By Betsy Veysman
This past November, a group of wrestlers representing NYWAY traveled to California with Coach Mike LaPorte to compete with some of the best the Golden State has to offer in both a duals tournament and the Junior Mid Cals individual competition.
On January 8, the NYWAY wrestlers will return the favor, welcoming many of those West Coast grapplers as well as other top competitors from all over the country to New York for the Big Red Kickoff event held in Bartels Hall on the campus of Cornell University. In between the morning and afternoon sessions, the fourth-ranked Big Red wrestling team will take on Lehigh in a battle of NCAA powerhouses.
“It is such a fantastic opportunity for the kids,” LaPorte said. “The kids will have to step up their game knowing they will be wrestling in front of Cornell wrestlers on the same stage. What a great vehicle to get kids wrapped up in the sport.”
Sixth grader Orion Anderson of Schuylerville and seventh grader Dane Heberlein of Darien, members of the NYWAY contingent that went to California, both won individual crowns when they competed out West. The two are ready to test themselves again at the Big Red Kickoff.
Anderson’s title at 70 pounds at the Junior Mid Cals capped off an undefeated weekend in which he was voted the NYWAY Most Valuable Wrestler by his teammates.
“It was really cool that the team voted for me,” he said. “I was really happy.”
After cruising through the first several rounds of the tournament, Anderson defeated California USA Wrestling Triple Crown Winner Matthew Olguin of Team Smackdown in the finals by the score of 3-1.
“The competition was really good but that was my toughest match,” Anderson said. “I was able to get a takedown in the second period which was the difference.”
“Orion performed extremely well,” LaPorte said. “He was the only New York wrestler to go undefeated over the two days. In the finals, he beat a very highly regarded kid. People there were saying his opponent would just dominate everyone in the weight class, but Orion wrestled a special match. I was proud to be in his corner.”
The Schuylerville native is very familiar with success. He was the Eastern National Champion in both 2008 and 2009 as well as a New York State champion in multiple styles.
Wrestling seems to be in his blood. His father, Bucky, competed in the sport and currently runs the Barn Brawlers Club where Orion and many area wrestlers, from elementary school through college, train. His sister Sarah, currently a wrestler at King College in Tennessee, was a two-time sectional champion and state qualifier in New York.
Anderson believes he is at his best in neutral and he says his favorite takedown is the throw by. He plays football as well, but trains year round in wrestling. He has this in common with Heberlein, who wrestles all 12 months despite playing football and baseball.
Heberlein rolled through the 75-pound bracket at the Junior Mid Cals, winning his first two matches by first period pin (8 seconds and 30 seconds) to earn a rematch with Chase Zollman of Poway Elite, who defeated Heberlein by a point the previous day in the dual tournament.
“I was hungry to wrestle him again because I knew I didn’t wrestle my best,” he said. “It was a close match both times but I think I was more aggressive and that’s why I won.”
He then earned the top spot on the podium with a 16-1 technical fall in the finals. His performance earned him the tournament’s Most Outstanding Wrestler (MOW) award for the lightweights.
“I didn’t really expect it [MOW],” he said. “It was a huge rush when I heard I got it.”
“Dane deserved it,” La Porte added. “He was dominant.”
It’s what Heberlein had in mind when he began wrestling at age six. He said a friend introduced him to the sport because “I wanted the trophies.” He certainly has quite a few medals now. The two-time New York folkstyle state champion has also placed high in a number of other events, including the Ohio Tournament of Champions and the Cliff Keen Eastern Worlds.
The seventh grader, who made the varsity team at his school but has not been able to wrestle because he doesn’t meet the state minimum weight requirement of 91 pounds, admires former Arizona State NCAA Champion Anthony Robles because of the way he overcame so much to be so successful.
Heberlein showed similar resiliency when he dropped his first round match at the Ohio Tournament of Champions. In a very large bracket, he bounced back with 12 straight wins in one day to take third.
The Common Ground
Besides Robles, Heberlein lists Cornell’s Kyle Dake as a grappler he loves to watch, saying he “is great at riding and always understands the right things to do on the mat.”
Anderson agrees. “I really like to watch Kyle Dake,” he said. “I like his stance and he wins the big matches.”
Seeing Dake and his Big Red teammates compete between sessions of the Big Red Kickoff is something both Heberlein and Anderson are awaiting.
“I’m really excited to wrestle in the tournament but I’m also so excited to watch the dual meet,” Heberlein said. “I’ll get to see Dake and so many other great wrestlers.”
“I met Kyle Dake at the Hoosick Falls Clinic and I am excited to see him again with all the other college wrestlers,” Anderson added. “College scrambles are fun to watch.”
As for their own goals on January 8, Heberlein and Anderson are thinking along the same lines.
“My goal is to win every match,” Anderson said.
Heberlein added, “I don’t really worry about who is in the bracket. I just want to worry about myself and finish first.”
Hopefully, there is room left in those trophy cases.