By:  J. Daniel Pearson
For Positively Osceola

Make no mistake about it.  The Knockout Christmas Classic has become one of the premiere high school wrestling tournaments in the country. Evidence comes from the fact that the 10th annual event, which concluded at Osceola’s Silver Spurs Arena on Thursday, featured 63 teams from 11 states and 53 individual defending state champions.

So it’s understandable why Osceola coach Rick Tribit was more than pleased that three his wrestlers advanced to the finals of the Classic and two of those athletes – Anderson Heap (145) and Cooper Haase (152) ended up as Classic Champions.  A third Kowboys wrestler, Gunner Holland (170), finished second.

“I’m not only extremely proud of our three finalists and two champions but I am also proud of our entire team,” Head Coach Rick Tribit said following the event.  “To get three guys to the finals in a tournament of this magnitude is a great achievement, but I am also so proud of how the entire team wrestled.  We won a lot of matches the last two days against a great field and we had some guys who wrestled their tails off and made tremendous progress which will give us a lot of confidence moving forward.”

Haase, who is attempting to become just the second wrestler in Osceola’s storied history to win four state championships, dominated his class in going 6-0 during the tournament .

He took a decisive a decisive 13-5 win over Lake Gibson’s Gianni Maldonaldo in the championship match to run his season record to 17-0.  Haase won his first three matches via pin fall, before defeating Jensen Beach’s Dylan Fox by technical fall in the quarterfinals (23-4) and then taking an 11-3 major decision over Devin Stone in the semifinals.  Stone, the 7A Georgia state champion from Thompson High, was 17-0 heading into the match with Haase.

“I sort of felt Maldonaldo would try to force the action in the finals and he did,” Haase said.  “I was able to counter his moves.  The plan was to get the takedowns and pile up points.  All five of Maldonaldo’s points came on escapes that Haase did not contest. “I really have a hard time describing Cooper,” Tribit said.  “He is just so elusive on the mat and opponents really have a hard time dealing with him.  On top of that, nothing ever seems to bother him.”

Haase’s win is his first in the Knockout Classic after a second place finish last year.

Heap’s win was equally impressive as he beat an outstanding competitor in his final – edging two-time Georgia 5A state runner-up Tyler McKnight (Cass High School) in the finals, 8-5. The two battled to a 5-5 tie through two periods, before Heap got an escape and a match-clinching takedown in the final minute.

“I just stuck with my game plan,” Heap said.  “He (McKnight) is a really good wrestler and I just had to be patient and I was able to hit my shot at the end.”  Anderson was not challenged in the first four rounds, reaching the finals with a 9-2 decision over Jay Eversole (Lakeway Christian, Tennessee) in the quarterfinals and a 13-4 major decision over Jace Parent (St. Francis, Ga.) in the semifinals.

Osceola’s bid to be the only team to post three individual champions came up just short when Gunner Holland lost in the 170-pound final to Winter Springs’ Elijah Panton, 4-2.  Holland also came into the finals undefeated at 13-0 and was the second seed in the weight class.  The two wrestled to 0-0 standoff in the first period, with Holland picking up an escape and Penton gaining a penalty point as the match was tied 1-1 through two periods.  Penton got an escape midway through the third period and took Holland down on a single leg attack to go up 4-1.  Holland got an escape but Penton fought off several takedown attempts in the final 30 seconds to hold on for the 4-2 win.

“Gunner just got out of football and is nowhere near as good as he will be in another month or two,” Tribit said. “He lost a tough one tonight, but there’s no doubt in my mind he will rebound.”

Even with the Holland loss, the Kowboys joined Mill Creek (Georgia) as the only two teams to post multiple champions (2 each) in the prestigious tournament.  South Dade – the defending 3A Florida champion – won the team title with 206 points.  2A Florida Champion Lake Gibson was second at 156.5 points; and 1A Florida Champion Jensen Beach was third with 145.0.  Cass, Ga. (140.5) and Mill Creek, Ga. (138.0) rounded out the top five.  Osceola (123.5) was seventh; while Winter Springs (68) finished in a tie for 24th place.

In addition to the boys’ tournament, 85 schools sent girl wrestlers to the Knockout Christmas.  No team score was kept, but Osceola, Harmony, Gateway and St. Cloud all had representatives.  Osceola’s Kealoni Vega took first place in the 100-lb. weight class; while Cathia Thomas was 4th at 140.  Gateway’s Emiliana Martinez went 5-2 in the tournament to capture 4th place at 170-pounds.


Championship Round Results

106:  Andrew Punzalan (Cypress Bay) 25-1, Sr. over DJ Clarke (Buford, Ga.) 20-2, Fr. (Dec 5-2)

113:  Antonio Mills (Mill Creek, Ga.) 23-0, Fr. over Tyler Washburn (Palmetto Ridge) 14-4, Sr. (Dec 4-1)

120:  Sebastian Degennaro (Jensen Bch.) 6-0, So. Over Christian Fretwell (Lake Gibson) 4-1, So. (Dec 5-0)

126:  Jake Crapps (Cass,Ga.) 17-0, Jr. over Jarvis Little (Summit, Tenn.) 19-4, Jr. (Dec 9-3)

132:  Gunner Andrick (Pt. Pleasant, WV) 20-3, So. over Amantee Mills (Mill Creek, Ga.) 26-2, Sr. (Dec 7-2)

138:  Drew Gorman (Buford, GA) 22-0, So. over EJ Solis (South Dade) 14-1, So. (MD 10-1)

145:  Anderson Heap (Osceola) 16-0, Jr. over Tyler McKnight (Cass, Ga.) 17-1, Sr. (Dec 8-5)

152:  Cooper Haase (Osceola) 17-0, Sr. over Gianni Maldonado (Lake Gibson) 4-1, Jr. (MD 13-5)

160:  Dominic Bambinelli (Mill Creek, Ga.) 28-0, So. over Christopher Minto (Mariner) 16-1, Sr. (Dec 4-3)

170:   Elijah Penton (Winter Springs) 17-0, Jr. over Gunner Holland (Osceola) 13-1, Jr. (Dec 4-2)

182:  Frank Solorzano (Lake Gibson) 5-0, Sr. over Zach Weidler (Cypress Bay) 17-1, Sr. (Dec 3-1)

195:  Brian Burburija (Countryside) 6-0, Sr. over Luke Cochran (Jefferson, Ga.) 21-1, Sr. (Dec 10-6)

220:  Sawyer Bartelt (South Dade) 12-0, Jr. over Bryson Getz (ST VINCENT, OH) 36-8, Sr. (Fall 0:41)

285:  John Levy (Carrollton, Ga.) 6-0, So. over Caleb Rodriguez (First Baptist-Naples) 4-1, Fr. (Dec 4-2)