Cardinal Gibbons’ Dominic Gibson finished second in the state last year, overcoming a cracked collarbone.
This year, South Dade’s Ozzy Lugo will be trying for his third consecutive state title despite the pain of a separated right shoulder.
Welcome to the state championships, where pain is the constant companion of most of the wrestlers who will be competing Friday and Saturday at the Silver Spurs Arena in Kissimmee.
Southridge coach Ken Johnson can identify with Lugo’s spirit, even though the two are on rival teams.
“Lugo is a senior, and he knows that if he would have had surgery, he would have been out for the year,” Johnson said. “I really look up to that kid. He is a true wrestler.
“Dealing with pain … that is the nature of wrestling.”
Southridge is dealing with its own injuries. Jordan Marshall, a 126-pounder and a defending state champion, has a “banged-up knee.”
Darius Hamilton, who won a regional title last weekend at 220 pounds, has been dealing with an injured ankle all season. He missed the GMAC tournament but is “all in” now.
“At this time of year, you go through the pain and get it fixed after the state tournament,” Johnson said.
Pain aside, there could be a lot of glory for South Florida wrestlers this weekend. Many of them will walk away with individual state titles, and this area could take two of the three available team titles.
Cardinal Gibbons, with 10 wrestlers advancing to state, is the favorite in Class 1A. Lake Highland Prep and Clay — each with 12 wrestlers advancing — will be Gibbons’ main challengers.
Gibbons coach Frank Pettineo’s confidence stems from a belief that his team battled through a tougher region than did Lake Highland or Clay.
Pettineo boasts the return of senior Gibson, who competes at 120 pounds; junior 160-pounder Michael Iopouchanski, who is 51-0 and the only undefeated wrestler in Broward County; and 170-pounder Julian Georgescu.
But the coach is concerned with his team’s youth. Of the 10 wrestlers he is sending to state, only the aforementioned three have been there before. Pettineo is taking three freshmen and three sophomores to state.
“We have talent,” Pettineo said. “But when the kids are that young, it’s, ‘Hail Mary, full of grace…’ ”
In Class 3A, few teams have even a prayer to knock off South Dade, the two-time defending champs.
But South Dade does have some challengers. St. Thomas Aquinas, which advanced nine wrestlers, and Southwest, which advanced eight, figure to join South Dade (nine) and Southridge (seven) in a battle royal.
Aquinas coach Rob Wimberly is being realistic, however, at least publicly.
“If things go well, we could have five medalists and three in the finals,” Wimberly said of his top wrestlers. “As a team, I’d love to win it, but I would be happy finishing in the two-three range.”
Southwest coach Joel Mendez is philosophical.
“This sport is full of ups and downs — there are always matches you wish had gone the other way,” he said. “But everything is brand-new this week. Everyone has a new opportunity to make a mark individually and as a team.”
Johnson is perhaps the most optimistic of the coaches when it comes to challenging South Dade’s supremacy. Johnson wrestled at South Dade and also served as an assistant coach there, and he said beating the Bucs — if his kids can make it happen — would be a huge accomplishment.
“I feel like we can take [South Dade] at state,” Johnson said. “Even though they have nine wrestlers and we have seven, I think we have better quality.
“South Dade has a solid five. We have a solid five or six. I hope we can get all seven of our kids in the final like we did at regionals. … It should be us and South Dade.”
If you go
What: The state wrestling championships.
Where: Silver Spurs Arena, 1875 Silver Spur Lane, Kissimmee.
Admission: $9; Parking: $7 per car, $14 per bus.
2015 team champions — Class 3A: South Dade; Class 2A: Brandon; Class 1A: Orlando Lake Highland Prep.
Friday’s schedule: Weigh-ins, 8 a.m.; First Round competition, 10 a.m.; Wrestlebacks (First Round); Second Round competition, following first round of wrestlebacks; Wrestlebacks (Second Round, following second round of competition).
Saturday’s schedule: Weigh-ins, 8 a.m.; Semifinals (6 mats), 9:30 a.m.; Wrestlebacks (Third Round and Fourth Round), following semifinals; Fifth & Sixth Place Finals and Third & Fourth Place Finals (9 mats), following Fourth Round Wrestlebacks; Introduction of Finalists, 5:15; Russ Mauger Award, 5:25; Championship Finals, 5:30 (3 mats).