Dan PearsonBy:J. Daniel Pearson
For Positively Osceola

In a tournament that featured more than 60 teams – including many state and nationally ranked teams, Osceola’s Cooper Haase lost a close 3-1 decision to Tampa Jesuit’ three-time state champion Tom Crook in the 138-lb. finals of the prestigious Knockout Christmas Classic that was held at Kissimmee’s Silver Spurs Arena, Dec. 27-28.

Haase – a defending two-time state champion– opened the tournament with a first round bye before taking majority decisions over Columbus High’s Aiden Gasper (14-6) and Palmetto’s Demetri Zertopoulius (15-3). He then pinned Jensen Beach’s Jewell Williams in the quarterfinals before taking a 5-1 decision over Lassiter’s (Georgia) David Panone in the semifinals. That victory set up the match with Crook, who came into the tournament as the sixth ranked wrestler in the nation at 138-lbs. according to Trackwrestling.com.

“A tremendous overall performance by Cooper,” Osceola Head Coach Jim Bird said. “He put himself in a position to win against a great wrestler, unfortunately it didn’t work out. But the thing is you become the best by going against the best and for that reason it was a great experience for not only Cooper and our entire team.”

Jesuit was dominant in the tournament, winning the team championship with 205 points. In addition to Tom Crook, his brother Jack Crook won the 145-lb. title; Braden Fasile was the 132-lb. champion, and Sergio Desiante was tops at 195-lbs. Roman Lermer took third at 113 and Josiah Jenkins was fifth at 182 for Jesuit – which scored team points in nine different weight classes.

Other teams with multiple champions included Cass (Ga.), who had champions at 120-lbs. in Cole Hunt and Jake Crapps at 126 and Lake Gibson (Fla.) who had champions at 160 in Brandon Agdon and at 170 in Frank Solorzano. Cass (157.5) finished second to Jesuit in the team title race; while Lake Gibson (138.5) was third.

Chase Horne of West Laurens (Georgia) remained undefeated at 37-0 in winning the 285-lb. championship. Horne is currently the third ranked wrestler in the nation in his weight class. Matt Singleton, fifth-ranked nationally from Woodward Academy (Ga.), remained undefeated at 30-0 in winning at 185. While Woodland’s (Carterville, Ga.) Caleb Henson – who was the highest ranked national competitor in the event at #2 – swept through the competition to win his fourth consecutive Knockout Championship, taking the title at 152.

Other individual champions include SW Miami’s Gabriel Teller (106), Eastside’s (Ga.) Ty Tice (113), and South Dade’s Sawyer Bartelt (220).

The Kowboys finished in 22nd place with 69.0 points. Top performers included Anderson Heap, who just missed the podium by going 4-2 and scoring 11 points. Gunner Holland (160) and George Duncan (170) also went 4-2 for Osceola.

More than 130 girls from 49 schools participated in a Girls Knockout Tournament that was held at the same time. Osceola had two second place finishers in Paris Martinez (125) and Briana Espinosa (160).

Overall, the tournament featured 12 wrestlers that were ranked in the top 20 in the nation by either Trackwrestling.com or Flowrestling.com in their respective weight classes – a number Bird says will grow in the future. “We had 60 teams this year and we are looking at expanding to 72 next year,” Bird noted. “It’s a real testament to how good this tournament is when these great teams show up year after year.”