The inevitability of a season cut short for Hunter Reed set in before he even made it to the weigh in at Class 3A-Region 2 championship in Kissimmee. He had spent the week battling a flu-like illness and even attempting to make weight at Osceola High School was a fruitless idea. He had to move on.
He had to move on from the idea of medalling at the state championship for a third straight season.
He had to move on from his best shot yet at winning a state title.
He had to move on from his unbeaten junior season at Lakewood Ranch.
There was another tournament on the horizon, and he had to be healthy for a trip to Virginia Beach, Va., where he would get a crack at the National High School Coaches Association National Wrestling Championships in April, only a few weeks after he should’ve been standing on the Florida medal stand for the third straight season.
“I was going to get healthy and then train for nationals,” Reed said. “I made up for it.”
Reed, who wrestled at 126 pounds rather than in the 120-pound weight class he competed in for the Mustangs as a junior, rolled to the quarterfinals with four wins and took eighth place in Virginia. The other five Floridians in the division combined to win two matches.
A year later, Reed can’t help feeling some pressure as Lakewood Ranch’s postseason begins with the Class 3A-District 8 tournament Friday at 11 a.m. in Palm Harbor. A silver and bronze state medal from his first two seasons with Lakewood Ranch could use a gold to go with them, and the next few weeks will be the final chance to fill his trophy case.
“I wanted to make sure, walking in this year, we did everything different, made sure I stayed healthy, made sure I wasn’t hurt and all that,” Reed said. “That was the main difference this year. We made sure everything was healthy and the best physical condition I could be in.”
The simplest change was a jump in weight. Reed was the Manatee County champion in the 132 weight class Saturday and will wrestle at that weight into the postseason — a two-class jump from the weight he missed last season.
The bulk of his attention otherwise went to being 100 percent healty for the Class 3A postseason. It’s not exaggeration to call his junior season was a true missed opportunity. He boasted a 62-0 record entering the region tournament. A poll run on Scout.com’s Florida wrestling forum pegged him as the No. 2 grappler in his weight class at the time. He seemed to be Manatee County’s best chance at a state champion.
“I was pretty confident in how it was going to go,” Reed said, “but things come up at the worst time.”
Reed only had one obvious vulnerability on the mat. His neutral game was one-dimensional — an all-offense setup which left him susceptible to opponents shooting at him to counter an overly ambitious wrestler. First-year head coach Tyler Small had the fix.
Small, who qualified for the NCAA tournament three times during his career at Kent State from 2010-2015, brought a different set of eyes to examine to the state title hopeful and could provide new insights, particularly for Reed’s neutral position. During his career, Small excelled when working out of the position.
Small arrived in Florida before this season not knowing what to expect about wrestling in a state dominated by football, baseball and tennis. Reed quickly colored his first impressions — the chance to step in with a perennial state contender in time for his final shot at a championship doesn’t come often. In less than a year of working with him, it’s become clear to Small that Reed won’t let his final chance slip away.
“He hasn’t had too many close matches,” Small said. “Most of his matches are pretty fast. He’s had a couple close ones, but I know just rolling around with him I can tell the kid’s potential.”