By Shannon Heaton
(Follow Heaton on Twitter at @QChawkeyeinFL and on Facebook).
The FHSAA recently released "tentative" district pairings in five sports last Friday afternoon and although certainly a number of readers might love to discuss an analysis of the changes in all five, I'm going to restrict myself to just the one -- wrestling.
In Class 3A locally, there are a few changes from last year's district meet at Mandarin. Tops among those will be the absence of Ed White and Tallahassee Chiles, both of which dropped into 2A. All of the remaining schools -- 2013 champion Fleming Island, Fletcher, Gainesville Buchholz, Mandarin, First Coast and Sandalwood -- return. Palm Coast will join the mix of District 1 teams this year for a seven-team meet at this point.
It would not surprise me if Fleming Island petitions, and successfully so, into 2A. My sources tell me Fleming was just six students over the 2A/3A enrollment cutoff. Staying in 3A, however, would have some upside as well.
Moving into 2A would bring at least one advantage for the Golden Eagles, as they could battle with Clay County rivals Orange Park, Ridgeview, Oakleaf and Middleburg to get into regionals, which would provide its wrestlers with stronger competition during the state series.
The downside is that Florida's top program -- Brandon -- moved down from 3A to 2A, which will clog the middle class at the top for state medals. At the same time, the Tampa suburban Eagles will be penciled in immediately as the favorite to win the team title. Should Fleming Island stay in 3A, with most of its top wrestlers returning this November, a top-eight finish and a few individual medals aren't out of the realm of possibility.
The northern part of Class 2A did see some shuffling in some very interesting ways. Region 1 has nine schools in District 1, just four in District 2, nine in District 3 and six in District 4.
Districts 3 and 4 have local (from my perspective) flavor (again, sorry, Columbia, two hours from my house equals not local in my book). District 3 is a mix of Clay and Duval, with the aforementioned Clay schools mixing it up with Ed White, Englewood, Lee, Stanton and Terry Parker.
The Duval teams (other than Ed White, that is) in 2A-3 competed in 2A-2 a year ago with Columbia and the Tallahassee-area schools, and while Stanton had a runnerup finish in 2013, I'm not sure it would be able to duplicate that finish against the mixture of Orange Park and Middleburg at the very least. Even a top-four finish would be much tougher to pull off.
The field in the proposed 2A-4 looks a lot like the St. Johns County and Flagler part of 2A-3 a year ago, which should make for a fun battle between Matanzas, Creekside and St. Augustine -- just 12 points apart a year ago -- for top honors. Should Fleming petition successfully into 2A, look for an add or two of Duval schools into 2A-4. My geography is a little fuzzy, but Englewood and Stanton might be the possibles.
Most of the larger changes affecting locals seem to have occurred in Class 1A. District 1 is mostly the northwest corner of the state, as before, with Tallahassee schools in District 2.
Thankfully from my perspective, Baker County is no longer in 1A-2 but has moved east to 1A-3, right into the wheelhouse of a nine-team all-local district, with it, Nassau County reps Fernandina Beach, West Nassau and Yulee joining Duval County publics Andrew Jackson, Forrest, Paxon and Raines, as well as private Bishop Snyder. Could be an interesting battle between Snyder and Yulee for that district title.
District 4 is a bit more stacked up, with University Christian and Bolles leading the way, but Bishop Kenny, Episcopal and Providence all have talent in parts of their lineup. That should be a competitive district as it plays out. Menendez and Florida Deaf & Blind also will be competing, along with Wolfson, which dropped down from 2A, and newcomer Duval Charter, which did not have a team in 2012-13.
Wondering why arguably the area's biggest heavyweight, program-wise, hasn't been mentioned yet? Well, Clay fans, I haven't forgotten about you, but apparently the FHSAA wants you to travel in 2014. Clay, along with Bradford and Interlachen (non-locals in my book) has been moved out of Region 1 completely and will compete in Region 2 this year.
I don't think the Blue Devils will have trouble maintaining their district-title run while competing in District 5 -- although Villages has had some stellar kids that could make things interesting at least a little. However, Clay now has to face Orlando's Lake Highland Prep -- usually, along with Cardinal Gibbons, the toughest teams the Blue Devils face at state -- in regional competition now.
That should make Wakulla and University Christian -- the only schools in serious competition with Clay at last year's Region 1 meet at Bolles -- very happy. Look for an absolute buzzsaw when Clay and LHP square off as the state's titanic smaller-school powers -- at regionals in the second weekend of February next year.
Already, I can't wait to see how all the changes shake out. The weather is starting to heat up, state AAU tournaments are just a few weeks out, and pretty soon schedules for the winter will be finalized. Then, area wrestling fans, get ready for the biggest change seen in quite some time. More on that to follow…
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