District meets offer stern tests

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The odds are stacked against any of Hernando County’s five boys weightlifting programs – Central, Hernando, Nature Coast Technical, Weeki Wachee and Springstead – walking away Wednesday evening with a district championship trophy.

That wasn’t the case the past two springs when the Hernando Leopards – behind two different mentors – John Palmer and Mark Latsko – captured back-to-back district crowns.

This time, the two-time defending district-champion Leopards, along with cohorts Central, NCT, and Weeki Wachee will make up a quarter of the 16 teams involved in the Class 1A, District 6 Boys Weightlifting Meet at Fivay. The meet is expected to start at 3 p.m.

Meanwhile, current Hernando County champ Springstead ventures to East Pasco County to participate in the 13-team, Class 2A, District 3 Meet beginning at 2 p.m. at Sunlake.

The top six placers in each weight class at both events will help secure team points. Additionally, team trophies will be awarded to the top two teams.

Of the county’s expected 50 lifters, only the individual district champions automatically qualify for the 40th FHSAA Finals slated for April 25-26 in Osceola County.

Anyone who doesn’t win may be eligible to reach the elite meet through at-large bids to the Kissimmee Civic Center by finishing among the next nine highest totals in each of the 10 weight divisions.

The 1A-6 Meet is expected to include: Hernando, Nature Coast, South Sumter, Crystal River, Pasco, Anclote, Hudson, Citrus, Lecanto, Gulf, Ridgewood, River Ridge, Weeki Wachee, Wesley Chapel, Zephyrhills and host Fivay.

While Hernando has won this meet the past two seasons, South Sumter has finished as a two-time defending district runner-up.

The tourney’s odds-on favorite, however, is Citrus. The Inverness crew finished third in last year’s rugged 2A-4. In the winter, CHS was reclassified to 1A.

Expected to give the Golden Hurricanes a battle is upstart Zephyrhills. Look for Hernando County runner-up Weeki Wachee and Hernando to round out the top four.

“It’s pretty tough to tell who will win,” described fourth-year Fivay skipper Tim White. “It’s always tough predicting because teams change from year to year and it’s tough to handicap. If I had to pick anybody – I guess I’d pick Citrus.”

Mike Einspahr, the Leopards’ fifth coach in five seasons, is expected to defend HHS’ crowns with 16 lifters including: Kai French at 119 pounds, Richard Moore at 129, David Goodwin and Uriah Congilio at 139, Colton Hammett at 154, Brennen Ertl and Dylan Moore at 169, Austin Webber at 183, Abel Terkevich and Jacob Valentino at 199, Shawn Bystrum and Josh Wilson at 219, Brandon Laursen and Jesse Gaudin at 238, and Larry O’ Bonnon at heavyweight.

Each of the Leopards’ 2013 district champs, O’Mar Hawkins and Kyle Loparco, both graduated.

Goodwin, was a 2012 district champion at 139, but finished a distant second last year.

Einspahr believes the Purple and Gold lifters can make some noise in the Falcons’ gymnasium.

“Our goal is to finish among the top six,” said Einspahr. “We only have four seniors. Overall, we have a very young team.”

HHS missed a golden chance to collect its third straight county title two weeks ago at Springstead, but lost to the Eagles and vastly improved Weeki Wachee Hornets.

“Our kids know we missed a golden opportunity,” declared Einspahr. “Since that meet the kids have responded. We had a terrific week of practice last week. I really think our guys will come in serious and focused.”

The ex-Central mentor believes Goodwin is HHS’ best shot to return to states and thinks 6-7 others could score points.

“Citrus should win it,” he said. “They’re the front-runners in my mind.”

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Buoyed by its best-ever second-place finish during the 16th Hernando County Championship, Weeki Wachee appears to be the dark horse contender at Fivay.

According to skipper Mark Lee, the Hornets will possibly bring as many as 10 lifters though eight have confirmed including: Dakota Johnson at 129, Ian Isaacson at 154, Shawn O’Gorman and Xavier Jones at 169, Anthony Dinardo and Hiram Matos at 183, Anthony Hartman at 219 and Brice Spaulding at heavyweight.

WWHS placed fourth out of 12 teams in this meet last season.

Lee, the fourth-year mentor, believes his team has a high ceiling.

“We did well at the county meet, but we haven’t peaked out,” detailed Lee. “Actually, we had a couple guys go real low that meet. Since then they’ve picked it back up.”

There is no motivation needed for Wednesday.

“Outside of Hernando County, nobody really cares about the county meet,” pointed out Lee. “But this one is a big one. The guys want to compete and make history on Wednesday. I think (Thomas) Maynard showed us by being successful last year what was possible.”

The Hornets’ best shot at reaching states includes heavily favored Johnson, followed by O’Gorman, Hartman and Dinardo. Dinardo and Maynard were the school’s first-ever district champs last year.

“We know lifting at Fivay will be tough,” insisted Lee. “We have to have some outstanding efforts and we need some guys to scratch out.

“On paper, Citrus has to be the favorite; it’ll be a shocker if they don’t win,” explained Lee. “I’d like to see us go top four. If we do, it’ll say something for all the kids, especially the ones that have been here since Day 1.”

After drifting to fourth during the Hernando County Championship, NCT hopes to bounce back with eight lifters at Fivay.

The Sharks placed fifth at districts last season at Fivay. The team’s lone district champion, Derek Newman, graduated.

NCT is expected to be represented by Jack Lacy at 139, Raivyn Alicea at 154, Yannis Hantzis and Cameron Syblis at 183, Matthew Peyton and DeAndre Hannah at 199, Jermaine Green at 219 and William Degaro at heavyweight.

The Sharks’ new football coach, Justin Worden, doubles as the team’s weightlifting mentor.

“We’re working to get stronger,” noted Worden. “If I can be there from the start (of weightlifting season) next year, we’ll be much better. It’s been a struggle to get everybody we need out here at the same time.”

NCT’s biggest goal is conquering an intangible proposition.

“The biggest thing for our kids on Wednesday is to get a taste of a big-meet atmosphere and see how some of the district’s best kids go about their business,” noted Worden. “We’ve got a lot of sophomores and juniors that need to see the level of commitment needed to help us out in football, too.”

Despite finishing without any individual district champions last year at Springstead, Central edged the Eagles for fifth place, 14-13.

First-year mentor Chris Sands enters districts with at least seven lifters in tow: William Levandowski at 139, Austin Asher and Nathan Clotter at 154, Jeremy Luckett at 219, Anderson Ramsey at 238, and Tyler Gerhart and Angelo Adele at heavyweight,

On his initial district meet with the Bears, “Who will win will depend on who brings the most lifters,” said Sands. “Unfortunately, we haven’t seen all the teams in the district.”

Asher, a recent Hernando County champ, is the leading Bear candidate to reach states, pointed out Sands.

“Our goal at Fivay is to get our best totals,” insisted Sands.

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Former Hernando High football and weightlifting coach Matt Smith has built an emerging program at Sunlake.

Recently, the Seahawks collected their fifth straight Sunshine Athletic Conference title behind four individual champs.

Last spring in the 2A-4 Meet, Sunlake lost to powerful Ocala-Vanguard, 42-36.

Vanguard went on to finish fourth at states in Kissimmee.

Oddly enough in 2012, the script was flipped as the Seahawks clipped the Knights for the district crown, 48-41.

“As far as favorites in our meet (2A-3), it’s really hard to tell because the teams are so spread out,” noted Smith, a multi-sport Springstead High graduate. “Vanguard has been at the top, but Forest, Leesburg, West Port are all dangerous.

“We’ve only got three seniors, but our kids have been working extremely hard,” added Smith. “Our 139-, 154- and 169-pounders should be right in there (in contention for a district title). What always separates guys in the postseason is what you do in your power cleans; that’s where it’s at.”

The Hawks will be represented by 15 lifters.

“It should be very competitive,” detailed Smith. “Every year, it’s been fairly close in the team standings. I know I’m looking forward to it.”

Two weeks removed from its county-leading eighth Hernando County championship, Springstead would like to fair better than its sixth-place district finish in 2013.

Springstead’s lone district champ from 2013, senior and state placer Jesse Cowan, missed the entire season due to a broken wrist that hasn’t properly healed.

SHS is expected to be represented by 12 lifters including: Steven Torres at 119, Geoff Boettjer and Josh Mercado at 129, Nick D’Amico at 139, Dan Fazio at 154, Dylan McLeod at 183, Austin Stock at 199, Nathaniel Walker and Santiago Hernandez at 219, Jameson Peppe at 238, and Michael Miara and Dylan Heck at heavyweight.

According to 11th-year Eagle skipper Mike Garofano, two other Springstead starters will be sidelined due to injuries: Luca Perego (wrist) and Dillon Haas (shoulder).

On handicapping 2A-3, “What’s tough is not seeing all the teams in the district,” insisted Garofano, who has guided the Eagles to a county-best 7-1 mark. “The favorites have to be Vanguard and Sunlake. Those two have a legit shot to win this. We’ll finish somewhere in the middle.”

Interestingly, SHS enters with five lifters with a combined 27-1 mark this season.

Entering districts, Torres (6-0), Boettjer (6-0), Stock (6-0) and Walker (4-0) haven’t suffered an individual loss. Miara is 5-1. His only second-place finish occurred at the Feb. 26 Sunlake tri-meet when he lost to the Seahawks’ Leo Baez, 555-525.

Garofano believes Stock and Boettjer have the best chances of departing with district championships.

“I think we have two guys high enough to make it,” forecasted Garofano. “Most importantly, we’ve got some guys that are peaking. As a team, our biggest issue is our lack of depth.”

The Eagles’ district goals are modest in nature.

“I want to see us improve and get our personal bests,” stressed Garofano. “I don’t have to sell this meet. The guys know what it’s all about. They know it’s all on the table for them. To reach states, you have to go for broke.”

At a Glance

What – Class 2A, District 3 Boys Weightlifting Meet.

Who – Thirteen teams expected to be represented including: Central, Citrus, Clermont-East Ridge, Groveland-South Lake, Lake Minneola, Ocala-Forest, Ocala-Lake Weir, Ocala-Vanguard, Ocala-West Port, Land O’ Lakes, Sunlake, Leesburg, Lecanto, Mitchell, River Ridge, Wiregrass Ranch, and host Springstead.

Where – Sunlake High, 3023 Sunlake Blvd, Land O’ Lakes.

When – Today, weigh-ins from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. Meet begins at 2 p.m.
District meets offer stern tests

At Stake – Each of the 10 individual champions automatically qualify for the 40th annual Class 2A FHSAA Finals on April 19 at the Kissimmee Civic Center. Next two placers in each weight class are in the running for at-large entries to states. Trophies awarded to the top two teams.

What – Class 1A, District 6 Boys Weightlifting Meet.

Who – Sixteen teams are expected to be represented including: Hernando, Nature Coast Technical, South Sumter, Crystal River, Pasco, Anclote, Hudson, Citrus, Lecanto, Gulf, Ridgewood, River Ridge, Weeki Wachee, Wesley Chapel, Zephyrhills and host Fivay.

Where – Fivay High, 12115 Chicago Ave., Hudson.

When – Today, weigh-ins from 1 to 2:30 p.m. Meet begins at 3 p.m. along five platforms.

At Stake – Each of the 10 individual champions automatically qualify for the 40th annual Class 1A FHSAA Finals on April 25 at the Kissimmee Civic Center. Next two placers in each weight class are in the running for at-large entries to states. Trophies awarded to the top two teams.