BROOKSVILLE – A total of 14 seasons have gone by since Bob Levija last guided the Springstead wrestling team through a regular-season tournament.
On Friday and Saturday at Hernando High, the Hall of Fame mentor was once again at the helm of the vaunted program he built and cultivated for 23 seasons, and the Eagles nearly hoisted a championship trophy in the process.
Springstead ended the 35th annual Kiwanis Invitational with 138 team points, an agonizing 1.5 behind first-place Tampa-Robinson at 139.5.
“Disappointed. We were right there to win it,” Levija said. “We wrestled up and down. We wrestled good at times, and then we wrestled not so good at times.
“We’re the only team that didn’t have any matches. We had no evaluation to go by. We’re at a place where we can go now and evaluate and see where we’re going to go.”
Levija, who compiled a 318-30-1 record, plus 14 conference, 17 district and six region titles during his original tenure as head coach which ended in 2002, retired as both a teacher and athletic director at the end of the last school year. But when the school had issues filling its wrestling post, it turned back the clock and temporarily brought Levija back in the fold.
The Eagles had a chance to claim a team title heading into Saturday evening’s championship finals, trailing Robinson by 4.5 points but with three finalists compared to one for the Knights.
However, Springstead ended up with one individual champion, as senior Travis Williams went 5-0 with three pins at 170 pounds. He defeated Josh Hagan of Citrus in the final, 7-0.
“Feels pretty good. Overall I think I did pretty solid throughout the entire tournament. There’s little things I’ve got to tweak here and there. That’s what’s going to get me on the podium,” Williams said. “Just wrestling basics, sticking to what’s taught to me, and just wrestling each match, match by match.”
Tom McCane reached the 106 finale, falling to Jonathan Conrad from Tampa-Carrollwood Day, 6-2. Richie Rivera was also a runner-up, at 113, losing to Orlando-Boone’s Jayden Bradshaw in the finals, getting pinned in 3:01.
“This is going to give us some good momentum. Put our names out there,” Williams said. “This is the first tournament. Wrestled somewhat sloppy here and there, but overall really great. We’re just going to come back and keep getting better.”
For host Hernando, which finished fifth with 126 points, the highlight was senior Codey Maniates making the most of his final Kiwanis appearance with a championship run at 152.
After winning his first three matches, two by pin fall, to reach the finals, he won 7-5 over Lake Highland Prep’s Logan Andrew with a two-point switch in the waning seconds.
“There’s so much stuff going through my mind right now. I practiced super hard for this,” said Maniates, who immediately pointed toward his mother in the crowd at the end of the match. “I told my coaches from the very first time I stepped in here as a freshman, I said ‘I want to win it.’ It’s my senior year, it’s my last chance. I had to come here and gave it my all, and I took gold.
“I have a lot of fans here and my mom was sitting there watching me. She can’t make it all the time, but she made sure she could make this one for me for senior year. I just did it all for her.”
Demarcus Munford at 160 and Harry Williams at 182 both came in fourth for the Leopards.
Hunter Gibson from Weeki Wachee placed second at 138, as the Hornets were 15th with 83 points. Patrick Webb-Melton was fourth at 170. Nature Coast was 17th at 66 points, with Jordan Gibson placing second at 160.
Follow Chris Bernhardt Jr. on Twitter @cpbernhardtjr.