South Dade junior wrestler Pat Lugo, who finished third at state last year, went into this season with a monumental goal.
He didn’t want to just go undefeated.
He wanted to go through the whole season without suffering a takedown. With the state tournament set for Friday and Saturday in Lakeland, Lugo is 54-0 with a clean sheet on takedowns.
“What he’s done so far is like a quarterback going 54 games without throwing an interception,” South Dade coach Vic Balmeceda said.
Lugo, a 138-pounder, is expected to a win a state title this weekend, providing valuable points for South Dade in its quest to win its ninth team championship and its first since 2008.
No Miami-Dade County team has won a wrestling title in the interim.
South Dade is considered the favorite in Class 3A, but Balmeceda said this figures to be the most wide-open tournament he has seen in more than a decade.
Balmeceda compares this year’s event to 2002, when St. Cloud won by a half-point over Southridge. A total of five teams — including Winter Springs, Krop and South Dade — were bunched within less than five points that year.
“The difference is that no one seemed to want to win it that year because St. Cloud won with only (78) points,” he said. “This year, you could have five schools score over 120 points.”
Those five are South Dade, Osceola, which finished second last year and won state in 2009, Palm Harbor, Winter Springs and St. Thomas Aquinas. Winter Springs tied South Dade with the most wrestlers qualified in 3A with 11.
Osceola has a virtual lock at 160 pounds in Fox Baldwin, who is going for his fourth consecutive state title.
“He’s going to pin his way through the state tournament,” Balmeceda said. “He’s that good.”
South Dade has two virtual locks in the Lugo brothers. Ozzy, a sophomore at 106 pounds, is 54-1 and has not lost all year to a 3A wrestler.
Meanwhile, Palm Harbor has Jared Prince, who is expected to win the 126-pound title. His brother, Connor, could win at 132, but he will likely have to go through South Dade’s Justin Ramirez, a two-time state runner-up.
Those two could meet early — in the second round — and they are very familiar with one another. Ramirez beat Prince last year in the state semifinals. But Prince has beaten Ramirez twice this season.
Besides the Lugos, South Dade had three other wrestlers win regional championships: senior Maleek Williams (126 pounds); senior Anthony Cooper (152); and senior Demond Richardson (220).
Williams, a three-time regional champ, finished third at state last season. Cooper wrestled all last season with a knee injury but is finally healthy. And Richardson, who finished fifth at state last year, missed matches this year while he tried to get in the right weight class.
South Dade is going to need big performances from all those wrestlers — plus others such as regional runner-up Isaiah Crosby (145) — to win state.
“It’s so evenly matched,” Balmeceda said, “all our kids have to be at their best.”