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Northeast Florida high school wrestling 2020: 5 to watch

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Wrestling season begins this week, with first local duals starting Wednesday. A glance at the top five teams and five wrestlers to watch, that are not on a top-five team, as the season begins.

Teams

Fleming Island: Even after losing a graduating class that included one state champion in Campbell signee and 2020 T-U Wrestler of the Year Chad Nix, plus five additional state placers and an additional three qualifiers on top of those, the Golden Eagles remain north Florida's supreme team. But, this year's group will be put together from last year's depth, with three returning 3A state qualifiers, including 2020 medalist Hunter Herrington (senior, 38-8, third at 113). A fourth state qualifier comes over via transfer, and that star power up top makes Fleming Island a continuing threat to reach the state dual team semifinals four straight years. The Golden Eagles would be the only team in north Florida that has done so. Key to their statewide success, however, depends on last year's depth reaching new levels, but the room has had proven success doing just that in prior years.

Clay: Blue Devils should have little trouble reaching their 22nd consecutive district traditional title in February and have made up ground on Wakulla within Region 1-1A. We'll have to see how much ground the Blue Devils can close on Fleming Island. The return of Hall of Fame coach Jim Reape -- who stepped into an assistant's role for the last two seasons -- could be an important factor. Blue Devils return four state qualifiers, including 2020 1A medalists in senior Cale Hoskinson (51-7, third at 152) and junior Garrett Tyre (42-16, fifth at 220). Additionally, Clay's girls team is probably at least second-best in all of north Florida, headlined by junior Madisyn Blackburn (third at 128 in 2020).

Suwannee: Bulldogs took a step forward toward returning to the dominance of yesteryear in 2019-20, reaching the Region 1-1A dual team tournament for the first time. And, this year's team lost just two starters (only one a full-season starter) and continues to reload at the youth levels. Five state qualifiers return, including 2018 placer Xander Kirkland, who wrestled an injury-free junior season after breaking his collarbone at states as a freshman. Suwannee has been a top-four finisher at Region 1 traditionals each of the past three seasons, and while Wakulla and Clay still have a hold on the top two spots, it will be the favorite for third.

Columbia: After several seasons of playing second fiddle to Lincoln in District 2-2A, Tigers finally broke through in 2020 with a district traditional title, their first in decades if not ever. Columbia lost five 2020 starters to graduation in June, and that could mean that it will have to chase Lincoln once again, but the Tigers do have three state qualifiers returning, all of whom are solid threats to medal in Kissimmee in March 2021. The middle portion of the lineup will be Columbia's strength, but the group does have to add to its bookends to ensure its status as a top-five area club.

Fletcher: Senators found a home in District 3-2A, reaching the first day of the 2A dual team state tournament and winning a district traditional title to go along with recent Gateway Conference dominance. Two 2020 state qualifiers for the Senators return to provide leadership to a lineup that has solid returning starting depth. Senior Ana Bradshaw became the first girl in Gateway Conference history to win a weight-class bracket last year, following that up by becoming the first girl in north Florida to win a district title; she also placed fifth at girls' state at 106. Five-time district champion coach Paul Schloth, an assistant with the Senators last year, takes over head coaching responsibilities this season.

Wrestlers

Matthew Rodriquez, Sr., Ridgeview: Rodriquez has his college decision out of the way, signing with Lehigh earlier this month. A four-time state qualifier already, Rodriquez will be shooting for his fourth podium finish and perhaps first title, as he reached the 1A final round for the second time last season. Rodriquez enters season ranked No. 1 in Florida 1A-132.

Ahmahd Denmark, Sr., Lee: Denmark (38-4 in 2019-20) took District 3 and Region 1 titles at 2A-160 last year, reaching the state finals after a quarterfinal overtime win and 1-point win in the semis. That closed a season in which Denmark won 24 straight matches between the second week of December and the Clay Rotary in early February. Denmark is ranked second statewide in 2A-160.

DaQuan King, Jr., Raines: King (57-5 in 2019-20) made himself into a 1A statewide force at 113 last year, with a District 3 title, losing only to the eventual state champ in the quarterfinals at Kissimmee. A two-time Gateway and district champ, King is in line for a potential state finals appearance this year. King is currently ranked third in 1A at 113 statewide.

Connor Spossey, Sr., St. Augustine: Spossey (44-7 at 170 last year for Menendez), St. Johns County's Wrestler of the Year in 2019-20, could be the final piece in the Yellow Jackets taking a District 4-2A title. Spossey was a District 5-1A champ last year, taking fifth at states for the Falcons. He's ranked No. 3 in 2A at 170 this season.

Raynarde Thomas, Sr., Raines: After a solid senior football season in which Thomas (48-7 at 170 last year) held down linebacking responsibilities for the Vikings, he'll return for another state medal chance this winter. Thomas was a District 3 and Region 1 champ a year ago, losing only to the two best 170s in the state bracket at Kissimmee in taking fourth. He's currently ranked third at 170-1A statewide.

Shannon Heaton/For the Times-Union

This article originally appeared on Florida Times-Union: Northeast Florida high school wrestling 2020: 5 to watch

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