The Sunlake Seahawk wrestling team continues to grow and change as the school grows and the athletic department continues to find success. The Seahawks made two significant changes this season that will no doubt affect their performance.
First, former assistant coach Eric Rapp steps into the head coaching role, while Athletic Director Rus Schenk steps back into a role as assistant coach. Rapp is a born and bred Pasco County wrestler. He coached wrestling at Pasco for four years before moving to Sunlake last season.
Rapp is a Land O' Lakes graduate and wrestler. He wrestled in the Army when he was training to be a special ops Airborne Army Ranger. He's now retired from the army and seeks to put Sunlake wrestling on the map.
"When I wrestled in Pasco County, there was so much more participation by the parents and the community," Rapp said. "I want to get that back, here at Sunlake."
Rapp takes over a team that has a very different face that it has in years past. The past couple years, the Seahawks were a small, star-studded team. They have traditionally struggled to fill all 14 weight classes and they leaned heavily on state qualifier and nationally-recognized wrestler John Ortiz as well as lightweight Wes Wood for team points.
Second, the team is evolving into more of a complete lineup as opposed to a handful of stars.
Ortiz, now in his senior year could not even make weight for the East Lake Invitational recently. Wes Wood has graduated and his younger brother Ben Wood suffered an ACL injury during football season that will keep him out of this year's lineup. Still, the Seahawks scored 117 points at the meet, good enough for seventh out of 25 teams, and went in with more of a platoon strategy than in years past.
"Before, whole meets would shuffle around whatever weight John (Ortiz) was coming in at," Rapp said. "Now we've got great wrestlers behind those big names."
Senior Kendrich Portorreal had the best individual finish of all the other Seahawk wrestlers on Saturday. Portorreal went 4-2 at the tournament, dropping the third place match to Dunedin's Marc Allison. He finished fourth in the 132-pound weight class. Additionally, senior Zach Kweller (220) went 3-2 at the tournament and won the fifth place match against William Wan of Orlando's George Jenkins and junior Oasin Speicher (184) went 4-2 and won his fifth place match against Elisei Carcalete of Clearwater.
The Seahawks are very strong through the middle weights. Ortiz aside, there's Portorreal at 132 pounds, senior Kevin Lopez who usually wrestles at 126 but went 1-2 Saturday wrestling up at 138 pounds. Also senior Gary Miller (132), who according to Rapp, "could make the Varisty lineup at any other school".
"Some of our best stories are kids coming up behind Ortiz," Rapp said. "Some of our proudest moments are coming from kids that don't even quite make the Varsity lineup."
Rapp has 40 athletes at practice nowadays and has wrestlers for all 14 weight classes. This should go very far toward Sunlake competing for team titles at the district and regional level. Rapp cites tapping the resources at Rushe Middle School for helping fill the ranks at Sunlake.
"We can't have kids coming in their freshman year not having wrestled before," Rapp said.
Rapp coaches the Sunlake summer wrestling club and hopes that the World Class Wrestling Club in Land O' Lakes, where both Rapp and Schenk coach, continues to develop young grapplers.
Click here for a schedule for the 2012-13 season for the Seahawk wrestling team.