By J. Daniel Pearson
For Positively Osceola
Dan Pearson

Osceola High’s Kealonie Vega is an All-American

The rising junior in the Osceola High School wrestling program earned that status last week when she was sixth in the 100-lb. weight class at the 2021 United States Marine Corps Junior and 16U Nationals held at the Fargo Dome in Fargo, ND on July 16-23.

Considered the toughest and most competitive high school wrestling tournament in the country, participants must qualify by winning a sanctioned state-wide tournament during the previous 12 months. The 50th edition of the event attracted wrestlers from all 50 states for freestyle and Greco-Roman competition,

Vega began her tournament with a 2-0 win over Brianna Duncan (Texas) before dropping to the consolation bracket with a 10-0 loss to Emile Gonzalez Iowa. She would then reel off five consecutive victories, including a victory over nationally-ranked Claire Booca (#7) to ensure a top-eight finish and accompanying All-America status.

A 4-0 loss to Maryland’s Alexandra Szkotnicki put her in the fifth-place match, where she dropped a heart-breaking 2-1 decision California’s Madison Avila.

“I am so proud of Kealonie,” Osceola Head Coach Jim Bird said. “Fargo is the premier tournament of the summer and has the toughest field. To finish sixth out 60 in her weight class and to earn an All-American certificate is an incredible accomplishment.”

Osceola, who sent three wrestlers to the tournament, just missed two other All-American performances when Cooper Haase lost in the blood round to Oklahoma’s Will Heger by an 11-10 score in the 120-lb. freestyle – falling one match short of reaching the podium.

Haase, a rising junior who has won back-to-back FHSAA State Championships for the Kowboys at 106-lbs. (2020) and 120-lbs. (2021), opened his freestyle tournament with a 16-5 win over Pennsylvania’s Gavin Bradley. After the second-round loss to Cooper Flynn (Tennessee), Haase ran off four straight consolation wins including a 19-13 win over Missouri’s Sam Ewing to get to the final 16.

He needed a win over Heger to ensure a top-eight finish, falling just one point short.

In Greco Roman, Osceola sophomore Anderson Heap – who finished second in the FHSAA Class 3A 106-lb. class as a freshman – also narrowly missed All-America status when he lost in the round of 16 to Colorado’s Garrett Reece. After picking up two wins to open the tournament, Heap lost an 11-4 decision to Ohio’s Ruben Lorenza to fall into the consolation bracket.

Heap came on strong in wrestle backs, coming up with impressive wins over Alabama’s Hudson Waldrop (11-3) and Iowa’s Tucker Stengal (12-0) to get to the round of 16 where he dropped the decision to Lorenza.

In other wrestling news, recently graduated senior and Appalachian State-bound Jaekus Hines was selected as the Florida winner of the prestigious Dave Schultz High School Excellence Award.

Established in 1996, the Dave Schultz Award selects one high school wrestler from each state based on three criteria: success and standout performances and sportsmanship in wrestling; review of GPA and class rank, academic honors and distinctions; and participation in activities that demonstrate commitment to character and community.

“This year has been so hard for so many seniors whose seasons and state championships were either shortened, postponed, or canceled as a result of the pandemic,” said Hall of Fame Executive Director Lee Roy Smith in naming this year’s recipients. “Despite the many challenges they encountered, these student-athletes demonstrated tremendous resolve while working to achieve their academic and athletic goals.

Hines, who finished his senior season with a 42-1 record and won a second consecutive state championship, becomes eligible for the DSHSEA National Wrestler of the Year. That award will be announced on August 10. Brandon’s David Craig is the only Florida wrestler to win the national award, taking honors in 2006.

J. Daniel Pearson, a long-time resident of Osceola County, has joined Positively Osceola as a freelance contributor. His JD’s Monday Morning Musings column will be a regular feature and he will be covering events for us throughout the year. Dan is a former Public Relations Specialist for Florida State University, Boardwalk and Baseball, the Florida Sports Hall of Fame, the Orlando Predators, and other professional sports teams and has been a freelance reporter to many newspapers in the state.