Broward High Schools

Aquinas determined to upend reigning state champ South Dade

Grant Aranoff, above, of St. Thomas Aquinas, wrestles Connor Prince, of Palm Harbor University, during the finals of the FHSAA State Wrestling Championships in Kissimmee, Fla., Tues., March 14, 2015.
Grant Aranoff, above, of St. Thomas Aquinas, wrestles Connor Prince, of Palm Harbor University, during the finals of the FHSAA State Wrestling Championships in Kissimmee, Fla., Tues., March 14, 2015.

St. Thomas Aquinas wrestling coach Robert Wimberley has his name permanently etched on the Wall of Fame … at South Dade.

That’s right, the Aquinas team that finished third at state last season has a head coach who is an alumnus and former All-American wrestler at rival South Dade, the three-time defending state champions.

“After Aquinas, South Dade is my second favorite team,” said Wimberly, 56, who wrestled for the Bucs four decades ago.

“But we want to beat them really bad, and I can promise you that [South Dade coach] Vic [Balmeceda] is making plans right now on how to try to beat us.”

The teams are scheduled to meet on the weekend of Dec. 16 at South Dade in a dual-match format. That format is different from what will happen when the teams have their ultimate showdown March 3-4 in Kissimmee, but it will give them an idea of strengths and weaknesses going forward.

Any list of Aquinas’ strengths must start with 138-pound junior Grant Aronoff, who won state last season and then traveled to Virginia Beach, Virginia, in April and won his second straight national title.

“It looks easy when he’s out there but that’s because he drills and trains constantly,” Wimberley said of Aronoff, who was 48-2 last season for Aquinas, earning scholarship offers from Michigan, Northwestern, Harvard, Cornell and others.

“He’s not a guy with fancy moves, but he’s dominant. He doesn’t lead our team in takedowns. But that’s because once he gets them down, they’re not coming back up. He turns them and pins them.”

Wimberley, who has been a part of the Aquinas program for two decades, said Aronoff is already one of the top five wrestlers in school history.

Former collegiate wrestling stars Mark Fee (Appalachian State) and Jake Patacsil (Purdue) are on that list. Wimberley said his son Jeff, who went undefeated his final two years at Aquinas and won two state titles before wrestling at Michigan State, is also there.

Aronoff, however, is ahead of where those other guys were at the same age, Wimberley said.

“Grant will probably wrestle at something other than 138 (pounds) just to hurt (South Dade),” said Wimberley, already looking ahead.

“We think we can take away one of (South Dade’s) state champs by moving Grant up.”

Indeed, Aquinas’ bid to win their first state wrestling title since 1985 is legitimate – just ask Balmeceda.

“They are definitely the second-best team in the state,” Balmeceda said, “behind us.”

Aquinas has more than just Aronoff. Overall, the Raiders bring back seven wrestlers who qualified for state and four who earned medals.

Joshia Gittman, who went 48-2 at 182 pounds, joins Aronoff as an Aquinas reigning state champ. He has moved up to 195 pounds and is leaning toward signing with the University of North Carolina.

Wimberley has two other potential champions in seniors Stephen Marino and Bryce Marcus, both of whom finished fourth at state last season. Marino went 40-7 at 120 pounds. Marcus went 41-6 at 145 pounds and then finished fourth at nationals at 152.

Junior Vinny Sessa, who finished fifth at state at 132, is another contender.

Still, Wimberley knows the challenge for his kids will be immense.\

“South Dade has the edge on us - they seem to find a way to do it all the time,” Wimberley said. “But if we have a good state tournament, we could surprise.”

Wimberley then caught himself on the “surprise” word.

“Maybe to the uninformed it would be a surprise,” Wimberley said, “but not to us.”

SEASON OVERVIEW

KEY MEETS

Dec. 2-3: Somerset Duals; Coral Springs Duals; Gibbons tournament; H-Town Tournament; Wildcat Invitational at Royal Palm Beach; Dec. 9-10: Graves Tournament; John Lyzott Invitational at McArthur; Palm Beach Invitational at Santaluces; Dec. 16-17: South Broward Bulldog Invitational; Miramar Team Battle; South Dade Duals; Dec. 26-31: Deep South Bayou Duals; Christmas Knockout Classic; Jan. 6-7: Cradle Cancer Girls Invitational at McArthur; Archbishop McCarthy Invitational; Jan. 13-14: Battle at the Bay; Coral Springs Duals 2; Jan. 18: Jackson MLK Jr. Duals; Jan. 20-21: BCAA championship; Jan. 27-28: Coral Springs Duals 3; Deerfield Myerson/Trichon Invitational; Feb. 4: Girls’ Tri-County Invitational; Feb. 8: Inner City Battle Brawl at Jackson; Feb. 10-11: Jupiter tournament; Feb. 13-18: Districts; Feb. 24-25: Regionals; March 3-4: State championship at Silver Spurs Arena in Kissimmee.

2015-16 STATE TEAM CHAMPIONS

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

TOP TEAMS

1. Cardinal Gibbons; 2. St. Thomas Aquinas; 3. Cypress Bay; 4. Miramar; 5. Cooper City; 6. Coral Springs; 7. Somerset; 8. McArthur; 9. South Broward; 10. Everglades.

TOP RETURNING WRESTLERS

106: Anthony Valverde, South Broward, Sr.; Darian Estevez, Somerset, 8th; 113: Andrew Valverde, South Broward, Sr.; Raiden Johnson, Coral Springs, So.; 120: Stephen Moreno, St. Thomas Aquinas, Sr.; Gabe Gibson, Cardinal Gibbons, Jr.; Griffen Busenbarrick, Cypress Bay, Sr.; 126: ; 132: Vinny Sessa, St. Thomas Aquinas, Jr.; 138: Grant Aranoff, St. Thomas Aquinas, Sr.; Daniel Valledor, Somerset, Jr.; Joey Lopez, Cardinal Gibbons, Sr.; 145: Osvani Ley, Cardinal Gibbons, Jr.; Bryce Marcus, St. Thomas Aquinas, Sr.; Liam Jones, Cooper City, Sr.; 152: Juan Vernaza, Somerset Academy, Sr.; Devon Nelson, Cardinal Gibbons, Jr.; 160: Michael Lopouchanski, Cardinal Gibbons, Sr.; Nick Benton, Somerset, Fr.; Adonis Concepcion, Cardinal Gibbons, Jr.; 170: Amadeus Concepcion, Cardinal Gibbons, Jr.; 182: Dave Small, Cardinal Gibbons, Jr.; 195: Chris Williams, Cardinal Gibbons, Sr.; Josiah Gittman, St. Thomas Aquinas, Sr.; HWT: Adam Fox, Cardinal Gibbons, Sr.; George Ellis, American Heritage, Sr.

TEAM OUTLOOKS

CLASS 3A

1. ST. THOMAS AQUINAS (Coach Rob Wimberly, 19th year). Last year: 18-3 (Third at state). Top wrestlers: Grant Aranoff, 138, Jr.; Josiah Gittman, 195, Sr.; Stephen Moreno, 120, Sr.; Bryce Marcus, 145, Sr.; Vinny Sessa, 132, Jr.; Augustine Smith, 160, Sr.

2. CYPRESS BAY (Coach Allen Held, 4th year at CB, 30th overall, 455-106). Last year: 36-5 (District champions). Top wrestlers: Matthew Toribio, 195, Jr.; Ignacio Fuertes, 132, Sr.; Santi Portilla, 113, Jr.; Griffen Busenbarrick, 120, Sr.; Jack Taricha, 170, Jr.; Francisco Perez, HWT, Sr.

3. COOPER CITY (Coach Scott Sodergren, 20th year, 271-89-4). Last year: 19-2. Top wrestlers: Liam Jones, 145, Sr.; Connor Jones, 152, Sr.; Kyle Thompson, 138, Sr.; Nick Luna, 113, Jr.; Jacob Swartz, 106, Jr.; Eric Scarbrough, 160, Jr.; Christian Morales, 132, Jr.

4. MCARTHUR (Coach Mike Zarra, 10th year, 256-98). Last year: 23-13. Top wrestlers: Maxwell Dorsey, 152, Sr.; Nicholas Rosado, 170, Sr.; Hansky Paillant, 220, Jr.; Dervens Marseille, 160, Sr.; Jaxon Dorsey, 120, Sr.; Michael Shirley, 195, Jr.

5. EVERGLADES (Coach Eric Hughes, 11th year). Last year: 28-12. Top wrestlers: Charles Pierre Nadhelo, 113/120, Sr.; Aaron Badrudeen, 120/126, Sr.; Michael Rodriguez, 195/220, Sr.; Johnson Emanuel, 152/160, Jr.; Luke Kilianski, 182/195, Sr.; Lamont Harrison, HWT, Jr.

6. DEERFIELD BEACH (Coach James Lee Forbes, 5th year at DB, 8th overall, 60-80-2). Last year: 15-9. Top wrestlers: Brandell Theard, 126, Sr.; Obner Perez, 135, Sr.; Jonathan Davis, 160, Sr.; Jamesly Celestine, 170, Sr.; Nickson Pierre-Louis, 215, Sr.; Bradley Francois, HWT, Sr.

CLASS 2A

SOUTH BROWARD (Coach Randy Qualitza, 3rd year for SB, 37th overall, 350-211-3). Last year: 16-8. Top wrestlers: Andrew Valverde, 113, Sr.; Anthony Valverde, 106, Sr.; Nadird Odar, 145, Sr.; Ricardo Perez, 126, Sr.; John Moran, HWT, So.; Justin Maynard, So.

CLASS 1A

1. CARDINAL GIBBONS (Coach Frank Pettineo, 30th year, 769-44). Last year: 26-1 (Fourth at state). Top wrestlers: Jed Huerkamp 106, So.; Gabe Gibson, 120, Jr.; Joey Lopez, 138, Sr.; Ozzi Ley, 145, Jr.; Devon Nelson, 152, Jr.; Michael Lopouchanski, 160, Sr.; Amadeus Concepcion, 170, Jr.; Adonis Concepcion, 160, Jr.; Chris Williams, 195, Sr.; Adam Fox, HWT, Sr.; Dave Small, 182, Jr.; Dallis Small, 145, So.

2. SOMERSET (Coach Joe Blasucci, 6th year, 142-22). Last year: 34-6 (District champions). Top wrestlers: Juan Vernaza, 152, Sr.; Daniel Valledor, 138, Jr.; Nick Benton, 160, Fr.; Vinnie Blasucci, 145, Sr.; Darian Estevez, 113/120, 8th; Anthony Temes, 132, Jr.

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