LAKELAND -- For South Dade Coach Vic Balmaceda, who is usually calm and composed with a spot of emotion mixed in to motivate his athletes, it was a day of nerves at the state wrestling championships Friday at The Lakeland Center.
Not only was Balmaceda keeping an eye on his team and its quest for a state title, he was keeping track of his son.
Balmaceda’s son, Brevin, wrestles for Keys Gate Charter and as a precocious seventh-grader he moved into the state semifinals of the 106-pound weight class on Friday in Class 1A. By scurrying around frantically, Balmaceda was able to see both his son’s matches and also coach his team.
The coaching worked out pretty well.
South Dade, after the first day of the state tournament, led Class 3A with 70.5 points. Kissimmee Osceola was eight back at 62.5. Other top Dade teams were North Miami with 38 points in sixth place, and Columbus and Braddock tied for 13th with 20.5 points.
What did Balmaceda tell his team ahead of Saturday’s final day of competition.
“I’m telling them it’s far from over,” he said. “Any slip-up, the title is there for the taking. It’s a five-team race. If we goof up an inch, any of the teams can take it.
“We might be in the lead, but that doesn’t mean we’re sitting pretty.”
South Dade advanced six wrestlers into Saturday’s semifinals.
One of those wrestlers is Pat Lugo at 138 pounds, who won his two matches with a 6-4 decision and a 13-4 major decision. That raised Lugo’s record to 57-0.
“We can win state,” Lugo said, “if we keep our focus. We want to go back to our state championship tradition.”
Also helping South Dade was Lugo’s brother, Ozzy, who won with two pins Friday in the 106-pound weight class to raise his record to 56-1.
Pat confessed he sometimes gives his younger, smaller brother a hard time.
“Sure, I pick on him,” Pat said. “But that will just make him a better wrestler.”
A state title would be South Dade’s first since 2008, when national power Brandon wrestled in the Class 2A division and South Dade in 3A. That same scenario is happening this year, otherwise Brandon would be quashing any title hopes for the Bucs — or anybody else. Brandon has won 13 consecutive state titles, and most of them by huge margins. A 14th will be added Saturday.
Brandon, with 104.5 points, leads the Class 2A division by 46 points over Tampa Jesuit.
Balmaceda said with a smile that when he told his athletes about Brandon being in a different classification, “Confetti seemed to fall out of the sky.”
He explained recent frustrations: “When you lose state to them by 100 points every year, it’s discouraging. I went from telling my team they could win a state title to telling them in the past few years they had no chance. You have to be honest with them but it’s no way to coach under those circumstances.
“Now, my kids are wrestling here believing they can win a state title,” he continued. “And that makes it fun.”
However, there is one drawback for the coach himself.
That would be that upset stomach. But he knows that’s a small price to pay for a state championship.
The top Dade team in Class 2A was Homestead in 15th place with 15 points. In Class 1A, Monsignor Pace was in sixth place with 33.5 points, which is too far back to catch leader Fort Lauderdale Cardinal Gibbons with 78.5 points.