On one hand, the Key West High School wrestling team has benefitted from the extra practice time this season, especially with the Conchs being a lot younger than expected this campaign.
On the other hand, the lack of matches has limited the meet experience, which in turn has slowed the overall progression of the program, leaving coach Chaz Jimenez in unchartered waters roughly a month away from the district tournament.
“We had a good break and I definitely think we’ve gotten better since the home tournament, but every week it seems like it’s just something new and there are so many other obstacles to navigate rather than just the normal season,” said Jimenez. “There’s no doubt we are younger and I didn’t expect us to be, and pretty much everything is a one-day tournament this year, because of travel restrictions around the state, but we are just happy to compete so we can’t complain.”
In fact, Jimenez has stressed to his matsmen to be thankful they are even wrestling this season and able to make the advancements like they did last weekend at the 10th annual Somerset Scuffle.
“I tell the guys to be grateful every day we are in that room,” said Jimenez. “It’s kind of a double-edged sword. It’s certainly frustrating because we are unable to get these guys more matches, so they can move ahead at a faster pace. I still think we will get them there, it’s certainly giving us more time to practice because we are not having the two-day tournaments. There’s still just something about getting match experience that helps your growth.”
Of the progression made during the break, the most prevalent was getting Conchs senior Max Ryan down to 220 pounds, at which he was a state placer last season. That difference showed right away as he collected five pins in five matches for a first-place finish — including taking down a Top 5 3A opponent in the third period of the finals.
“He’s starting to get back where he needs to be and took care of business,” said Jimenez.
Despite having a tougher start to the season in the heavyweight division, Jimenez expressed he felt it may have helped Ryan, who is now 9-2 overall on the season.
“He’s not used to wrestling that style, even though he’s just as big as those kids, he was trying to wrestle heavyweights like he would lighter opponents,” said Jimenez. “Now he’s back in shape, and he’s really happy to being back to 220. We are looking forward to him now putting it together for the postseason.”
Replacing Ryan at heavyweight was River Cutino-Lyda, competing in his first full tournament of the season after grades, and the senior Ryan kept him out of the starting heavyweight position through the first three meets.
“He’s wrestled with the best before so we know what he can do,” said Jimenez.
Cutino-Lyda would actually upset the No. 1-ranked wrestler in the heavyweight class, 9-6, in the tournament and worked his way to the finals where he would meet up with the same wrestler once again, this time suffering a 5-2 loss, to take second overall.
“We were happy with the way he performed,” said Jimenez.
Zack Lewicki would also finish in second place in the 195-pound weight class, losing by a point to a Somerset opponent as well as to a Westminster opponent in the second-place match.
“Zach has been coming on and has the best record on the team right now,” said Jimenez, noting the junior is 15-3 on the season. “He’s been one of the bigger surprises. We have St. Pierre (Anilus) working with him a lot and has been continuing to get better every week and continuing to grow.”
Also taking third was Will Andrews in the 170-pound weight class, while Herlandy Leon took fifth at 138 pounds.
“We are still trying to figure out a couple of weights in the middle,” said Jimenez. “We have Cameron (Carroll) down to 1-6 and Dos (Bakhtiyorov) to 113, Colby (Stewart) is working to 120 and we are hoping to get Chase (Langdale) down to 132 and Bryson (Johnson) to 136 and they are right there, they just have to keep working down.”
The coach also added he was pleased with the weekend performances of Augie Berlanga and Clerf Alexander, who both showed that progression wins in the meet.
Despite the progression being made in the Conchs’ wrestling room during practice, Jimenez expressed the “whole scenario is frustrating but at the same time they are grateful to just being competing.”
“We have guys that are just getting back from break and others that have to quarantine but it’s all just par for the course this year,” said Jimenez, whose team will be competing the Region Dual semifinals on Thursday against Somerset followed by the Battle at the Bay Duals on Saturday at Cypress Bay. “Due to CVOID and other reasons the team is super young, really one of my youngest teams ever, a majority of the team is freshmen or first-year wrestlers, so we just have to get them along so they are where they need to be for regionals. It’s definitely going to be a tough test to win the district title again this year, but I just want to see them compete. I want to see them come out and battle.
“It’s been an interesting year and it’s only going to get more interesting,” the coach concluded. “But we’ll coach them up and get them to where they need to be.”