Match brings out crowd
High school wrestlers from throughout Southwest Florida converged on the Fort Myers High School gymnasium Monday night to watch something many of them had never before seen in person — NCAA Division I wrestling.
Clusters of purple, garnet, green, red and blue gathered in the Green Wave bleachers to watch Purdue defeat the University of Central Florida 44-9.
"Our coach told us to come out and watch. He thought it would be a good experience," Cape Coral wrestler and first-time Division I viewer Nelson Ochoa said.
Purdue scheduled the dual meet to coincide with training camps the Boilermakers will be attending in Naples this week. Central Florida coach Jason Balma wrestled for Fort Myers, graduating in 2001.
"It's kind of neat sometimes to pick a match that has a local connection," Purdue coach Scott Hinkel said. "Typically you get a larger crowd with a lot of enthusiasm. It's a pretty neat experience."
Despite the lopsided score, Monday's audience solidly backed the underdog Golden Knights. UCF is not a Division I school. The Golden Knights wrestle in the National Collegiate Wrestling Association, a highly regarded club division.
UCF has four Southwest Florida wrestlers on its roster: Richard Rippy, Justin Crimmins and Willie Rothenberg of Fort Myers High and Frito Cherenfant of Lely.
So did any of those locals expect to be back in their high school gym wrestling against a Big Ten school?
"Not in a million years," Rippy said, laughing.
Just one Central Florida wrestler earned a win on the mat. CJ Hauser defeated Purdue's Jason Martin 6-5 in the 174-pound weight class. The Golden Knights' other points came from a forfeit win by Steve DeAugustino at 133 pounds.
"We did well. The guys all went out there with the right attitudes. They went after them like they'd go after any other opponent," Balma said.
In a sort of undercard match, Riverdale beat Fort Myers 65-10. Like Balma, Green Wave coach Matt Markowski was proud of the improvements his team showed against the defending Class A state titlists.
"The score may not have reflected it, but many of our guys wrestled really well," Markowski said. "We've been working on a lot of things over the holiday break and they showed it today. Overall, going against a team like Riverdale, I was very proud."