PALM HARBOR — Palm Harbor University High School’s wrestling’s steady ascension continued last weekend.
Last year’s fifth-place Class 3A finisher at states took a confidence-boosting step by winning the prestigious Knockout Christmas Classic hosted by budding rival Kissimmee Osceola High. In the process, PHU took out two of its likely top competitors at the meet, Osceola and Homestead South Dade.
“That was huge. We had a good day,” PHU Coach Brad Sakevich said, quickly following it up with a critique. “I don’t think we wrestled our best, though. Some individuals wrestled really well but I think we left some points on the board.”
If that’s the case, PHU has itself in a quality position with a month of prep time remaining until districts.
The Knockout is a premier event that attracts many of the state’s top programs, in addition to a few out-of-state powers. If the ’Canes are able to come out on top of that loaded field while giving a somewhat flawed performance, a first-ever state championship is an attainable goal for which to strive.
Leading the charge last weekend was PHU’s usual suspects: Connor and Jared Prince. Seniors Aaron Hartman and Tim Sakow earned second-place finishes as nine total wrestlers placed.
Connor Prince’s 11-0 major decision domination of rival Justin Ramirez (South Dade) at 132 pounds provided the final nudge in points that kept PHU on top of Osceola for an eventual 182.5-180 win.
Ramirez defeated Prince in the 126-pound state semis last year, but Prince continued exacting his revenge by beating Ramirez for a second straight time this year.
“Connor’s been lights-out, he’s been nails,” Sakevich said. “I would say up to this point in the season he’s been our most outstanding wrestler so far.”
Connor’s twin brother Jared, PHU’s first-ever state champion last year, continued to show why he’s the state’s top 126-pounder with a commanding win over South Dade’s Maleek Williams.
PHU’s typical run of challenging early-to-mid-season meets continues this weekend in south Florida. The ’Canes travel to Naples for the annual Buzz Hill Invitational. Another top Class 3A competitor, Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas, will be present and Jared Prince will get to tangle with Dalton Macri, a Pennsylvania wrestler from Canon-McMillen High School ranked in the top 10 nationally.
For PHU to match or top last week’s act, consistency is the name of the game, Sakevich said.
“You’ve got to get the consistency and you need place winners,” he said. “It’s been this way since day one. We have a couple really good wrestlers in Connor and Jared and Aaron Hartman and then the rest of the kids have to do their jobs. It’s a total team effort.”