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Favorable draw could make Rota bigger player at finals

Roberts Swart, a junior from Ankara, works on pinning Blake Fluck from Aviano during a wrestling tournament held at Aviano Air Base on Saturday, January 12, 2019. Swart will be the only wrestler from Ankara participating in a sectional tournament this weekend in the hopes of qualifying for the season-ending championships Feb. 22-23.

NORMAN LLAMAS/STARS AND STRIPES

By GREGORY BROOME | STARS AND STRIPES Published: February 7, 2019

Across all sports and at all levels of competition, the goal of championship-minded teams is to peak at the right time. The Rota Admirals are doing just that this winter.

The Rota wrestling team, its schedule limited by its geographic situation and its impact muffled by the much larger DODEA-Europe schools it encounters, is coming on strong as the regular season gives way to the postseason. Sectional qualifying meets Saturday at Brussels, Stuttgart and Vicenza will determine the bulk of the field for the European championship meet, scheduled for Feb. 15-16 at Wiesbaden.

Last weekend, the Division II Admirals took first place in a five-team meet in Italy, posting 121 team points to finish ahead of Division I Naples and Vicenza, reigning Division II champ Aviano and solid Division III entry Sigonella.

This weekend, the Admirals will return to Italy to compete in a southern sectional meet that represents a mathematical best-case scenario for the squad. Rather than deal with the overwhelming numbers of Stuttgart and Ramstein, Rota will share the meet with Vilseck, a tough but more manageably sized Division I program, along with the five above-mentioned Italian teams and small school Ankara.

Rota coach Luke Spencer said the Admirals are “happy” with the draw, while stressing that his team wasn’t looking to duck any of DODEA-Europe’s top programs. The Admirals boast some top-flight contenders, notably 120-pounder Philip Rivera, 182-pounder Luke Colvin and 195-pounder Gavin Vasquez, and admirable depth, especially for a Division II roster.

“We are excited to compete, and we would like to qualify as many as we can,” Spencer said. “We don’t want to avoid anyone.

“We want to compete every weekend to the best of our ability.”

That ability has steadily developed over the course of the season. The Admirals finished second to Vicenza in a season-opening Italian meet Dec. 1 and claimed a distant second to reigning juggernaut Stuttgart in a packed Jan. 26 meet. Rota’s breakthrough win on Saturday might set the stage for a run to the Division II title, an effort that starts this weekend.

“We understand that in order to build a wrestling culture, we first have to develop expectations for performance,” Spencer said. “We were excited to win as a team last weekend. We hope it will help us compete as a team in Vicenza this weekend.”

Ramstein will bring its sizeable roster to the northern sectional in Brussels, reducing the margin for error for regional mainstays AFNORTH, Alconbury, Lakenheath, SHAPE and the host Brigands. Stuttgart will start its dynasty defense on home mats, welcoming Division I visitors Kaiserslautern and Wiesbaden along with small schools Baumholder, Hohenfels and Spangdahlem.

broome.gregory@stripes.com

Twitter: @broomestripes

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