.

Sebring coach Josh Miller thinks both Blue Streaks who moved on have a good chance to do well at state.

"Those two guys could wrestle with anybody in Florida," Miller said.

Despite sending two Blue Streaks to state, Miller added that he was somewhat disappointed with Saturday's outcome.

"We didn't execute like I thought we would," he said. "We fell short of our expectations. I thought we would send five qualifiers to state."

Streaks who didn't make it to state, like Dakota Slade (145), Ty Johnson (182), and Brandon Washburn (132), still drew compliments from their coach, however.

"Dakota and those guys impressed me," Miller said. "They had some tough draws. But just because they fell short doesn't mean I'm not proud of their accomplishments. One tournament doesn't determine how successful your career was.