BRADENTON -- To finally make history on the mat, Bradenton Christian needed an eighth-grader. The Panthers had sent three wrestlers to the region tournament during their first two seasons, but until Saturday's Class 1A-District 11 they had never boasted a district champion.
The young BCS program has never had much of a veteran presence, so it doesn't matter how old Alan Morano is. With four years of wrestling experience, he's a veteran and a fitting recipient for Bradenton Christian's first district title.
"He's such a strong competitor and he's got such a solid foundation," head coach Jonathan Kliewer said. "He's going to have a lot of success for future years, barring injury or something stupid like that."
At 113 pounds, Morano is the centerpiece of a breakthrough season for the Panthers. BCS is sending three wrestlers to the Class 1A-Region 3 tournament in Fort Myers -- Zach Mayer at 145 will make his second straight appearance and Masen Foss at
285 will make his first -- to double the total it sent during its first two seasons.
The region tournament begins Friday at Evangelical Christian School with preliminary rounds and will conclude Saturday with finals scheduled for 6 p.m. Southeast, Bayshore and Saint Stephen's will be represented at the region tournament, as well.
Randy Torres (113 pounds), Emanuel Miril (132), Greg Jackson (145), Jonathan Locke (152), Stephen Kelle (170), Sidney Douglas (182) and Darrien Grant (195) are the seven wrestlers representing the Seminoles. Shawn Adkins (113), James Russell (126) and Trevon Yingling (152) will represent the Bruins. Jacob Manning (106), Maxwell Manning (132) and Parker Lansberg are the three Falcons.
The top four finishers in each weight class advance to the Class 1A final March 4 in Kissimmee.
"This is our first legitimate run at state," Kliewer said. "I think all our guys have a legitimate chance at getting past region."
Morano has the best chance and already has produced the most successful season in Bradenton Christian's brief wrestling history. Until this season, the Panthers were forced to split its meets evenly between varsity and junior varsity events. BCS didn't have the numbers to consistently compete at the varsity level and didn't have the experienced wrestlers to justify taking the consistent beatings.
Bradenton Christian still has only five wrestlers in the program, but competed as a varsity team in all but two events. Kliewer had quality wrestlers in Morano, Mayer and Foss and had to push them.
"We literally opened up the schedule and found where the hardest competition was," Kliewer said. "We were going to travel however far it was."
Morano placed in the top five of every tournament the Panthers competed in and all but one of his losses were to opponents Kliewer expects to place at state in either Class 2A or 3A.
Still, he went to the district meet as a dark horse, unranked in the state and younger than almost everyone else in Largo. He attacked the meet with ease, dropping points only when he let his opponent free intentionally.
"He's kind of a low-pressure kid," said his father Alan Morano Sr. "No one's going to say, 'Hey what'd you do your eighth-grade year?'"
David Wilson, Herald sports writer, can be contacted at 941-745-7057 or on Twitter @DBWilson2.