Jim Bird’s Osceola High wrestling team always seems to peak at the right time and it did so again this weekend at the FHSAA State Championships as three Kowboys claimed titles in Class 3A meet – marking it the 16 th straight year Osceola has had at least one individual state champion.
“Absolutely ecstatic at both the effort and performance,” Bird said shortly after Gunner Holland made it three for three for the Kowboys by winning the 160-lb. crown. “We brought seven wrestlers to the championship, put five on the podium and won three titles. This was just an outstanding meet all the way around for our guys.”
In addition to Holland, a sophomore who won his second consecutive championship, Osceola saw junior Cooper Haase win his third straight state title topping the 138-lb. class; while sophomore Anderson Heap won his first at 126-lbs., a year after finishing second at 113.
With sixth place finishes Melvin Ewen (145) and George Duncan (170) – along with points scored by Jomar Sanchez (220) and Elijah VanSickle (285), Osceola tallied 106.5 points for the meet and finished in fourth place in Class 3A. It was also the 15 th time in the last 16 years the Kowboys have posted a top five team finish in the state tournament. The three titles matched Palmetto Ridge for the most individual titles by a single Class 3A school.
As the first Kowboy to wrestle in the finals, it was Heap that officially extended the streak – defeating Northport’s Sean-Michael Gonzalez by second period pin. It was a rematch of last week’s Region 2 Final, also won by Heap, 10-4.
“When you wrestle someone you have already beaten during the year, it does give you a little confidence,” Heap, who went to 50-5 with the win. “But at the same time, I remember the tremendous disappointment I felt last year when I lost in the finals. I just did not want to experience that feeling again.”
Two matches later, Osceola had its second championship on the night when Cooper Haase pinned Riverview’s Nikolas Hernandez in the final. Haase dominated his opponents in the state tournament, winning three of his matches by pin and was close to a technical fall over Harmony’s JC McNichols before winning by injury default in the third period.
“Cooper is just a technician,” Bird said. “No one works harder, studies his opponents and strives to get better every time out.”
Haase, who went to 50-3 on the season, was happy with his third title but seemed more excited about Heap’s win. “He’s my brother and my training partner,” he said. “It was so exciting to watch him win a state championship. We constantly push each other to get better.”
The Kowboys would then complete their finals sweep with Holland’s win. Of the 13 other Class 3A state champions, none had suffered more than five losses this season. Holland came into the state tournament as a second place region finisher with 10 losses. In addition, three wrestlers in the 16-team bracket had posted wins over Holland during the season.
That didn’t seem to matter, as Holland went 4-0 in the tournament, beating Hagerty’s Kamdon Harrison in the finals, 3-0. Along the way, Holland did not give up a single point in the entire tournament, defeating Flagler’s Bryce Dodge in the opening round (16-0), South Dade’s Cordell White in the second round (3-0) and Northport’s Vincent Donatelle in the semifinals (4-0). “Given how tough the 160-lb. bracket is, not giving up a single point in the tournament is a remarkable feat,” Bird added. “There’s just some about Gunner’s will to win and his tenacity. When it comes to this tournament, he just doesn’t believe losing is in the equation.”
“We wrestle tough tournaments all year getting ready for states,” Holland said. “For me, it takes a while to go from football shape to wrestling shape. I’ll lose some during the regular season but mentally, when we get to this tournament, I believe I am going to be the best.”
All three wrestlers will return next year for Bird, with both Heap and Holland having two years of eligibility left. Heap becomes the 17 th different Kowboys wrestler to win a state championship in the Bird Era. Those 17 grapplers have won a total of 32 state championships.
“Osceola Wrestling has been able to build a great tradition and we were able to continue it this year,” Bird said. “It’s exciting to think all three of these guys will be back next year.”
Harmony, which finished 5 th in the Class 3A with 72 team points, sent 10 wrestlers to the state championship — the most of any county school. Nelson Toro was the top Longhorn finisher with a second place showing at 220. In addition to Toro, J.C. Nichols (50-3) capped a fine season by finishing fourth at 138-lbs. Nichols won his first two matches of the tournament, before dropping a semifinal decision to Haase. He then was pinned by Southwest’s Danny Martinez, a defending state champion, in the third place match. Rey Ortiz also reached the podium for Harmony in the 126-lb. weight class. Ortiz went 4-2 on the weekend, beating Wellington’s Sam Marvel (5-2) in the fifth place match; while Caden Gayle (25-10) placed 7th at 285.
“I think as a coach you always have higher expectations, but we did a lot of good things this week. Ten to the tournament, four on the podium, and a top five team finish is a good showing. We’re a young team and will have six of these guys back next year so we will continue to work and get better,” Harmony coach Vic Lorenzano said.
Osceola County’s other all-state finishers included Liberty’s Brainys Robles (2 nd , 2A, 285) and Celebration’s Charles McBroom (6 th , 3A, 152).
In addition to the boys tournament, the FHSAA also conducted the first sanctioned girls tournament in state history. Celebration’s Hayeni Costa (20-2) was the highest county finisher, making the finals at 170 where she was pinned by Mosely’s Henlee Haynes. Three other county wrestlers earned all-state honors. Gateway placed two wrestlers on the podium as Lily Yambor (33-4) took fourth place at 170-lbs. and teammate Emiliana Martinez (18-7) was the sixth place winner; while Osceola’s Kellianna Mack (31- 16) was fifth in the 125-lb. division.