Grapplers open in fine fashion

FROSTPROOF - Let the bodies hit the floor. The 2013 wrestling season is underway, as Sebring and Avon Park took to the mat Thursday night for a preseason match in Frostproof. The Bulldogs hosted the quad meet, with the Blue Streaks and Red Devils alternating matches against them and the Lake Wales Highlanders. Sebring squared off with Frosptroof to open the night, while Avon Park tangled with Lake Wales. Both Highlands County teams appeared to be going through the motions against their Polk County opponents, but when the Streaks and Devils finally got their chance to go at each other, the energy inside the gym was palpable.
Avon Park got the best of its longtime rival, though, as the Class 2A Devils out dueled the Class 1A Streaks 41-33. And they did it even without a full roster. "We're going to have about five more kids coming out from football," said Avon Park coach Blake Germaine. "And about three or four of them are starters." While the Devils got solid performances out of a depleted lineup, arguably the night's most complete match came from Junior Pontinela, a 126-pound freshman terror. He faced off against Sebring's Dalton Hammon, a wrestler two years his senior. But Pontinela went into the match undaunted, quickly scoring two takedowns in the opening period before pinning Hammon in just under 12 seconds. "We have a young bunch this year," Germaine said. "But they've been working hard and we've gotten a lot out of them." Meanwhile, the Streaks are still trying to find their way on the mat. Much like Avon Park, Sebring is also waiting on a handful of football players to join the wrestling ranks. But the goal for Sebring coach Josh Miller on Thursday night was to give as many of his wrestlers as he could a match, and he accomplished that goal. "Basically, we wanted to come here tonight and get everyone onto the mat," Miller said. "We also wanted them to see what this sport is all about, up close. We probably had 15 kids wrestle their first match here." The Streaks had 42 kids come out for wrestling and there's only 14 spots to fill on the roster. But that's a problem Miller said he likes to have. "It was difficult to find a match for everyone, but we did what we needed to do. They got to come and watch, experience the atmosphere and be part of the team. It was a good night." Adding to the intrigue of the already heated rivalry between Sebring and Avon Park, is that both coaches are both former Sebring wrestlers. In fact, Miller and Germaine have been grappling each other since grade school. "We've trained against each other since fourth grade," Miller said. "We were there from about 2001-2005," Germaine said. "We went back and forth all the time in practice, and I was an assistant over there before taking the head coaching job for the Red Devils." Both teams kickoff their seasons in earnest next week, as Sebring travels to Okeechobee Thursday for its opening meet, while Avon Park heads to McKeel Academy in Lakeland on Saturday for the Wildcats Kickoff Classic. The Devils and Streaks won't meet in the regular season until Dec. 7, when the Devils host the Avon Park Duals. 863-386-5841