Miami Springs senior James Medal headed north last week with head coach Dave Ryan and teammate David Sanchez.
The destination was a familiar one – Lakeland, host site of the 2014 FHSAA wrestling state tournament. After all, as a sophomore and a junior, Medal had also qualified so this was his third time up there. Having not even made it through Friday’s first and second rounds each of the last two years, Medal, competing in the 138 lbs. division of the Class 2A meet, was hoping to at least see Saturday this time.
Medal not only made it to Saturday but won both his first and second round matches and Friday and found himself in Saturday morning’s semifinals against defending state champion Devan Berrian of Brandon. Even though things didn’t work out on Saturday and Medal would have to go on and settle for a fifth place finish, his effort was admirable.
One win from wrestling in the state championship match on Saturday night, Medal finally ran up against the immovable force in Berrian who entered the semifinals with a 68-2 record. Already ahead 2-0 on a takedown midway through the first period, Berrian pinned Medal just four seconds before the horn would have buzzed ending the first period.
“I got up Saturday morning excited and ready to go with my game-face on,” said Medal. “But when you reach this point at state, everyone else has their game face on as well and you’re up against some great wrestlers and this guy from Brandon was as tough as they come. He just had no weaknesses, nothing vulnerable for me to go after. While it was disappointing to get beat and know I wouldn’t make it to Saturday night, I walked off knowing I’d given it everything I had.”
Entering the Berrian match with a 45-5 record this season, it marked the first time Medal had been pinned since last year’s state tournament in Lakeland.
Medal was not done though. Needing only one win in the wrestleback round to qualify for Saturday afternoon’s consolation third/fourth place match, he was again pinned, this time by Trey Hoff of Punta Gorda Charlotte.
Still, Medal had one more match to wrestle, the fifth/sixth place match (the top six finishers in each weight class make the final podium). His opponent was scheduled to be a familiar one – Yancarlos Guerra from Mater Academy. The same Guerra who Medal had squared off with in the district championship match and lost, and then again a week later in the regional title match which Medal won.
But there would be no “rubber match” as Guerra, for undiscovered reasons, simply never showed up. When Medal was called out to the mat and Guerra did not answer his call, Medal was awarded the match by forfeit and awarded fifth place. Guerra never even showed for the Medal ceremony.
“It was pretty much a letdown,” said Medal. “Not only would it have broken the tie between us but, having lost my previous two matches and getting pinned both times, I really wanted to get out there and close out my high school career with a win on the mat, not a win by forfeit.”
Medal, who was a No. 1 seed by virtue of his regional championship, opened his first round on Friday morning against Corey Tisdal from Ocala Lake Weir. Even though Tisdal was a No. 4 seed from another region, his 30-5 record meant Medal would have to work hard to win the match. And he did.
An early takedown gave him a 2-0 lead and he led the rest of the way, cruising to a 6-3 decision putting into Friday night’s second round winners bracket.
Up against Bryce Balsinger from Venice, a No. 2 seed from another region and a 45-10 record, there would be no cruising for Medal. An early 2-0 lead on a takedown eventually became a deadlocked 2-2 tie at the end of regulation resulting in overtime where the first player to score any kind of point, wins.
And, thanks to a quick underneath move by Medal 30 seconds into the OT, he managed to takedown Balsinger and record a 4-2 win.
“James had a great career here at Springs, worked hard and deserved everything he got,” said Springs head coach Dave Ryan. “We both came up here knowing how tough the competition is so to make it up to the podium with a fifth place finish, something he did not do each of the last two years, is a great accomplishment and something he can be very proud of.”