By Betsy Veysman
Matt Leshinger was voted the Champion of Champions at the Suffolk County Championships on Saturday night on the campus of Stony Brook University. According to his coach Gary Pesko, he didn’t vote for himself, but he was in the minority, as his performance clearly impressed his fellow title winners.
The unseeded Sayville junior also attracted the attention of the coaches, who named him the Most Outstanding Wrestler (MOW).
“I wasn’t sure whether the wrestlers would vote for him for Champion of Champions because you don’t know what the kids are going to do,” Pesko said. “But I knew that if he didn’t get MOW, something was wrong. There were other tough weight classes at the tournament, but no one else had to go through what Matt did this weekend to win a title.”
To capture the 120-pound crown, Leshinger defeated three of the top eight ranked grapplers in the Empire State. The gauntlet started in the quarterfinal round when he faced Sean McCabe, who took third at the state tournament in 2011 at 112 pounds. The Connetquot senior was 32-1 coming into the weekend and was the top seed.
“I knew he was a great wrestler and I had to be at my best to beat him,” Leshinger said. “He beat me in the semifinals at this tournament last year.”
This time, Leshinger turned the tables, securing a takedown on a high crotch late in the third period to earn a 3-2 victory.
It didn’t get easier from there for Leshinger as he next squared off against Mark West of Hauppauge, the 2010 state champion at 96 pounds. At the Eastern States in January, West topped Leshinger 5-3.
Once again, Leshinger avenged a defeat, edging West 3-2 on another third period takedown to move on to the finals.
In the championship bout, the Sayville grappler faced a familiar foe, TJ Fabian of Shoreham-Wading River. The two wrestlers split a pair of one-point decisions this season, including Fabian’s 3-2 triumph over Leshinger a week ago. On Saturday night, it was another tight bout, which Leshinger captured in double overtime.
“I knew it would be another tough match against him,” Leshinger said. “I was down 3-2 in the third period but I knew eventually, if I kept shooting, I would take him down.”
Leshinger did just that, but Fabian was able to escape to send the bout to the extra session.
In the tiebreakers, Leshinger rode Fabian for the entire 30 seconds and then was able to escape to grab the 5-4 victory.
“We knew [Fabian] is tough in all positions,” Pesko said. “Matt did a great job riding him. [Fabian] never was in a position that was close to getting out. I think Matt tired him out a little bit which allowed him to get the escape when he needed to. It was really exciting.”
“It was probably the greatest feeling in my wrestling career,” Leshinger added. “I want to thank my coaches and my family for helping for me through.”
The work doesn’t stop now for Leshinger with his first trip to Albany for the state championships approaching.
“I’m very excited,” Leshinger said. “I wrestled the best I have all season this weekend and I’m hoping to wrestle that way again at states.”
“It was the best he’s ever wrestled in his life,” Pesko agreed. “He’s always been a competitor but to put it all together in the toughest weight class this weekend was amazing. It was quite an accomplishment. Now there are two weeks to recover and build back up and get ready for great competition again. He has already proven himself against some of the better guys in the state. If he wrestles the way he did this weekend, anything is possible. If he does that, we expect him to come out as a state champ.”