Trillyon Fils-Aime proudly displays his T-shirt honoring late friend and fellow Palmetto Ridge High School state wrestling champion Colby Singletary as he stands on the first-place podium Saturday inside Silver Spurs Arena in Kissimmee. Standing to Fils-Aime's left, is runner-up Nick Clayton of Barron Collier High School.
Trillyon Fils-Aime went 0-2 in the district tournament during his freshman season three years ago.
He recalls going into the Palmetto Ridge High School gymnasium shortly thereafter to look at the extensive list of state champions and placers gracing several banners in the rafters.
At that moment, he questioned himself. Would he ever be good enough to join the list of Bear wrestling greats?
He got his answer Saturday night.
Brimming with confidence he lacked as a young wrestler, Fils-Aime won the Class 2A 220-pound state title at Silver Spurs Arena in Kissimmee. The 2-1 victory came against a familiar foe in Barron Collier senior Nick Clayton. It was Fils-Aime’s sixth win over his feisty Cougar rival — the last three coming in close decisions at the district, region and state finals.
Fils-Aime finished his championship season with a record of 54-4.
“When you wrestle against someone that many times, it can be annoying because he knows the stuff I’m good at, and I know the stuff he’s good at,” Fils-Aime said. “After the first few times, the matches got closer because he slowed things down to keep it close. But I knew I’d grind it out like I did (in districts and regionals).”
After he raised his arm in victory, Fils-Aime couldn’t help but think of a conversation he had with close friend Colby Singletary after last year’s state tournament. Singletary had just won his second straight title, and Fils-Aime had reached the podium for the first time with a fifth-place finish.
“We said we were both going to win it this year and celebrate together,” Fils-Aime said.
Singletary died in a car accident last July, which only made Fils-Aime more determined to win state gold for his longtime football and wrestling teammate.
“I talked to my coaches and teammates and said I was going to win it and I was going to win it for Colby,” he said. “I felt him with me throughout the season. I went off social media completely the last month or so because I wanted to focus and completely dedicate myself to this goal. It definitely paid off.”
The Palmetto Ridge team wore singlets honoring Singletary all season, and the team repeatedly used #wrestlelikeColby and #livelikeColby in social media posts. The Bears produced a season that would have made Singletary proud, finishing fourth as a team and sending all six state qualifiers to the podium.
Sophomore Brennan Van Hoecke finished second at 120 pounds with a heartbreaking loss by fall in overtime to Tampa Jesuit’s Braden Basile — the second straight year Van Hoecke fell to Basile in the championship match. Before that, Van Hoecke blitzed his way to the finals by winning all his postseason matches via fall.
“Brennan can wrestle with anybody in the country and both of these matches (against Basile) were close,” Palmetto Ridge coach Blaine Ison said. “He just has a little bit of a mental block with that kid, but he will get back to work and come back even better next year.”
The Bears delivered a pair of third-place finishers in seniors Cullen Guerrero (113) and AJ Ayala (138). Freshmen Tyler Washburn and Roman Garcia also reached the podium by finishing fifth and sixth, respectively.
The six place winners were the most for Palmetto Ridge since 2008, when the Bears had eight during a state runner-up season. Palmetto Ridge has been steadily improving at the state level in each of the last three years — finishing seventh in 2018, sixth last year and fourth this year.
“It’s a great feeling as a coach when you send six guys to the state tournament and all six come back with medals,” fifth-year coach Ison said. “I couldn’t be prouder of these guys.”
Ison said one of the big reasons the Bears are climbing back up the state ladder is the quality of competition in Collier County and Southwest Florida in general. Barron Collier sent a county-best seven wrestlers to the state tournament, with three earning medals. In addition to Clayton’s runner-up finish, Justin Ugarte placed third at 145, and Dominic Pappalardo took fourth at 160. Golden Gate advanced two wrestlers to the finals, with senior Andy Martinez winning a title at 160 and freshman Christian Moder taking second at 132.
“Our area represented and our region really dominated with eleven guys in the finals,” Ison said. “The only other region that compares is the one with Lake Gibson and Jesuit. A majority of the state placers came from those two regions.”
According to Ison, the regular season and district tournaments are more competitive now than they’ve ever been.
“Everyone in Collier County is improving and that makes us all better,” he said. “If you go around dominating mediocre competition, you’re not going to be ready for the state tournament where everyone is good. Now, once we get to the postseason, there isn’t much we haven’t already seen because everyone is battle tested.”