PALMETTO -- Even as Palmetto prepared for its first dual meet of the season at The William "Butch" Hughes Gymnasium in Palmetto, head coach Bryan Wilkes was thinking at least a bit about the Manatee County championships at the end of the season.
With Southeast, a county opponent, crossing the bridge to visit Palmetto High School, Wednesday was the Tigers' first opportunity to get a feel for this year's competition, and after winning four of the first five matches and six of the first eight, PHS breezed to a 46-25 win against the Seminoles.
"Against a county foe it's always good," Wilkes said. "A good win."
The Tigers are young, but the perennial county contender still has some of the centerpieces from the team which finished second to Manatee last season. PHS sent four wrestlers to Saturday's Captain Archer Memorial Tournament in Punta Gorda and three of those again won against the Noles in mostly overwhelming fashion.
The Tigers and Southeast began the evening by trading forfeits, including one to give PHS freshman Kevin Schneider a win at 120 pounds. Schneider, who finished sixth at the Captain Archer, is part of the Tigers' youth movement. PHS doesn't return any county champions from last year and the season-long progression Wilkes expects from Schneider should give Palmetto a contender.
"We're young," Wilkes said, "but we still expect to be there at county."
By the time Derek Schmidt, one of the Tigers' few seniors, shook hands at the middle of the mat for a 152 match PHS was already in control and another of Palmetto's top grapplers was ready to put on another clinic. Greg Jackson managed to take him the distance before Schmidt closed out an 11-1 win.
The Tigers' top performer at the Archer, though, was the only one who couldn't build on his performance against the Seminoles. Junior Dominic Bass, wrestling at 160, went three rounds with Jonathan Locke for the most competitive match of the meet.
Bass, who finished fifth in 152 at the Archer, led 2-1 at the end of the first round and Locke knotted the score
with a point in the second. Even during the third and final round, Bass took a lead before Locke landed a reversal in the final minute to win 4-3.
"That was a big upset for us," Wilkes said.
The final match of the day, a heavyweight tilt between PHS' Nathan Heidenreich and Raeshaun Lopes, was Palmetto's most impressive. In just 25 seconds, Heidenreich pinned Lopes to finish off the 46-25 win.
A year ago, the senior dropped the decisive match at the county championship against the Hurricanes and had his season cut short in the region tournament against Fort Myers Riverdale's Cole Schneider. On Saturday, his performance at the Archer was also derailed against Schneider in the second round.
His primary focus this year is improving his durability and endurance, issues which have plagued him when he can't score an early pin. But on Wednesday he won in his fashion -- with the fastest fall of the meet.
"It's a long road. There's things probably that I've lost and things that I've gained," said Heidenreich, who is 7-2 individually this season. "I've been wrestling for a long time."