LOCAL STATE QUALIFIERS
Barron Collier (2A)
Mike Blasucci, sr., 126, 46-6
Brady Pallante, sr., 285, 52-3
Golden Gate (1A)
Dayan Saez, sr., 126, 25-13
Franki Jaramillo, soph., 145, 15-8
Kevin Calhoun, sr., 152, 18-4
Jayln Gause, jr., 195, 20-9
Lavanda Warren, soph., 182, 31-6
Geraldo Ruiz, jr., 126, 33-8
Mike Messina, sr., 106, 32-8
Matt Martinez, sr., 145, 37-5
Claudel Alix, sr., 220, 36-4
Joe Guelfi, sr., 120, 49-4
Caleb Wilborn, sr., 132, 52-4
Palmetto Ridge (2A)
Joey Nadotti, fr., 138, 44-5
Theo Curto, jr., 152, 43-7
Ashani Brown-Knight, sr., 182, 31-7
Barron Collier's Brady Pallante and Fort Myers' Fequierson Charles are the two best Class 2A heavyweight wrestlers in the state. They are also archrivals.
The senior duo have met 10 times in the past two years, the latest coming in the finals at the 2A-Region 3 championships last week in Charlotte.
Pallante prevailed 4-2 in triple overtime. A week before, at the 2A-District 12 championships, Charles got the best of his Cougar foe, 2-1 in overtime. Those matches are prime examples of every Pallante/Charles clash — extra-period title bouts.
Theirs is just one of many compelling local storylines heading into the FHSAA State Finals beginning Friday in Lakeland. Sixteen area wrestlers will compete on the 1A and 2A levels.
Palmetto Ridge's Joey Nadotti will try to make school history by becoming the first Bear to win a state title as a freshman. Another youngster, Golden Gate sophomore Lavanda Warren, one of five Titans, will be trying to become the first state titlist ever for the school.
Most of the wrestlers will be taking the mat for the last time as a high school athlete. Ten seniors will be trying to to end their careers on notes of glory. They are Dayan Saez (126) and Kevin Calhoun (152) of Golden Gate; Mike Messina (106), Matt Martinez (145) and Claudel Alix (220) of Lely; the Bears' 182-pounder, Ashani Brown-Knight; Joe Guelfi (120) and Caleb Wilborn (132) of Naples; and Barron's Mike Blasucci (126) and Pallante.
Juniors Geraldo Rivera of Immokalee and Jayln Gause of Golden Gate will be representing their schools at 126 and 195, respectively.
"I know I have it in me to go all the way to the finals," said Wilborn, who has a 52-4 record this season. "I'm definitely going to take advantage of the opportunity. I've pushed myself all year. It comes down to this."
As epic as his rivalry is with Charles, Pallante said he won't be caught looking ahead to the finals.
"It's one match at a time," he said. "The most important match is the one you're in. You can't put anything before that. I worked real hard in the room at practice this week. Hopefully, things will work out as we planned."
One match at a time is a constant theme for all coaches and wrestlers.
Alix, with a 36-4 record and a county title this season, has lost in district and regional 220-pound title matches the last two weeks to Riverdale's Edwin Etienne.
Trojans coach Mark Modica said the primary focus for Alix isn't figuring out what it takes to beat Etienne.
"We're not looking that far ahead," Modica said. "One match at a time. If we meet Etienne, that's a problem we'll deal with then. Never underestimate anybody at this thing."
Perhaps catching many off guard has been the dominance of the 15-year-old Nadotti. A wrestler since the age of 5, Nadotti came into his first prep season with thousands of club matches on his resume.
Still, it was hard to predict he would win titles this year in the prestigious Buzz Hill Invitational, the county, district and regional championships.
'Joey can do wonderful things on the mat," Bears coach Laz Rua said. "He has the mentality of a senior as a freshman. When he wrestles, he'll go out hard for it and no one will take it from him. That's a mature kid."
Besides Nadotti and Brown-Knight, 152-pounder Theo Curto, who won regional and district championships in the past two weeks, will compete for the Bears.
"I'm taking three and all have a great shot at placing real high," Rua said.
Golden Gate's Ed Munn will be taking five wrestlers to Lakeland after taking four last year. With heavyweight Raul Gonzalez in 2009 and 2010, and William Norelia the last two seasons, Golden Gate has had a prime candidate for a title, but fell just short, capturing seconds and thirds.
Munn is hoping that changes this year with the 182-pound Warren, who began wrestling in the fourth grade when he was brought to the mat by his uncle, Eddy Delly. Warren (31-6) has county, district and regional titles this season.
"It looks real good that Lavanda has a chance to place," Munn said. "He's in the better half of the bracket. But you have to take one match at a time. Any kid can lose.
"It's why we wrestle these things on the mat and not on paper."