Mat ruler Rivera returns on task

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SPRING HILL – Two weekends ago, Springstead senior Jordan Rivera appeared on top of the world.

After the first day of the ultra-rugged, two-day Knockout Christmas Classic II at Kissimmee-Osceola, the fourth-year Eagle starter stood 3-0 in perhaps the toughest bracket in the state of Florida.

Mat ruler Rivera returns on task
Springsteadís Jordan Rivera (top) grapples with Robert Napolitano from Gulf in Saturday’s 145-pound final at the Springstead Invitational. Photo by JOE DiCRISTOFALO
Despite being a three-time state placer and defending Class 2A state champion, Rivera entered the meet as the bracket’s third seed.

On Dec. 27, Rivera pinned Bradenton-Manatee’s Alex Ginn (1:04), topped Forsyth Central’s (Ga.) Caleb Troutt (8-3) and solved Naples-Palmetto Ridge sophomore Joey Nadotti (5-2).

On the surface, everything seemed in order in Rivera’s world.

Delving back to last spring’s 49th FHSAA Finals in Lakeland, Rivera had trumped Nadotti (8-4) in the tourney semifinals.

That evening, Rivera may have delivered his defining moment in a Springstead singlet.

With the Eagles entwined in a tight three-way photo finish for the team trophy, Rivera responded with the match of his life.

Against unbeaten Melbourne senior Joey Miuccio, Rivera twisted him into a memorable 12-3 major decision. That win helped propel the Eagles to a county-record third straight 2A state championship.

After beating Nadotti for the second time in 10 months, the 5-foot-6, athletically-gifted Rivera reentered the palatial Kowboy gymnasium riding a career-best 35-match win skein.

Perhaps the Canterbury Tales’ author, Geoffrey Chaucer, said it best nearly 640 years ago in 1374: “All good things must come to an end.”

On Dec. 21, Homestead-South Dade junior and 2013 3A state placer Isaiah Crosby stuck Rivera in the tourney semifinals in 4:30.

Still reeling mentally, Miami-Columbus senior Damien Penichet pinned Rivera in 2:36.

In the consolation match for fifth place, Boca Raton-Olympic Heights sophomore Laurence Kosoy utilized a last-second, two-point takedown to edge Rivera, 3-2.

Never before had Rivera lost three times in one prep tournament – let alone one day.

Never before had Rivera been stuck in back-to-back matches.

It wasn’t like Rivera had been chasing perhaps Cody Ross’ most intriguing Hernando County record – having never been pinned in his 200 career matches.

But the definition of insanity is doing the same (wrong) thing over and over again.

This week, Rivera revised his focus in practice.

Over the weekend, Rivera returned to his top-of-the-podium element.

On Friday during his fourth and final Springstead Invitational, the top-seeded Rivera pinned Orlando-Edgewater’s Carlos Estrada (0:54) and Tampa-Hillsborough’s Ira Morris (1:35).

In Saturday’s semifinals, Rivera mangled Auburndale’s fourth-seeded Logan McCafferty into his 74th career pin.

Seven hours later in the finals against Gulf senior and 2013 1A state qualifier Robert Napolitano, Rivera won a tactical match, 6-2.

In less than a week’s time, Rivera had suffered through the sport’s lowest low and was returning to the top.

Rivera will enter next week’s Billy Saylor Invitational at Live Oak-Suwannee with a modest (for his standards) 20-3 won-lost slate.

He currently stands seventh all-time in SHS wins at 145-22 (.868 winning percentage).

With four wins in the Bulldogs’ gym he’ll leapfrog past three-time state champion Richie Bliss (146) and four-time state qualifier Matt Booker (148).

“I thought I wrestled pretty well this weekend,” pointed out Rivera. “Sure, winning here meant everything, especially after last week. I’ll admit last week was in the back of my mind.”

On his lessons learned at Osceola’s stout meet, “I learned that I have to continue to work hard for wins; nobody’s going to give me anything. I realize now that I didn’t work hard enough to win (at Osceola) – and that’s totally on me.”

To that end, Rivera says he started prepping for the Springstead Invite the previous Sunday with a workout.

“When Monday arrived, I started wrestling guys much bigger than I am, so I can get used to that,” explained Rivera. “Look nobody likes to lose, so it was back to work.”

Despite placing for the 29th straight IBT (individually bracketed tournament) and clutching his 16th IBT gold medal, Rivera was not completely satisfied.

“Flagler is a tough team,” insisted Rivera. “They beat us fair and square. We had some guys wrestle well, just not enough. I’m not sweating it, we’ve got the best coach in the state (Sal Basile), and trust me beginning Monday he’ll get us back to where we need to be.”

“I thought Jordan really responded well to last week,” pointed out Coach Basile, a two-time state qualifier at SHS. “Sometimes you need a wakeup call. Everyone gets better after a loss.

“He’s a different cat; when you’re a state champion, everyone in the building is targeting you,” added Basile. “Just because you were a champ last year, means nothing until states. For Jordan, a lot of it comes down to work ethic and desire.”

Rivera missed a major chunk of preparation for this wrestling season due to football. He’s slowly been closing the gap.

Rivera ended up as a starter at outside linebacker ranking 10th in tackles (64) on the 11-2 Eagle football team – the one some locals call the best-ever from Hernando County.

“Because of football he missed an entire offseason of training,” noted Basile. “Most guys couldn’t just play football as a senior, let alone start. He’s athletically so gifted; that’s why he could pull it off. At this point, he’s starting to find himself.”

On Rivera’s ceiling, “Jordan has no ceiling,” emphatically stated Coach Basile. “Jordan Rivera will go as far as Jordan Rivera wants to go. His ceiling is unlimited.”

On whether last year’s clutch state final victory is Rivera’s defining moment, “At this point, that match was it. But I hope it’s not,” declared Coach Basile.

“If he wants to wrestle, say at Chattanooga next fall, and his grades continue to climb, I’m sure there’s a door,” added Basile. “Jordan Rivera has all the tools for this sport. He’s athletic, has tremendous mat experience and is extremely intelligent – he can do what he wants to do when he wants to do it.”

Even Chaucer would be impressed by Rivera’s resolve.

By the numbers: Springstead’s Jordan Rivera (2010-14)

– Compiled by TONY CASTRO


2010-11+^ 44 9 .830 24

2011-12+^ 36 6 .857 15

2012-13$* 45 4 .918 25

2013-14 20 3 .842 10

TOTALS 145 22 .868 74

+ Denotes state placer (3rd) x 2

^ Denotes All-County selection

* Denotes Wrestler of the Year

$ Denotes state champion

By the numbers: Jordan Rivera’s All-Time IBT Results (2010-14)

– Compiled by TONY CASTRO


2010-11 15th Cougar Invitational 2 2 .500 2 –

2010-11 29th Brooksville-Kiwanis 4 0 1.000 3 1st

2010-11 9th Zac Jarzynka Ironman 5 1 .833 2 3rd

2010-11 21st Springstead Invitational 4 0 1.000 1 1st

2010-11 25th Flagler Rotary Invitational 4 1 .800 1 3rd

2010-11 27th Ippolito Invitational 4 1 .800 1 2nd

2010-11 2A-7 Tournament 2 0 1.000 1 1st

2010-11 2A-II Tournament 3 1 .750 1 2nd

2010-11 47th 2A State Tournament 5 1 .833 3 3rd

2011-12 16th Cougar Invitational 3 2 .600 1 4th

2011-12 30th Brooksville-Kiwanis 4 0 1.000 3 1st

2011-12 1st Bulldog Brawl 5 1 .833 1 3rd

2011-12 22nd Springstead Invitational 3 1 .750 2 2nd

2011-12 26th Flagler Rotary Invitational 4 1 .800 2 3rd

2011-12 2A-7 Tournament 3 0 1.000 2 1st

2011-12 2A-II Tournament 4 0 1.000 3 1st

2011-12 48th 2A State Tournament 4 1 .800 1 3rd

2012-13 17th Cougar Invitational 6 1 .857 3 3rd

2012-13 31st Brooksville-Kiwanis 4 0 1.000 4 1st

2012-13 2nd Bulldog Brawl 4 0 1.000 2 1st

2012-13 1st Knockout Christmas Classic 4 2 .667 2 7th

2012-13 23rd Springstead Invitational 4 0 1.000 2 1st

2012-13 27th Flagler Rotary Inv. 4 0 1.000 1 1st

2012-13 2A-7 Tourney 2 0 1.000 2 1st

2012-13 2A-II Tourney 4 0 1.000 3 1st

2012-13 2A State Tourney 4 0 1.000 0 1st

2013-14 32nd Kiwanis Inv. 4 0 1.000 3 1st

2013-14 18th Cougar Inv. 4 0 1.000 1 1st

2013-14 2nd Knockout Christmas Classic 3 3 .500 1 6th

2013-14 24th Springstead Invitational 4 0 1.000 3 1st

TOTALS -30- 114 19 .857 57 -29-