Cardinal Gibbons coach Frank Pettineo won’t let his team make excuses for its errors, but if things had turned out differently in February, the program would have won a state title for the second year in a row.
One wrestler who had won his weight class for the region failed to score points at the state meet. Another two underperformed and didn’t reach the finals of their respective weight divisions.
As a result, the Chiefs finished third with 86 points behind Orlando Lake Highland Prep (96) and Clay (93) in Class 1A.
“I think if they would’ve been blown out last year it would have been understandable that someone was better than them, but the fact that it was their errors that created the loss, it ate at them,” Pettineo said.
So much so that the returning wrestlers — all but three from last year’s squad consisting of mostly sophomores and juniors — have been competing at various in-state meets with club teams since the summer. They have traveled to five-time state champion Oviedo as well as 23-time state champion Brandon.
According to junior Jamel Morris, facing the state’s top competition every weekend has not only improved his wrestling, but has also given him a better idea of where he stacks up.
“It’s been fun,” he said. “We had a lot better competition, and it helped me figure out I’m not as good as I am, that I can be better than I am.”
Said Pettineo: “When they’re at that level physically, the next part is for us to continue to push them mentally. That mental pushing is being a leader on the team and showing the underclassmen of what they’re doing and giving a strong sense of it.”
That mental aspect is something Jamel believes went against him during state. He took third place in the 120-pound weight class after dropping his second bout to Sean Speer of Fivay. In the consolation bracket, Jamel won three in a row, including a 6-3 decision in his final bout against Speer.
“I wanted to push myself harder because I knew I could’ve won states, and I didn’t do as well as I hoped I would,” said Jamel, who also finished fourth his freshman year in the 103-pound division. “I wasn’t mentally focused as much. Now, I listen to music, stay focused, keep to myself and try for that one goal — to win states.”
The Chiefs captured the Class 1A championship in 2011 thanks to four individual state titles, a mark that tied for third all time. Jamel and his twin, Jamal, were freshmen.
Jamal captured his second state title in a row — this time in the 126-pound division — with a fall at 6:18 in February. In 2011, it came in the 112-pound class.
“The way we won it — that freshman year — it felt good,” Jamal said. “And then we lost [last year], it felt so bad, but it pushed me even more and pushed the team even more to do better this year.
“Winning the state championship, we want it badly. We’re pushing each other and worked hard this summer and went to a lot of tournaments to go practice and get better competition when it comes to states.”
Class 3A battle
In Class 3A, St. Thomas Aquinas and South Broward could battle it out for the county’s top spot.
Last year, the Raiders finished fourth at state with 105.5 points. Scout.com recently ranked the program No. 2 behind Brandon in a preseason poll, with 10 wrestlers earning rankings. Shiquan Hall, now a senior, closed out last season 30-0 with his second state title, this time at 132 pounds. Kris Iglesias (145) and Gio Jeovenetta (160) finished as runners-up in their respective classes.
South Broward tied for 19th at the state meet led by Kevin Jacques, who took fifth place in the heavyweight division. Scout.com named him the second-best 285-pounder in the state after Miami Palmetto’s Cornell Gilmore. Alex Lopouchanski was a state qualifier in the 126-pound weight class. Eddie Pierce will look to contend at 145. The Bulldogs earned a tie with Jupiter for ninth in the preseason poll.