LYNN HAVEN — Wrestlers are in the home stretch to district tournaments and Saturday provided one of the final opportunities for momentum heading into the postseason.
The Panhandle Wrestling Championships concluded at Mosley’s Jim Redfern Gymnasium, 15 teams from Live Oak to Pensacola competed in the final major tournament until districts begin Feb. 1. Two area wrestlers, Forrest Lang and Kris Kenney, secured respective championships and four others, including three from Arnold, finished second.
Wakulla ran away with the team title with 233 points, well ahead of a logjam between Gulf Breeze (135.5), Pace (135) and Live Oak Suwannee (134.5). Arnold was the highest-place are team in sixth with 91 points. Rutherford (74) was seventh, Bozeman (48) ninth, Bay (46) 10th, Marianna (41) 11th, Mosley (37) 13th and Wewahitchka (33) 14th.
Lang was dominant in his four 152-pound matches winning one by pin and two by major decision, including Saturday’s 10-2 victory over Marianna’s Devin Combs. He was named the tournament’s most outstanding middleweight wrestler after improving to 34-4.
“I think I’m really wrestling well,” Lang said. “But I definitely can still get better.”
That’s saying a lot given he’s only lost four matches this season. The window to improve is closing and he admitted it’s much like a student prepping for final exams. There isn’t much time to cram more knowledge into the brain and they’re either ready or they’re not.
Lang, a junior, said a major point of emphasis is conditioning. Bay County teams have one more event, the annual championship on Friday, before districts begin the following week.
“Improving your cardio is always something you can get better with,” said Lang, who was catching his breath and chugging water while being interviewed. “You also can work on the little things, that sometimes will help you more than cardio.”
The little things come in practice, which include new techniques, honing moves and more repetition. He said there are a few more tricks to come, but those would be attempted against his teammates first then possibly unleashed when it matters.
“You never try something for the first time in a match,” he said. “You try it then if it works you apply it in a match.”
Adjustment in the practice room also helped Kenney, who is in his final season with the Bucks. He missed the first month of the season with a left shoulder injury and made slight changes in his style to prevent another setback.
“I practiced a different style, I keep my hands closer to my body,” Kenney said. “I’m still able to do all the old things I did and it hasn’t been a problem.”
Conditioning has been a bit of a troublesome spot for Kenney, who admitted he’s still trying to get back into wrestling shape. He and his coach, J.D. Raybourne, conceded he might not be in perfect shape given the lateness of the season. Kenney received a first-round bye at 170 and had two full matches that went to a decision, including a 12-8 victory over Suwannee’s Sasha Key in the final.
Kenney also ended his semifinal match on Saturday with a pin over Rutherford’s Michael Lee. He’s now 19-5.
“I need to get my conditioning up, I have to hit the road and run.” Kenney said. “And I really need to start practicing harder. I haven’t been practicing that hard.”
Kenney’s honesty, while refreshing, also spoke to the general feeling of many seniors. He’s competed in several sports over the years, taken hundreds of tests and written just as many papers. Many seniors can’t be faulted for wanting to have some relaxation, but Kenney said that can come after regionals and beyond.
He has his sights set on the next round, but he said he couldn’t overlook the district slate, which will include competitors from six of the schools in the Panhandle Championship. Suwannee is bracketed in District 2 and those wrestlers will be involved in the regional tournament involving Bozeman.
“It feels great to win” a tournament title, Kenney said. “It was nice to build some momentum and have an idea of what I’ll see at regionals.”
Panhandle Wrestling Championship results:
Team scores: Wakulla 233, Gulf Breeze 135.5, Pace 135, Suwannee 134.5, Fort Walton Beach 104.5, Arnold 91, Rutherford 74, South Walton 61, Bozeman 48, Bay 46, Marianna 41, Tate 40, Mosley 37, Wewa 33, Crestview 30
106: Runyan (Wak) dec. Murray (Pace) 7-3. 113: Malik (Wak) pin Lovett (FWB). 120: Shingola (Suw) dec. Oddo (Pace), 6-2. 126: Morgan (Wak) dec. Manfredi (GB), 4-2. 132: White (Wak) dec. BLDoerr (GB), 3-1. 138: BeDoerr (GB) pin Baker (Arm). 145: Brown (Suw) dec. Ryan (Arn), 5-3. 152: Lang (Mos) dec. Combs (Mar), 10-2. 160: Fletcher (Suw) dec. Winkler (SW), 9-8. 170: Kenney (Boz) dec. Key (Suw), 12-8. 182: Delong (Wak) dec. Diamond (Pace), 7-5. 195: Douin (Wak) dec. Thaler (Pace), 9-1. 220: Sheffield (FWB) dec. Godden (Wak), 3-1. HWT: Griffen (Wak) pin Krimm (Arn).
106: Savaga (Boz) dec. Malcolm (Wewa), 13-0. 113: Wood (Pace) dec. Bantique (Bay), 10-7).120: Carrey (Wak) dec. Staviski (GB), 6-4. 126: Pickren (SW) pin Marco (Suw). 132: Bucsok (Suw) pin Wood (Pace). 138: Fields (FWB) dec. Askison (Wak), 7-6. 145: Blake (GB) dec. Davis (Wak), 1-0. 152: Sherman (Bay) dec. Reed (Ruth), 10-3. 160: McClendon (Pace) pin Thompson (Arn). 170: Williams (Crest) dec. Middleton (GB), 5-4. 182: Schultz (FWB) pin Jackson (Tate). 195: Parker (SW) pin Williams (Bay). 220: Saffore (Ruth) dec. Gordan (Arn), 9-7. HWT: Haina-Scott (Ruth) pin Merriel (FWB).