Smyrna’s Brent Fleetwood has a chance to become the 10th four-time state champion when the DIAA Individual Wrestling State Tournament is held Friday and Saturday at Cape Henlopen High.
He couldn’t have a better mentor to guide him over the final hurdle. Smyrna coach Kurt Howell is one of the nine wrestlers who have won four crowns, at Newark from 1983-86.
“He stays loose,” Howell said of Fleetwood. “Every once in a while, he’ll come to me and you can see pressure is getting to him because he says, ‘I need to talk.’ At the Ironman tournament, he pulled me aside and said, ‘I need to talk right now.’ He’ll tell you exactly what he’s thinking, and tell me exactly when he needs a little help.”
Fleetwood hasn’t needed a lot of help. He won state titles at 103 pounds in 2011, 106 in 2012 and 113 last year. He will be an overwhelming favorite at 120 pounds this year, but he won’t face quite as much pressure as Howell did in 1986.
The Smyrna coach was trying to cap an undefeated career and finished 108-0. Fleetwood is 35-6 this season, wrestling a brutal schedule that included regional and national tournaments in Maryland, Ohio and Pennsylvania and Delaware’s own Beast of the East. Fleetwood lost in the 120-pound final at the Beast this season after winning the 113-pound title the previous year.
“He wrestled the Ironman, the Beast, Escape the Rock,” Howell said. “In those tournaments, you’ve got four or five three-time state champions in every weight class. If that doesn’t beat you down pressure-wise. … I try to build my guys to where they think, ‘We’re coming back to Delaware. Compared to what we’ve done, this is not the real high-pressure situation.’ “
Fleetwood is one of seven returning state champions. All but one – Smyrna’s Jarren Wilson – are top seeds this year. Wilson, last year’s 160-pound winner, missed most of this season with a knee injury before returning to pin top-ranked Clay Conaway of Sussex Central last week in the 182-pound title match at the Henlopen Conference meet.
“That was the most rewarding match of the whole tournament for me, to watch him come back like that and get the win,” Howell said.
The 182 bracket appears to be wide open, with the top seed determined by blind draw after voting by coaches was too split to decide on a No. 1. Salesianum’s Daulton Gregory, who finished third at 182 last year but missed part of this season due to a concussion, won the draw. Wilson is seeded second, with Blue Hen Conference champ Rocco Hladney (44-4) of St. Georges third. Conaway (44-5) also will be a threat.
Top-seeded returning champs include Smyrna’s Tyler Carney (132), Caesar Rodney’s Tony Scarfo (145), Salesianum’s Bubba Mancini (195), two-time champ Thomas Ott of Cape Henlopen (220) and Caesar Rodney’s Zack Parker (285).
Carney bumped up a weight class after winning at 126 last year. He was one of five Smyrna wrestlers to win last season, as Henlopen Conference wrestlers won an unprecedented 10 of the 14 weight classes.
“It’s not really pressure. I’ve just got to keep wrestling my matches,” Carney said last Saturday after winning the Henlopen title. “I can’t let pressure get to me, because that could affect the way I wrestle. So I just try to block that out and keep my mindset going forward.”
Delcastle’s Brandon Wolfe finished second to Wilson at 160 last year but is a solid favorite at 170 this weekend after racking up a 44-1 record.
“I feel like a lot of the hard work and dedication in the offseason really put me where I am today,” Wolfe said last Sunday after winning a Blue Hen Conference title. “I know as long as I just keep it up, I should do better than I did last year. You’ve got to be ready for what’s coming, and I think I’m ready for it.”
Other top seeds are Caesar Rodney’s Nick Klink (106), William Penn’s Roddy Honey (113), St. Georges’ Austin Walker (126), Caravel’s Clint Ferrazzo (138), Woodbridge’s Willie Davis (152) and Salesianum’s Lou Fedele (160).
Friday’s action will start at 4 p.m., followed by quarterfinals and consolation matches at 7. Saturday’s first session will start with consolation matches at 10:30 a.m., with semifinals at 11. Consolation matches will continue through the afternoon. Saturday’s final session will begin with fifth-place matches at 5:30, followed by third-place matches. Championship matches will begin at 7.
Tickets are $5 for Friday, $6 for Saturday’s first session and $7 for Saturday’s second session. The gym will be cleared, and separate admissions will be charged for Saturday’s sessions; there is no day-long pass.