Capturing a wrestling state championship requires an incredible amount of mental fortitude all by itself.
But under the circumstances Springstead senior Richie Rivera faced during the Class 2A FHSAA Finals at Silver Spurs Arena in Kissimmee, his accomplishment of placing first at 113 pounds had his coach Bob Levija repeating one word over and over.
“It was amazing,” Levija said. “It was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever experienced, that he could stay that focused and wrestled the way he did.
“He wrecked everybody. He was just really on.”
It would have been perfectly understandable if Rivera had been distracted through the two-day tournament. Shortly after the Eagles arrived in Kissimmee on Thursday, assistant coach and Richie’s father Richard Rivera was taken to a nearby hospital after suffering a stroke.
After spending much of Thursday night at his father’s bedside, Rivera competed on Friday, defeating Niceville’s Dominic Cerillo by technical fall, 16-0, and Fort Myers-Riverdale’s Lleyton Taylor, 5-0.
He would return to the hospital that night, then on Saturday dominated Jensen Beach’s Wyatt Kirkham in the semifinals, 11-1. That set up a final with Brandon’s Trey Lane, who won a state championship at 106 pounds a year ago. Rivera ended the bout with a pin at 5:06.
Following his victory, Rivera went back to the hospital to show his father his gold medal, Levija said. Attempts to reach Rivera by cell phone were unsuccessful. Levija did not have an immediate update on Richard Rivera’s condition.
The coach admitted that the team as a whole was impacted by the elder Rivera’s hospitalization. None of the Eagles’ remaining six state qualifiers placed, though all won at least one match. Ean Morales (138 pounds) and Charles Roche (145) each went 2-2. Thomas McCane (106), Chase Landgraff (160), Travis Williams (170) and Trenton Shenefield (195) all wound up 1-2.
Springstead finished 12th in the team standings with 42 points. After winning a district title and taking third in their region behind eventual state champion and runner-up Brandon and Lakeland-Lake Gibson, celebrating an individual state winner was a nice cap to what began as a tumultuous season.
“The kids hung tough. They had two different coaches this year. I kind of came in late,” said Levija, who came out of retirement after the program’s offseason hire fell through. “The kids just really progressed and just got so much better as the year went on. I’m really proud of what they did.”
The county did have one other placer, Nature Coast senior Jordan Gibson, who took fourth in 1A at 160. Gibson collected a 5-3 victory over St. Augustine-Pedro Menendez’s Max Worthington in the first round and beat Jake Ross from Bradenton-St. Stephen’s Episcopal School, 5-1.
Osvani Ley from Fort Lauderdale-Cardinal Gibbons knocked off Gibson in the semifinals by major decision, 18-5, then the Shark grappler rebounded with a 2-1 nod over Key West’s Jodael Deralus via tiebreaker. In the consolation final, Gibson lost to Orlando-Bishop Moore Catholic’s Brad Kata, 5-2.
Nature Coast’s only other state qualifier, Michael Weston at 220, went 0-2. Meanwhile, senior Codey Maniates produced the best showing among the contingent from Hernando High, going 2-2. Josh Hulse (120), Dakota Ellerbee (132), Devin Dennis (170) and Harry Williams (182) each went 1-2 for the Leopards. Fernando Valdez was 0-2 at 195.
Hunter Gibson posted a 1-2 mark for Weeki Wachee. Teammates Devin Horton (106) and Joshua Coley (152) were 0-2. Central’s Foster Hawthorne had a 1-2 tournament at 182.
Follow Chris Bernhardt Jr. on Twitter @cpbernhardtjr.