One team member was told in junior high that he would never wrestle again. Another believed his season was finished over a month ago after a car accident. A third was unable to effectively use his right hand due to a pinched nerve and a fourth failed to place in two tournaments early in the campaign. But on the biggest weekend of the high school calendar, the squad from Greene High School overcame adversity to produce three medalists, including a dominant state champion, and a fourth place finish in the Division II points race.
You can’t talk about the Greene weekend without mentioning 2:57. Two minutes and fifty-seven seconds. That’s all it took for 220 pounder Kyle Stanton to pin all four of his weekend opponents and capture the state championship in his final high school match.
“It was one of the most amazing feelings ever,” Stanton said. “I’ve been dreaming about this for a long time. I watched [former Greene wrestlers] Nick Wilcox and Tyler Beckwith win titles and wanted it so badly for myself.”
Not bad for someone who thought just a few years ago that he had hung up his wrestling shoes forever.
When he was in seventh grade, doctors told Stanton that he had a genetic defect in his back. The first medical opinion he received was that he would never wrestle again. It was devastating news for someone who had been successfully competing in the sport since he was in peewees.
“Everything was based around wrestling for me at that time,” he said. “I felt like my whole life was being taken away.”
But another surgeon told him that there was hope. He believed he could operate and insert two titanium rods in his back to support the vertebrae. If Stanton followed a slow and controlled rehabilitation process, getting back on the mats would be a possibility. Stanton happily agreed.
“Kyle just lit up when he heard there was a chance,” said Greene head coach Tim Jenks. “He was so excited and willing to do whatever the doctor told him.”
After the procedure, Stanton was not cleared to wrestle as a ninth grader, although he was allowed to play basketball. But he couldn’t stay away from his favorite sport. He stayed involved with the grapplers by keeping the team statistics and attending every meet that didn’t conflict with hoops.
“I promised the doctor I would follow everything he said, word for word,” Stanton said. “When he told me to, I started doing some strength training with Dickie White. That made a huge difference. When I went back to the doctor after my freshman year, he was amazed at how I recovered. He said that he saw no reason I shouldn’t wrestle.”
So finally, during his sophomore campaign, he was allowed to strap on the headgear again. There were some initial concerns but those were soon alleviated. Just getting back on the mat was an achievement; the results seemed secondary. After all, he hadn’t participated in the sport in years.
However, Stanton surprised many, including his coach and himself, by taking second at the Section IV tournament after very little mat time.
“That was unbelievable,” Jenks said. “Without much wrestling for so long, the fact that he made it that far was amazing.”
He intensified his training and lifting and came into his junior year ready to take the next step to the state tournament. After a solid year, a knee injury sustained in football worsened a few weeks before the sectionals. He fought through it, took second and qualified for the state tournament, where he placed fourth.
“I think the knee hurt me a little bit, but in general I thought I wrestled one of my best tournaments at states that year,” Stanton said. “I felt that I was pretty calm for my first trip to states. I wanted more than fourth, though.”
Immediately after the season was over, he underwent knee surgery. Rehab was nothing new to him and he attacked it with the same ferocity that he attacked his opponents this past weekend.
Finally healthy, he came into his senior year with a new attitude and a single-minded goal.
“I knew it was my last shot and that motivated me more,” he said. “I also felt good that nothing was holding me back like all the other years.”
“Because of what happened to him, Kyle had a really special commitment in the room and outside of it too,” Jenks added. “When we did goals at the beginning of the year, he said he would be satisfied with nothing less than a state championship. Sometimes kids say that but don’t put everything into making it happen. Kyle lived it. He practiced every day with states on his mind. He didn’t take anything for granted.”
Stanton, who plans to wrestle at the Division I level in college, established himself as the Empire State’s best at 220, compiling a 33-2 record with the only two losses coming to nationally-ranked AJ Vizcarrondo of Wyoming Seminary.
When he got to Albany, he didn’t waste any time demonstrating he was the best.
“I thought the finals at least would be a close match,” Jenks said. “But Kyle told me before the match started that he felt great and he thought he was going to pin the kid. He was so pumped, so confident. He just had a whole different attitude. He wanted it over quickly. He was just so happy to be there.”
Also happy to be there was junior 160-pounder Mike Beckwith. He began the year with 15 straight wins in contested matches, including a victory over 2012 state placer Stephen Lumley of South Glens Falls. However, he was in a car accident in January and sustained a back injury that put the rest of the season in question.
According to Jenks, Beckwith was determined to wrestle at the sectional tournament. However, it seemed that he wouldn’t be adequately prepared with just two light practices under his belt prior to the event.
“He did a little drilling but no live wrestling at all,” he said. “We were thinking it would be so difficult to get through four matches at sectionals when he couldn’t even practice with our 126 pounder. How many people could win sectionals with just two practices?”
Beckwith did, earning his ticket to states by picking up two majors and two pins on the way to the Section IV title.
“Mike had a fairly tough bracket at sectionals and to see him win it without practice was really impressive,” Stanton said.
In Albany, Beckwith went 1-2 with two close losses, including a 3-1 overtime setback in the wrestlebacks.
“Mike had to stop doing what he’s really good at,” Jenks said. “He’s an upper body wrestler. But it’s so hard to work the upper body stuff with an injured back. He fought hard, but it was really his conditioning that lost him those two close matches. He’ll be ready for next year.”
Also looking toward next year is 152-pounder Dan Dickman.
The junior had a rocky beginning to the campaign, with a 13-6 record at the end of 2011. He didn’t place at the Jarvis Wildcat Memorial or the Windsor Christmas Tournament and moved around in the lineup, from 160 to 152 to 145 pounds.
“Dan had some down times early on,” Jenks said. “He was the runner up in the section last year but he had some trouble adjusting after moving up a few weights.”
Things started to turn around at Eastern States, where he had some quality wins and ended up on the podium at 145 pounds. Even so, the cut was difficult so he moved back to 152, where he settled in at the end of January and won 10 straight bouts to give him momentum going into the state tournament.
He was unseeded in Albany and after a second round loss to eventual runner up Derek Pfluger, bounced back with three victories in the consolation bracket, all by two points or less, to take fourth. Jenks said that he “couldn’t even breathe” in most of Dickman’s matches because they all went down to the wire.
“I was impressed with how Dan turned things around,” said senior Keegan Cerwinski. “Toward the end of the year, he got his head together and wrestled. Instead of caring how he looked out there, he focused on his performance and it worked.”
“Dan came a long way since the beginning of the year,” added Stanton. “I was really proud of his performance. Everything seemed to click at Eastern States and after that he started doing well. He wrestled great at states.”
Also wrestling great at states was Cerwinski, who finished second at 182 pounds. The senior outscored his opponents 16-2 in his first two matches before edging Warsaw’s Tim Schaefer 1-0 in the semifinals. Cerwinski defeated Schaefer by the same score earlier in the season.
“Keegan was outstanding,” Jenks said. “He did a tremendous job to get where he did. I think I lost about seven pounds in the match against Schaefer. [Schaefer] knew he had to get out from bottom but Keegan wouldn’t let him. Although he lost to a very tough Tony Lock in the finals, Lock took neutral against Keegan which shows how tough he is on top.”
Not only is he tough on top, he’s tough in general. He’s competed with knee and ankle injuries and a week before the state tournament, he suffered a pinched nerve in his shoulder. He said he had very little strength in his right hand and was unable to open and close the hand or even hold a pencil in it. Nevertheless, he finished his high school action with a state silver medal and has at least four meetings with Division I college programs in the coming weeks.
Afterwards, however, Cerwinski was talking about what his frequent workout partner Stanton had achieved.
“I don’t really know how to explain what Kyle did,” Cerwinski said. “He really came out of his shell. He opened up. I was surprised by how aggressive he was, even in the finals.”
Stanton has been thinking about a state title since he was in elementary school. Yet, the weekend exceeded his expectations.
“I couldn’t have imagined it happening like this,” he said of his four pins. “I thought I would have decent matches on Friday and then I would squeak out two close ones on Saturday. It was better than I ever expected.”
For a young man told he may never wrestle again, better is hard to imagine.