It was a peculiar position Alex Doran found himself in during the first day of last week’s state wrestling tournament.
Flat on his back. Flat out of time.
Flat out of the running for a state title.
Manatee’s 135-pound junior isn’t used to losing the big matches, especially at The Lakeland Center, site of the state finals and sort of a second home to Doran, who has qualified for the state meet in three consecutive seasons.
But there he was Friday evening, getting pinned by Winter Springs’ Eric O’Niel and sent careering into the consolation bracket, where wrestlers have to earn their medals the hard way.
Doran did — he came back to place fourth, meaning in three trips to the state tournament, he has recorded as many medals (three) as losses (three).
And while Doran didn’t do what he wanted to do — stand on the top step of the medal podium erected on the floor of The Lakeland Center — he continued to add on to what was the greatest story in Manatee County sports two years ago and reminded everyone what he did as a freshman was anything but a fluke.
To jog your memory, Doran won a Class 2A state title at 125 pounds in 2008, making him Manatee’s first freshman wrestler to do so. He outlasted Brandon’s Nick Hutchinson (Hutchinson defeated Doran twice during the regular season) to net an accomplishment that was a testament to perseverance — Doran lost all four of his matches during preseason tournaments that same year.
To those in the know, this wasn’t a shock — walk into Manatee’s wrestling room one day and take note of all the national titles Doran won while wrestling with program’s kids club. But to those outside Manatee’s inner circle, this was a Cinderella story, and while Cinderella stories make for great theater, they tend to make for great cynicism, too.
Was Doran for real? How would he do the following year, when everyone knew his name? How would he do when he was the targeted favorite rather than the underdog?
He’s spent the past two winters silencing any doubters.
He finished second at 130 pounds last year, losing by one point to Brandon’s Clark Glass, and this year, he overcame a knee injury and other distractions to finish fourth in Class 3A at 135.
Three trips to the state tournament. Three top-four finishes. Not exactly the work of a fluke.
“Everybody around the nation, they know who Alexander Doran is, without a doubt,” Manatee coach Andy Gugliemini said. “There’s no fluke — he’s got an unbelievable amount of talent.”
Gugliemini believes Doran can win another state title next year, which is a real possibility. Doran knows how to wrestle the big matches, knows how to win the big matches, which is why it’s so stunning when he loses one.
Losing is the real fluke.
What Alex Doran has done at the past three state tournaments is real. And really impressive.