Ocoee wrestling's family environment led to historic 2023-24 seasons

Ocoee High’s wrestling team adopted a new focus in its preparation — win at home. It culminated with three championships this season.

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As a whole, the Ocoee High wrestling program had a historic season. The boys team won both the duals district championship and the team district championship at the individual tournament, while the girls won the team district championship at the individual meet. 

Each of these three championships was a first for the program. So why did this season see the Knights break through? Well, it’s been three years in the making. 

“It’s been a growing momentum over the course of the three years I’ve been here,” said Pernell Croskey, Ocoee girls wrestling head coach and boys assistant coach. “We had quite a few returners, but we have a young squad that was hungry. … I think because they saw how close we were last year, finishing as runners-up last year, they just came in with a hunger. They didn’t run away from the work, which we were glad to see because it took a lot of work for them to get here.” 

But before Croskey could help guide that hunger, his teams needed to buy into the concept of winning at home.

And no, he doesn’t mean winning home matches.

“We adopted a mantra of winning at home,” Croskey said. “So everything we do at home before we can out against the world, we have to be winning. So in practice, we have to be winning, we have to be winning in the classroom, winning in the hallways, always winning. And so when you win at home, it makes it more likely that you’re going to win on the road and when you’re out in public.”

This philosophy that Croskey and the entire Ocoee wrestling coaching staff have implemented is less about the student-athletes’ performance on the mat and more about developing them as people. 

Because of that, many of the wrestlers view this team in a deeper way. More than just a sports team, but a second family. 

“Being part of this has been a very good thing that’s happened in my life,” senior girls wrestler Melanie Saucedo said. “It’s been incredible to see how many girls have come through in these three years and helped improve the program. Just seeing how this team has built itself from the first year is probably why we’ve had the success we’ve had this year. …I’m just very proud of my team, and of how much effort we put in. To me, this is not just a team; this is my family.”

Part of that family concept manifests itself in a simple way: The coaches hold the athletes accountable for what they do on and off the mat, and the athletes support one another in that expectation.

“The community that we have is special,” junior girls wrestler Yamii Herring said. “We’re all just people who are there for (one another), who encourage (one another) to keep pushing, even when you don’t feel like wrestling, because sometimes it does get hard. The mental side of the sport is difficult, so having people be there for me and pushing me is great. People who just help me keep going, even when I want to give up.”

Croskey knows what Herring said is true. Wrestling is a difficult sport.

“It’s just pain, you know?” Croskey said. “So when we can get our kids to understand that in wrestling, you’re going to have bumps and bruises and aches. But if you want to be great, you have to overcome those things. … And when you do overcome that pain, overcome those barriers, as you get through it, then the goal of trying to reach those pinnacle achievements becomes easier.”

Herring, who transferred to Ocoee this year, is seeing the benefits. Not only did she win the individual district championship in the 235-pound weight class and became the only Ocoee wrestler to earn a spot at  states this season, but also she’s has seen growth in the classroom — holding a 3.3 GPA.

“Wrestling here helped me grow ... by making me focus on maintaining my GPA, making me stay positive and helping my attitude and how I talk to people,” Herring said. “Coming to Ocoee just helped me improve in a lot of different ways. … I feel like it helped me be more humble. I still have my moments sometimes on the mat, but at the end of the day, I know that we are all just people who have emotions. So I try to be humble and have good sportsmanship.”

On the boys side, Silas Metayer felt a similar growth in his short time as part of the Knights program. The former football player only has been wrestling for a few months, but through his dedication to the process, he already has become a record-breaker. 

At the district championship, Metayer won the individual crown at 190 in dominant fashion and became the first Knight to win a district championship by winning every match via pin. He attributes his quick success to the people within the program.

“It was my first time wrestling, so I started out a little bit iffy, a little bit shy,” Metayer said. “I didn’t know what to do at first, so my coaches and my teammates really helped bring me along throughout the season in a lot of ways, by showing me the ropes and not just helping me become a better wrestler but to become a better man.”

Ultimately, that’s what Ocoee wrestling has been all about and why the program should take the next step as it continues to grow. 

“We challenged this group to fill the voids left behind by some heavy hitters (who) graduated last year, and they stepped up,” Croskey said. “That combined with stressing to them the expectations that we have as a program was key for us. But now, we want to get even better next year and beyond. It was great to be district champions, but I want to be the regional champion, and I want to take multiple people to states next year. And I know these kids will put in the work to get there.”



Sam Albuquerque

A native of João Pessoa, Brazil, Sam Albuquerque moved in 1997 to Central Florida as a kid. After earning a communications degree in 2016 from the University of Central Florida, he started his career covering sports as a producer for a local radio station, ESPN 580 Orlando. He went on to earn a master’s degree in editorial journalism from Northwestern University, before moving to South Carolina to cover local sports for the USA Today Network’s Spartanburg Herald-Journal. When he’s not working, you can find him spending time with his lovely wife, Sarah, newborn son, Noah, and dog named Skulí.

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