District wrestling tournaments begin at three locations in Polk County this week and wrestlers finishing in the top four in any of the 14 weight divisions will advance to the regional tournaments

LAKELAND — It’s that time of year when wrestlers don’t need to win a title but rather just advance.

District wrestling tournaments begin at three locations in Polk County this week and wrestlers finishing in the top four in any of the 14 weight divisions will advance to the regional tournaments.

A top-four finish at the regional meet will give a wrestler the much-coveted FHSAA state finals berth slated for March 2-3 at Silver Spurs Arena in Kissimmee.

Wrestling will begin locally Friday at Victory Christian for the Class 1A, District 9 tournament and then on Saturday at the District 3A-6 meet held at George Jenkins and the District 2A-7 meet at Lake Gibson.

Here’s a look at all three districts.

Class 3A, District 6

Jenkins, Lakeland look to stop Strawberry Crest

Wrestling will begin at 10 a.m., finals at 1:30 p.m.

Strawberry Crest (235) won the 2017 District 6 championship while the best Polk County finishes were third-place George Jenkins (103) and fourth-place Lakeland (86.5).

Lakeland is bringing 12 wrestlers to the district tournament and head coach Michael Farley is hoping to qualify six for regional competition, among them are Gabriel Leach (106), Carter Willis (113), Clay Carey (160), James Halman (195) and Tanner Howe (220).

“That would be half our team and that would be good for us,” Farley said. “Looking at the weight classes, we expect Tanner to get to state and then there are other opportunities. We will just have to see how we wrestle.”

George Jenkins head coach Jason Heath said he is expecting to have four or five district champions this weekend but he is worried about Strawberry Crest because he has not seen them wrestle this year.

Heath is looking for Dez Flowers, who was a fourth-place finisher at the last year’s district meet in the 160-pound bracket to qualify for state at 170, and Donovan Barger, another fourth-place district finisher at 145, along with 220-pound district runner-up Noah Konazewski to push through to the state meet. He also predicts Parker Baum to win the district title at 106 and move deeper into the postseason.

“(Konazewski) has had a few injuries. He is banged up,” Heath said.

Heath is also looking for Lorenzo Brown (120) and Sloan Cullifer (182) to make a push for a state berth.

Kathleen senior Jaylon Andrews is 38-4 and was the county runner-up at 132 along with county third-place finisher Craig Mooring at 152. Look for both to qualify for regionals.

Class 2A, District 7

Lake Gibson looks for a three-peat

Wrestling will begin at 10:30 a.m., finals at 2:30 p.m.

Lake Gibson won the District 7 championship last year for the second consecutive season, racking up 231 points to nip runner-up and eventual state champion Brandon (225). Actually, Brandon came back to win the state championship after losing the past two district tournaments to Lake Gibson and has won 16 consecutive state championships.

The Braves are also coming off their first state championship in the program’s history after winning the first FHSAA Duals state meet in January and eliminating Brandon during the regional final.

“I am sure there is no lack of motivation over there,” Lake Gibson head coach Danny Walker said. “They are already a great program and have a great coach (Russ Cozar) and great alumni. We expect them to wrestle us a great as they do any other time. We expect them to come just as hard as they did a few weeks ago, if not more.”

Walker said there could be as many as 10 Lake Gibson verses Brandon head-to-head matches in the finals or semifinals at the meet.

“Winning those is going to be the key to who walks out of there with the district title,” Walker said.

Winter Haven finished fifth last year and Auburndale was seventh at the district meet. Top Blue Devils to watch are Brennan Byrd (126) and Ethan Endres (170).

Auburndale key wrestlers include Robert Lamothe (120), Darren Crooms (126), Tanner Crichton (138), Hunter Crichton (152), Josh Tillinger (182) and Tristan Middlebrook (220).

Class 1A, District 9

Victory hosts its first district tournament

Wrestling will begin at noon, finals at 6 p.m.

Victory (120) only had seven wrestlers a year ago yet finished third, just three points behind district champion Avon Park (123) and runner-up Lake Wales (122.50)

The Storm, which produced their first medalists in the program’s history last season, are hoping to push Cade Smith (170), Stetson Smith (195), Zack Wendle (182) and Marckeith Holloway (285) through to the state tournament.

“We will almost have to wrestle perfect to be competitive. Smith (33-3) is probably the favorite to win 1A at this point,” said Victory head coach Adam AnWilliams, after his county championship match loss to Lake Gibson senior De’Yaveyun Joseph on Saturday. “We wanted this match for preparation and I kind of wanted to see it.”

Tenoroc, which finished in seventh place last year, is now under the direction of Anthony Cerullo, and is bringing 11 wrestlers to the district tournament. The coach is hoping to qualify nine wrestlers for the regional tournament Feb. 23-24 at George Jenkins.

“If the nine fall where they should be, we should be taking home a trophy,” Cerullo said. “I think we can push for four but most likely three through to state.”

Also, look for McKeel Academy freshman Cody Brown (113) and Lake Wales’ senior Lucny Jean (220) – both county runner-ups – to make a strong push for the state tournament.

Some solid Mulberry wrestlers to watch are Marcos Pecina (145), Christian Dangle (160), Terren Hicks (170) and Willie Lampkin (285), who was the county champion.

- Bill Kemp can be reached at Bill.Kemp@newschief.com; follow him on Twitter @BillKempSports