Wrestlers of the Year: Lee Campbell and Richie Dehnz

In a banner year for area wrestling, two champions stood above the rest by winning state titles in undefeated fashion.

Senior Lee Campbell of Gulf Coast and sophomore Richie Dehnz of Palmetto Ridge dominated their respective weight classes, with Campbell taking the Class 2A 215-pound title and Dehnz winning the Class 1A 130-pound class. Dehnz's mark of 58-0 set a state record for most wins by an undefeated state champion. The duo's unblemished marks earned them Naples Daily News Co-Wrestler of the Year honors.

Campbell finished 39-0 and was utterly dominant, as he entered the state tournament with a 35-0 mark and was scored upon just once. He had 33 pins and just two of his matches went the full six minutes, leading some to believe he was untested headed into the state tournament. But Campbell knew he was ready, as his training partners gave him stiff competition — his father Jack (an All-American performer at Clarion University), brother Earl (two-time state placewinner) and coach Mike DiGrigoli.

"I had the best training partners anyone could ever ask for," Campbell said. "They pushed me all the time. Without them, I wouldn't have become a state champion."

Campbell's quest for the title started at the end of his junior season, where he finished fifth in the 189-pound bracket.

Richie Dehnz

Photo by DAVID AHNTHOLZ, Daily News

Richie Dehnz

"I got that out of the way, I knew what the state tournament was like and was determined to get back and win it," Campbell said. "I had seen my brother finish second and saw his disappointment at getting so close to his goal."

Campbell was finally tested somewhat in the state tournament, and he passed with ease. He pinned his first-round opponent, but had to wrestle the full six minutes in his next two matches, taking a 16-4 major decision over Kenny Fells of Palatka and a 17-11 win over Muhammed De'Reese of Titusville. That set up a championship match of two unbeatens, with Campbell facing Thomas Bortner of Crestview. Bortner had won 44 straight matches heading into the final.

Campbell dominated Bortner, winning a 20-5 technical fall and capping his dream season. The victory came in his final wrestling match, as the standout athlete will play Division I college football with the University of Minnesota next year.

"I wanted to go out with a bang," Campbell said. "I honestly believe being a wrestler and football player gives me an advantage over someone who just played football or someone who played football and basketball. Wrestlers go through hell to get ready. It's tough on you mentally and physically, and that's only going to help me in the future."

Lee Campbell

Photo by DAVID AHNTHOLZ, Daily News

Lee Campbell

Dehnz was similarly dominant, and the sophomore peaked at the right time, winning three of his four state matches by pin.

"Even though I was undefeated, I heard a lot of people talking about how they thought I would finish," Dehnz said. "Most people didn't think I would win it, and I used that to motivate me."

Cory Baudendistel of Clay, a two-time defending champion, faced Dehnz in the semifinals and Dehnz didn't leave a doubt on who was the better wrestler. Dehnz took a 17-4 lead before earning a third-period pin.

"He was thought of as the favorite, so beating him the way I did felt great," Dehnz said. "But I still had to win the championship."

Dehnz capped his championship run with a 10-4 decision over previously unbeaten Caleb Wainwright of Suwanee.

He was one of three Palmetto Ridge wrestlers to win a state title, joining fellow sophomores Zach Mastro and Elias Rey on the podium. Jordan Thompson finished second, giving the Bears a strong foundation for upcoming seasons. Palmetto Ridge coach Mark Rosenbalm said Dehnz is a great influence on his teammates.

"His work is never done, he's just so determined to get better," Rosenbalm said. "He came into this season inexperienced and finished as an undefeated state champion. Wrestling is 80 percent mental, and Richie showed how tough he was every match. He never let up."

After completing an undefeated state championship season, it could be easy to get complacent. Rosenbalm knows that won't happen with Dehnz.

"The Monday after he won the state title, he was back running his 3 1/2 miles and getting ready for next year," Rosenbalm said. "That just shows the work ethic this kid has. He's not satisfied with winning one state title, he wants two more."

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