KISSIMMEE -- Andrew Gugliemini has a trajectory he likes his wrestlers to be on at Manatee. The head coach wants his future "studs" to be at the state meet by their sophomore year and placing as juniors to set up title contention during their final seasons in Bradenton.
Without any seniors at the Class 3A tournament this year, Gugliemini and the Hurricanes focused on pushing his juniors along the path. Marshall Craig was the most obvious contender. The 113-pound junior expected to place and had a chance to challenge for something more than a sixth-place finish.
On Saturday at Silver Spurs Arena, Craig won a bronze medal. He and Braden River's Chance Sharbono, who competed at 138 pounds Class 2A, were the only two Manatee County wrestlers to net top-three finishes.
"We knew he was good and we knew he was state place winner good," Gugliemini said of Craig. "To come out in third--we'll take that. That's outstanding. He beat some good guys along the way."
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Craig and Sharbono were the county's best at the state
tournament in Kissimmee. Nine area wrestlers reached the second day of the tournament, which began Friday at Osceola Heritage Park, and five reached the podium. Craig and Sharbono were the only two who concluded their weekend with a victory, each winning their third-place match to win bronze. Craig beat Lake Mary's Jeremiah Costen, 4-2, and Sharbono pinned Miami Springs' David Sanchez during the second period.
Southeast's Stephen Kelle, a 170-pound junior, was the only other area wrestler to reach a third-place match, where he lost to Fort Lauderdale Cardinal Gibbons' Julian Georgescu, 10-4, to take fourth in Class 1A. Charles Small, a 145-pound junior for the Canes, finished sixth in 3A after a 9-4 loss to Palm Coast Flagler's Evyn Insalaco in the fifth-place match and Bradenton Christian's Alan Morano, a 113-pound eighth-grader, took sixth in 1A after 5-4 loss to Englewood Lemon Bay's Albert Werden in his fifth-place bout.
Two more Seminoles, another Cane and one from Lakewood Ranch failed to place after reaching the final day of competition. Manatee led all area teams with a team score of 26. The Noles checked in right behind at 25 and Sharbono scored 17 himself for the Pirates. Orlando Lake Highland Prep, a 1A program, was the overall team champion with 283 points.
The curve Craig -- and Sharbono -- is following has worked well recently for the Hurricanes. Jesse Fulk completed the path with a state title last year and Gugliemini expected it of Caleb Rudisill this year until the senior tore his ACL.
Craig won a first-round match last year before washing out on the first day. Craig, ranked No. 6 at his weight in 3A by Scout.com won twice on Friday to clinch his first top-six finish before stumbling to a five-point loss against Miami Southwest Miami's Angel Perez in Saturday's semifinal, and regrouping for two more wins and a bronze medal.
"I just sat with my coaches and played some music, and just tried to get my mind right," said Craig, who also won district and region titles this season. "My main goal was to be in the finals and become a state champ, but after my loss in the semis I just knew I got to get back to it."
Sharbono slipped earlier during the tournament, losing in the second round Friday to Wesley Chapel's Emmanuel Torres. He needed four straight wins, including one he picked up later Friday, to finish third and two in a row to even guarantee a place for the first time.
He began Saturday with a rout and then a narrow victory to ensure a top-four finish. He quickly seized control of the third-place match with only a blood stoppage preventing him from a chance to pin during the first period. Twenty-two seconds into the second, Sharbono clinched the bronze medal with a pin.
Sharbono, who entered state ranked No. 2, was dominant or close to it in every match but the stunning upset he suffered against Torres, who wound up finishing fifth. Two wins Friday would have given Sharbono a shot at Brandon senior Frankie Bruno, who won the state title Saturday. Instead, Sharbono and Craig will return for their senior years a step away from winning state championships.
"I can't not wrestle to my standards," Sharbono said. "Things could have gone either way, I could've had a couple more wins. All in all, 61-6 is pretty good."
David Wilson, Herald sports writer, can be contacted at 941-745-7057 or on Twitter @DBWilson2.