Viera’s Hatfield, Light qualify for state wrestling tourney
Viera High's Jacob Light (right), shown here during an earlier match, finished fourth at the Class 2A regional along with teammate Jackson Hatfield. Both wrestlers qualified for the state tournament.
VIERA VOICE Carl Kotala
They continued to get better and better as the season went on … and now they’re in the big show.
Viera High’s Jackson Hatfield and Jacob Light are headed to the Class 2A state wrestling tournament Friday and Saturday at the Silver Spurs Arena in Kissimmee.
Despite both dealing with injuries, Hatfield (285 pounds) and Light (195 pounds) reached the semifinals in their respective weight classes before eventually finishing fourth at the Region 4 tournament held at Jensen Beach.
It’s the first time Viera has had two wrestlers qualify for the state tournament since 2016, when Darius Darr and Gavin Johnson both made it. The best year for the Hawks came in 2011 when six wrestlers qualified and three placed.
“We base the success of our season on mainly two things: where the team places at conference and how many wrestlers we qualify for states,” Viera coach Jim Gentile wrote in an email.
“We were not as successful with the former of the two, but certainly successful with the latter. If you look at the individual records going into the regional tournament, you would say to yourself ‘we are not going to qualify anyone for states this year.’
“But this is why there is a tournament, to see who has improved the most, who has put in the time and effort, who is peaking at the right time, who wants to be on the podium at regionals and who wants to compete at states.”
Light, who finished third at the district tournament, defeated Zibeen Ruiz-Zartemi of Hialeah-Miami Lakes by a 5-2 decision in his first match of the regional tournament.
He then defeated Owen Kerski of West Boca Raton 6-4 in his second match. After losing in the semifinals, Light (22-11) had to face Ruiz-Zartemi again in the consolation semis, winning this time by a 6-2 margin to qualify for the state tournament despite getting elbowed in the nose along the way.
“I remember meeting Jacob at registration three years ago,” Gentile wrote. “I was recruiting student-athletes for the upcoming season. I saw this big, athletic looking 10th-grader and asked him if he would like to come out for wrestling and be part of something special.
“He started his wrestling career on JV and worked hard every day, never missed practice and improved on a daily basis. Last year, he would wrestle-off with (Nathaniel) Stover to see if he can wrestle that week.
“Jacob qualifying for states as a three-year wrestler is most impressive. His determination and hard work paid off.”
Hatfield, a first-year wrestler who won the district championship, had to overcome some adversity to get to the state tournament.
After pinning Phil Forestal of Stranahan in his opening-round match, Hatfield was wrestling Donovan Morgan of Norland when he sustained a dislocated finger in the third period.
A trainer put the finger back in place and Hatfield not only decided to keep going, he scored a few more points to secure a 10-8 victory.
After his semifinal loss, Hatfield (18-8) decisioned Bayside’s Zandy Lanier 5-4 to book his ticket to the state tournament.
“Jackson was asked to come out by assistant coach, James Brand,” Gentile wrote. “Jackson was known for his athleticism and prowess on the football field and sometimes that doesn’t carry over to the wrestling mat.
“Well, in this case, it did. Jackson took to the sport because of the way the sport tests you on a daily basis. Jackson wrestling for little over a two-month period, wrestling a tournament with a dislocated finger and qualifying for states is a great accomplishment, an accomplishment that I haven’t seen in my 20 years of coaching wrestling.”