WRESTLER OF THE YEAR
It’s a good conversation piece, something people love to bring up when they talk to Palmetto Ridge standout wrestler Richie Dehnz.
Dehnz politely answers questions about it, but says he doesn’t really think much about it otherwise. The junior has won 110 matches, finishing the last two undefeated seasons with state championships. The last time the Naples Daily News Wrestler of the Year lost, he was a freshman and it happened in the state tournament.
"The record is a nice thing for people to talk about, but I don’t concentrate on it," Dehnz said.
"The most important thing for me is winning state championships. If I had lost one or two matches during the season but still won the state title, I’d be happy."
Dehnz is rarely challenged, but rises to the occasion when he is.
"Richie had a few overtime matches in some of the tournaments we were in," Palmetto Ridge coach Mark Rosenbalm said. "But he simply refuses to lose in those situations. He’s an extremely hard worker and he truly believes he’s going to find a way to win the match."
Dehnz said it’s good to have a close match every once in a while, but feels the tough matches are his fault more than anything else.
"When I’m in a close match, I believe it’s because I didn’t prepare properly during the week," Dehnz said. "I mean those kids were good wrestlers, but I don’t think I did what I needed to do to get ready. The close matches always make me prepare better the next week."
Dehnz said he has an advantage other elite wrestlers don’t have — the opportunity to wrestle state champions and qualifiers every day in practice.
Palmetto Ridge won the team title this year after placing third a year ago, and sent 13 of its 14 wrestlers to the state tournament. Some of Dehnz’s training partners are Zack Mastro, Elias Rey, Clynt Hadley and Jordan Thompson.
Each of those wrestlers is a state placer, while Mastro, Rey and Hadley have all won state championships.
"I think it’s an extreme advantage that not too many programs have," Dehnz said. "You’re only as strong as your weakest link and we really don’t have any weak links on our team. When I face my teammates in practice, I’m going against one of the top wrestlers in the state, no matter who I’m partnered up with."
The Bears cruised to the Class 1A team title, winning by 60 points over second-place Riverdale.
Palmetto Ridge won’t have an easy time winning another title next season, when the Bears move to Class 2A. That’s where perennial state power Brandon resides.
"It’s going to be a big step for our program," Dehnz said. "It’s tougher at Class 2A, mainly because you have Brandon there.
But we’ve got 11 returning starters and some young kids coming up who are ready to step up, so we’re looking forward to the challenge."