The Venice High School wrestling team will once again represent at this week’s Class 2A state tournament, with three wrestlers and two Stones — just like last year.
Only this time there will be a different Stone, freshman Jack, who reached the Region 2A-3 championship match Saturday at the Wally Keller Gymnasium, the only Indian to do so.
There to cheer him on will be sister Lauren, who will wrestle in states for the second straight year at 106 pounds, and Gage Tippman, who wrestles at 152.
After winning his first two matches Friday, Stone defeated Caleb Massari of Fort Myers in the semifinals, 6-2, to reach the finals against Brennan Van Hoecke of Palmetto Ridge.
There, he learned a very valuable lesson at the hands of his fellow freshman.
“I learned not to try risky moves in the first period of a title match when it’s 0-0. I was trying to hit a broomstick and he caught me. It happens,” Stone said.
Despite that, it was a great weekend and season for Stone, who went 42-6 in his first high school season.
“This isn’t the end goal. States is. And I’m trying to get on that podium. It’s great growing up in a wrestling family. It’s a lot to live up to,” Stone said.
Lauren, who wrestles Jack all the time, had the toughest route to states after losing her second match — having to win three wrestle backs to get to the blood round, where she beat John Vadyak, 5-0, to punch her ticket.
“I just tried as hard as I could every single match,” Lauren Stone said. “Losing the second match was hard, but (Palmetto Ridge’s Cullen) Guerrero is a good wrestler. I didn’t beat myself up about it. I went back out there and kept wrestling.”
Tippman got through his first two matches, but hit a stone wall in eventual regional champion Lucas Willis of Charlotte, sending him to the blood round.
There, the junior defeated Ronald Fritz of East Lake, 7-1, then beat Cory Cannan of Barron Collier, 8-2, in the third-place match to reach his first state tournament, thanks to an interesting strategy he employs.
“I don’t look at the brackets before I wrestle and it definitely helped me. Some wrestlers psych themselves out when they see records, think they shouldn’t beat them, and it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy,” Tippman said. “I’m super stoked. The coaches have worked me hard, and going with the Stones will be great.”
There were some close calls, such as Shane Conway (126), Chris Wozniak (132) and Jack Marble (220) getting bounced in the blood round. Still, Venice coach Pat Ryan said he was pleased by the team’s overall performance.
“It’s exciting to have two Stones going again and having a freshman in the finals. We didn’t like the outcome, but it’s a very hard tournament,” Ryan said. “Gage had a great weekend, whistle to whistle. My kids busted their tails all season and deserve it as much as the other kids.”