By Betsy Veysman
Steven Rodrigues ended his high school career at Fox Lane with a state championship.
This weekend, at the FILA Juniors, he added a national title to his resume.
“Going into any tournament, my expectation is to win,” he said. “Whether it’s a local tournament back home or a tournament like FILA Juniors, I’m looking to perform my best and win it.”
The University of Illinois freshman did just that at 63 kg (138.75 pounds), going 5-0 on the day.
He began with a 3-2, 3-0 victory over Zach Stepan of the Minnesota Storm before dropping the first period to Badger Wrestling Club’s Tommy Glenn in his next bout. However, Rodrigues dominated the remainder of the match with the Wisconsin wrestler, winning the final two periods 5-2 and 6-0 to move on to the quarterfinals where he faced Jack Clark of Raw 241.
“I got off to a slow start [against Clark], like I did in a lot of my matches,” he said. “I knew if I just kept my pace going, guys weren’t going to be able to hang around. I won in the clinch in the second and then got to my offense and got a takedown to win it in the third.”
After that 1-1, 1-0, 1-0 triumph, Rodrigues topped Old Dominion’s Taylor Moeder to earn a berth in the title bout against Northwestern’s Jameson Oster.
The Wildcat grappler took the lead early, but Rodrigues responded, picking up two points for exposure in a scramble to capture the first period. The second stanza had a similar beginning as Oster grabbed a 1-0 advantage, but the former Section I star took his opponent down with less than 15 seconds remaining to earn the victory, 2-2, 1-1. (The wrestler to score last wins a tied period in freestyle in most cases).
“I knew he was really funky,” Rodrigues said. “I knew he did a lot of crotch lifts and tried to stay away from that as much as possible. I fell behind both times and knew I had to keep attacking. I didn’t think he could handle my pace.”
The winners of the seven Olympic weight classes earned automatic bids into the best of three finals of the FILA World Team Trails on May 25 in Colorado Springs. The champions of those seven classes were: Joey Dance (55 kg), Mark Grey (60 kg), Destin McCauley (66 kg), Nazar Kulchytskyy (74 kg), Pat Downey (84 kg), Andrew Campolattano (96 kg) and Austin Marsden (120 kg).
63 kg is not one of those Olympic weights, so Rodrigues did not get an automatic finals berth. However, he still plans to battle for a spot on the Junior World Team.
“I wanted to see how I would feel at 63 kg first and I felt pretty good,” he said. “I’m definitely going to the World Team Trials, either at 60 or 66 kg. The Trials are about six weeks away, and I will decide with my coaches which weight will be best for me and give me the best chance to make this World Team. Both weights are really tough, so I’ll have to prepare hard for this. But I love to wrestle and compete and freestyle is really fun for me. It’s something I’ve worked on the last couple of years, back in New York with Max Askren and Brian Realbuto.”
Rodrigues has continued that training in the Midwest and feels that the environment in the Illini room has already helped him step up his game since transferring in from Rutgers for the second semester.
“It’s been great at Illinois,” he said. “I idolized [Associate Head Coach] Mark Perry growing up, watching him as a Hawkeye. Wrestling in the Big 10 at a big time program really caught my eye. I get along great with the team and the coaches and I’ve gotten a lot better. But there’s still lots more to go.”
Rodrigues said he will compete at either 133 or 141 pounds as a redshirt freshman for Illinois next season. But his freestyle goals are most important right now.
“[FILA Juniors] was great competition,” Rodrigues said. “It was definitely a stepping stone in the right direction for me. It was great to get my first national title and hopefully there are more to come in the future.”
Empire State Makes Its Presence Felt
Rodrigues wasn’t the only wrestler with Empire State connections to stand on the podium this weekend, as several grapplers who will suit up for New York colleges also had successful tournaments.
Four future Cornell wrestlers, who spent this campaign at the Finger Lakes Wrestling Club (FLWC), earned medals in freestyle.
At 55 kg (121.25 pounds), two candidates to join the Big Red’s lightweight corps in 2012-13, Caleb Richardson and Nahshon Garrett, took fourth and sixth, respectively. The future teammates met in the consolation semifinals, with Richardson earning the three-period victory.
Also making the trip from Ithaca was Chris Dowdy, who notched fourth at 70 kg (154.25 lbs) with both of his losses coming to Isaac Jordan of Ohio. His FLWC teammate Duke Pickett went 6-2 on the day and stood fifth at 74 kg (163 pounds) in a bracket with nearly 50 competitors.
While not Empire State residents yet, 2012 high school graduates Mark Grey (Cornell) and Dwight Howes (Hofstra) had impressive showings.
Grey, who was fifth at the Junior World Championships a year ago at 55 kg, earned the championship at 60 kg (132.25 lbs). The Blair Academy wrestler won all five of his bouts in straight periods.
Howes, a Colorado native, took third at 84 kg (185 pounds) with a 5-1 mark. Four of his wins were by bonus as he registered a forfeit, a pin and two technical falls.
On Sunday, five current Columbia wrestlers made the podium in the Greco Roman competition while representing the New York Athletic Club. Eric Fajardo was the highest placer of the Lion wrestlers, taking second at 74 kg/163 pounds.
In addition, multiple New York high school wrestlers placed, including a runner up showing from Jessy Williams (Windsor) at 60 kg (132.25 lbs).
New York Placewinners – FILA Juniors Freestyle
Fourth place – Caleb Richardson, Finger Lakes Wrestling Club (Ithaca, NY)
Sixth place – Nahshon Garrett, Finger Lakes Wrestling Club (Ithaca, NY)
60 kg/132.25 lbs:
Champion – Mark Grey, Blair Academy (Cornell recruit)
63 kg/138.75 lbs:
Champion – Steven Rodrigues, Illini Wrestling Club (Fox Lane High School)
70 kg/154.25 lbs:
Fourth place: Chris Dowdy, Finger Lakes Wrestling Club (Ithaca, NY)
74 kg/163 lbs:
Fifth place: Duke Pickett, Finger Lakes Wrestling Club (Ithaca, NY)
84 kg/185 lbs:
Third place – Dwight Howes, Colorado (Hofstra recruit)
New York Placewinners – FILA Juniors Greco Roman
60 kg/132.25 lbs:
Second place – Jessy Williams (USOEC)
Fourth place – Renaldo Rodriguez-Spencer (Buffalo Grapplers)
Seventh place – Jason Chudzinski (ATWA/USOEC)
Eighth place – Jesse Holton (Shamrock)
63 kg/138.75 lbs:
Second place – Tyrel White (Shamrock)
66 kg/145.5 lbs:
Fifth place – Matt Bystol (NYAC) – Columbia
74 kg/163 lbs:
Second place – Eric Fajardo (NYAC) – Columbia
Seventh place – Connor Sutton (Happy Yo)
79 kg/174 lbs:
Fourth place – Drew Rebling (NYAC) – Columbia
96 kg/211.5 lbs:
Sixth place – Matt Idelson (NYAC) – Columbia
120 kg/264.5 lbs:
Third place: Wyatt Baker (NYAC) – Columbia