By DAVID B. WILSON
LAKEWOOD RANCH -- The number of football players at wrestling tryouts is never enough for Pat Ancil, particularly in the higher weight classes. For whatever reason, linemen and linebackers don't flock to Ancil's program at Lakewood Ranch High School, so the coach has to be proactive.
During one of Ancil's scouting trips to football practice in 2014, Chase Sharp caught his eye. The then-freshman linebacker had the physical tools and athletic ability Ancil searches for. In the middle of the winter, Sharp showed up for the second half of wrestling season.
"The sky's the limit for him," Ancil said. "He picks things up quickly."
Sharp, who is also a gifted lacrosse player and weightlifter, was advanced for his age and experience level. As soon as he joined Ranch, he became one of the Mustangs' most promising wrestlers, pushing teammates for playing time. In the year since Sharp arrived, Ancil has watched wrestler after wrestler reach a moment of clarity and understanding. The part of the roster that had long been thin is now loaded, and this depth has elevated Lakewood Ranch early in the season.
"This year the upper weights have established themselves a little more," said Nate Lancaster, who wrestles at 220 pounds. "It's like a light bulb just clicked on in all of our heads."
Today's Mustang Duals at Lakewood Ranch (starting at 9:15 a.m.) pose the next test. Braden River is the only oth
er Manatee County team in the eight-team field, which is completed by Tampa Jesuit, Sarasota Booker, Gulfport Boca Ciega, Fort Myers Evangelical Christian, Sebring and Rockledge.
In last Saturday's Spiegel Memorial Invitational Tournament in Sebring, Sharp finished second at 195 pounds while Lancaster, senior Luis Tremblay-Vidal (170) and junior Logan Bounds (182) added top-four finishes. Sharp, however, will not compete today because of a lacrosse obligation. Bounds is questionable with an ear injury.
All four of the Mustangs' emergent upper-weight-class wrestlers turned a corner during the summer when the team emphasized power lifting. Technique began to come naturally as wrestlers moved into their third, fourth or fifth seasons. Strength and conditioning has come by design.
Typically before practice, boys weightlifting coach Jake Sponsel works with Ranch for about half an hour. Once practice starts, Ancil and assistant coach Craig Reed emphasize competition between teammates to foster a more aggressive style of wrestling.
"They've really spiked up the intensity and made us push ourselves," Sharp said. "It just raises the whole team's skill level."
As a result, Lancaster went into his first match of the season more confident in his ability and proactive on the mat. After 30 seconds, Lancaster scored a first-period pin in his season debut. It was a reversal of his 15 freshman losses by first-period pin, and it confirmed Lakewood Ranch's plan was working.
The Mustangs finished 15th in 3A last year when Hunter Reed and Dylan Cameron finished in the top four at the state tournament. Ranch doesn't have to lean strictly on its two small wrestlers this year. As the wrestlers get bigger, so does Lakewood Ranch's depth.
"We've definitely added a lot more guys this year than we had in previous years," Reed said. "They're finally starting to get a feel for the mats. They're starting to trust it more and they're starting to trust their own ability more.
"This year they're definitely picking it up. They look a whole lot more confident in themselves."