Wrestling | season preview

South Dade Buccaneers take aim at state wrestling title


With powerhouse program Brandon being moved down to Class 2A, South Dade now has a great shot to rule Class 3A wrestling.

South Dade's 2012 state runner-up Justin Ramirez attempts to lock North Miami Beach's Lerch Oremar before eventually winning a 126 lb bout. Various schools gathered for the region 4-3A wrestling meet at Ronald W. Reagan Doral High School on Saturday, Feb. 9, 2013
South Dade's 2012 state runner-up Justin Ramirez attempts to lock North Miami Beach's Lerch Oremar before eventually winning a 126 lb bout. Various schools gathered for the region 4-3A wrestling meet at Ronald W. Reagan Doral High School on Saturday, Feb. 9, 2013
Gregory Castillo / Miami Herald Staff

Season overview

Key dates

Jan. 16-17: GMAC championships

Jan. 27-Feb. 1: Districts

Feb. 7-8: Regionals

Feb. 14-15: State finals at The Lakeland Center

Defending state champions

Class 3A: Brandon; Class 2A: Springstead; Class 1A: Orlando Lake Highland Prep.

Team outlooks


BRADDOCK: Coach: Saul Tejada (20th season); Last season: 16-5, 13th at state in 3A; Top wrestlers: Joel Alvarez (Sr., 132); Sebastian Calderon (Sr., 170); Nick Villamil (Jr., 113); Noteworthy: Seven starters return.

COLUMBUS: Coach: Jim Husk (49th season, 10th at Columbus); Last season: 19-3, fourth at state in 3A; Top wrestlers: Damian Penichet (Sr., 145); Kier Rodriguez (Sr., 160); Bert Martinez (Sr., 182); Noteworthy: The legendary Husk, 71, led Columbus to the best finish at state last season among Dade schools.

CORAL REEF: Coach: Miguel Dominguez; Last season: 13-6; Top wrestlers: Sterling Shippy (Sr., Hvt.); Abbott Lopez (Sr., 132); Aaron Sparber (Sr., 195); Noteworthy: 11 wrestlers return.

HIALEAH GARDENS: Coach: C.J. Singleton (19th season overall, 7th at HG); Last season: 5-9; Top wrestler: Mike Rodriguez (Jr., 220); Noteworthy: Rodriguez was sixth at the GMAC.

KILLIAN: Coach: Sal Moncada (18th season overall, 1st at Killian); Last season: NA; Top wrestlers: Branden Noriega (Jr., 170); Cameron Henry (Sr., 132); Marcus McLain (Sr., 182); Noteworthy: After 15 years at American, Moncada comes to Killian.

NORTH MIAMI: Coach: John Severe (12th season, 2nd at NM); Last season: 22-9, 10th place at GMAC); Top wrestlers: Marvyn Joseph (Sr., 170); Clif-Steven Decius (Sr., 195); Daniel Leon (Sr., 285); Noteworthy: Decius finished fifth at state last season, Leon came in sixth.

SOUTH DADE: Coach: Victor Balmeceda (21st season, 18th at SD); Last season: 18-2, sixth at state; Top wrestlers: Patricio Lugo III (Jr., 138); Justin Ramirez (Jr., 132); Isaiah Crosby (Jr., 145); Noteworthy: The Bucs should contend for a 3A state title.

SOUTHRIDGE: Coach: Kenneth Johnson (7th season); Last season: 11-7; Top wrestlers: Alex Edwards (So., 126); Jordan Marshall (So., 113); Christian Delgado (So., 120); Noteworthy: Several sophomores return after getting valuable experience last season.

SOUTHWEST: Coach: Joel Mendez (15th season): Last season: 14-4, eighth at state. Top wrestlers: Franco Valdes (Fr., 120); Adolfo Sotolongo (So., 195); Eddy Mendez (Sr., 160). Noteworthy: Strong enough to place in the top 10 at state again.

SUNSET: Coach: Luis Gonzalez (8th season); Last season: 7-19: Top wrestlers: Kenneth Beck (Jr.,113); Curtis Doctor (Jr., 138); Adrian Moreira (Jr., 145); Noteworthy: Doctor was 18-9 last season.


GOLEMAN: Coach: David Labi (11th season); Last season: NA; Top wrestlers: Zach Rendueles (So., 135); Ivan Martinez (So., 180); Stephen Delgado (Jr., 130); Noteworthy: Rendueles was fourth in districts.

MATER ACADEMY: Coach: Eduardo Lamazares (8th season); Last season: 25-17, 18th at state; Top wrestlers: Wilmer Almendares (Sr., 120); Yancarlos Guerra (Sr., 126); Osvany Ley (Sr., 106); Noteworthy: Guerra was third at state, Almendares fourth.

MIAMI SPRINGS: Coach: David Ryan (31st season); Last season: 13-6, 26th at state; Top wrestler: James Madal (Sr., 145); Noteworthy: Medal finished second at regionals.

NORTHWESTERN: Coach: Tyronn Johnson (7th season); Last season: 2-12; Top wrestlers: Cynard Bailey (Sr., 182); Damion Johnson (Sr., 195); Noteworthy: Bailey finished fourth at regionals.


MONSIGNOR PACE: Coach: Frank Pelegri (34th season, 18th at Pace); Last season: 15-3, ninth district title in a row; Top wrestlers: Chris Moreno (Sr., 126); Christian Perez (Sr., 138); Matthew Kirkland (Sr., 160): Noteworthy: Also watch for sophomore 122-pounder Justin Cohen, who finished fourth in state as eighth-grader.

WESTMINSTER CHRISTIAN: Coach: Kevin Pedersen (2nd season, 1st at WC); Last season: sixth at districts; Top wrestlers: Pablo Schwiep (Jr., 120); Matthew Lynch (Sr., 285); Noteworthy: Lynch was fourth at regionals.

Special to the Miami Herald

South Dade no longer has to wrestle for second place.

Because of slightly decreased school enrollment, Brandon High has been moved down to 2A by the FHSAA, which reevaluates its classifications every two years.

The move down is significant because Brandon is — by far — the most dominant wrestling program in Florida history. Brandon has won 24 state titles, including 13 in a row, and also has 101 individual state championships.

South Dade, which is second in Florida history with eight team titles and 50 individual championships, now becomes the favorite to win it all in 3A.

“[Brandon moving down] is the type of thing that can rejuvenate your career,” said Victor Balmeceda, who has been the Bucs’ coach for all their title runs.

“For my first 16 years, I could preach to my team that we could win state. But for the past four years, I couldn’t even lie to them.”

His Bucs are the last Dade wrestling program to win state, and that happened in 2008. But the Bucs likely would have won state titles in 2011 and 2012, when they finished second to Brandon.

Scout.com ranks South Dade No. 1 this season in Class 3A. Osceola, which finished second to Brandon last season, is ranked second. Osceola also won state in 2009, which was the last season Brandon was not in 3A.

In addition to those two teams, Palm Harbor, Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas and North Miami are considered legitimate threats to win state in 3A this season.

“It’s a wide-open race,” Aquinas coach Robert Wimberley said. “[Brandon’s departure] opens things up for four or five teams.”

The Bucs’ optimism starts with Patrick Lugo III, a junior 138-pounder who finished third at state last season. He had a huge offseason, too, becoming an All-American in Greco and Freestyle wrestling based on his performances in national tournaments in North Dakota and Iowa.

“He’s an in-your-face wrestler, tenacious and mean,” Balmeceda said. “He’s the leader of our team. And since he has yet to taste a state title, he is super hungry.”

His younger brother, sophomore Ozzy Lugo, is ranked No.1 in the state at 106 pounds even though he didn’t wrestle on the varsity last season. He also had a big summer. Aside from the Lugos, two other Bucs are ranked No. 1 in the state in their 3A weight class: Justin Ramirez (132) and Isaiah Crosby (145).

Ramirez, a junior, finished second at state the past two years — losing to a Brandon wrestler in the final each time. Crosby, who finished fifth at state last season, became an AAU All-American over the summer.

Two other Bucs to watch are seniors Maleek Williams (126 pounds) and Demond Richardson (220). Williams finished third at state last season, and Richardson came in fifth at Homestead before deciding to transfer to nearby South Dade.

Veteran Cardinal Gibbons coach Frank Pettineo is among the experts who likes the Bucs’ chances at state.

“I’d give South Dade the edge,” he said. “I don’t think [Aquinas] has enough depth — too many holes in their lineup.”

Read more Miami-Dade High Schools stories from the Miami Herald

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