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Monday, Jun 18, 2018
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Tampa Prep coming of age on mat

TAMPA — They call the wrestling room at Tampa Prep “A small room,” but “A good room.”

It measures 41 feet by 30 feet, has mirrors on one wall, red pads on the other three and the floor. In big, capital gold letters on the back wall it reads: TERRAPIN WRESTLING.

It is where something special is brewing.

“It’s a room that has gotten much more intense this year,” said 132-pound junior Landon Carter, who has wrestled for three years at Tampa Prep. “It’s an intensity that continues to grow.”

The proof stands in five young men — sophomore Aaron Mills (106), eighth-grader Anthony Artalona (120), junior Donoven Hough (126), Carter and eighth-grader Leo Tarantino (138) — who qualified for this weekend’s Class 1A state tournament at The Lakeland Center.

All five have a chance to place in the top six, if not win state titles, and all five say it has something to do with “The room,” which has multiple meanings.

For starters, “The room” means all the people in the room, which includes sixth-year Tampa Prep coach Andy Bricker, his assistant James Gift and his wrestlers. Other meanings for “The room” include camaraderie, teamwork, high expectations, intensity and blood, sweat and tears.

This year, the room’s learning and ability curves have shot way up for a few reasons, including: the addition of Hough, a two-time defending state champion who transferred in the summer from Armwood; and the fact that all five state qualifiers weigh less than 138 pounds.

That means — along with Bricker, who weighs 135 pounds — they can spar for hours against each other, “And get better in the process,” Tarantino said. “It’s definitely quality over quantity.”

Quality indeed.

Heading into Friday’s first-round matches, Mills is 37-9, Artalona 38-6, Hough 39-3, Carter 33-16 and Tarantino 33-7. All of their losses have come mostly against high-quality opponents in tournaments featuring out-of-state competitors.

Perhaps the best news is that all five state qualifiers return next year along with several more potential qualifiers — enough, in fact, to possibly make a run at a state team title.

“But that’s something we’re not thinking a lot about right now,” Tarantino said. “We have to focus on (the state tournament) right now.”

Bottom line is that Tampa Prep wrestling is for real, and Hough can attest to that.

“There is an energy here that is awesome,” Hough said. “When I was at Armwood I was pretty much by myself and though I had a great coach (C.J. Gittens), it was still hard because I was pretty much independent. I much prefer this where you go through everything with teammates. You can help each other, make each other better.

“This is a great room to be in.”

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