By Betsy Veysman
When he was a student at Plainedge High, Craig Vitagliano remembers getting really excited for the All-Star dual between Nassau and Suffolk after the scholastic season.
“It was a premier event when I was in high school,” he said. “We definitely all looked forward to getting out and wrestling the Suffolk guys.”
After an absence of a few years, the competition returned Tuesday night at Bay Shore High School as the Suffolk wrestlers edged their Long Island neighbors in freestyle action, 32-31.
Although the Section 8 team won eight of the 15 bouts, Suffolk was sparked to victory by a pair of pins courtesy of Westhampton Beach’s Alex Tanzman at 106 pounds and Sachem North’s Gio Santiago at 182.
The event began at 100 pounds where Jesse Dellavechia of East Islip got Suffolk out to a 3-1 lead with a three period victory over Chris Donnelly.
Then it was time for Tanzman and Jose Rodriguez to take the mat.
The two had met in the semifinals of the state tournament in Albany at 99 pounds, with the Wantagh freshman earning a 6-1 win on his way to a runner up finish. After the loss, Tanzman rebounded to take third and he was excited about another chance against Rodriguez.
“I wrestled okay at states but I felt like I didn’t wrestle to my fullest potential and I could have done better against him,” Tanzman said. “I really was looking forward to a rematch.”
Rodriguez asserted himself early with a quick takedown and exposure for a 3-0 advantage. But Tanzman responded with a headlock and throw for a first period pin to give Suffolk an 8-1 lead in the team score.
Next up at 113 pounds was a pair of 2012 state placers, Krishna Sewkumar of Long Beach for Nassau and Joe Calderone for Suffolk. After splitting the first two periods, Sewkumar took control in the final stanza, with a quick point off a duck under. He added a takedown with less than 15 seconds to go to pull Section 8 within 9-4.
The score became 10-7 after former Fargo freestyle runner up Mark Raghunandan (Nassau) defeated Eric Orellana in two periods. The Long Beach wrestler scored late in the first and fought off a late charge from Orellana to win 2-1. In the second, Raghunandan got a go behind takedown and several turns to cruise 6-0.
The teams then alternated victories over the next four bouts. For Suffolk, Mike D’Angelo won a tough three period battle over Jack Reina at 126 and Jacob Restrepo swept Quinn Knauer at 138. For Nassau, Chris Araoz topped Connor O’Hara 3-0, 2-1 at 132 while Justin Paradiso pinned Thomas Dutton.
In that 145 pound bout, Dutton got on the board first with a 3-0 lead just 30 seconds into the match. Paradiso, who was injured in Section 8 finals this year, answered with three to tie things up with a minute to go and then hit a big throw to get the fall and knot the team score at 17 apiece.
“I knew he was as a younger kid, so there’s a pride thing. I didn’t want to lose to him,” Paradiso said. “He scored the first three points on me and I needed to step up. I felt him leaning and my last shot was just there.”
“Justin’s a competitor,” Vitagliano added. “He tore his ankle at counties and came back two weeks ago at the Wyoming Seminary duals and went 3-0. Dutton’s a good wrestler. At the end of the day I thought Justin would win, but I wouldn’t have predicted a fall.”
So after eight matches, it was tied. But thanks to James Dekrone, Suffolk took the lead for good at 152 pounds. The John Glenn 138-pound state champion beat Lou Hernandez of Mepham in a tight three period match, which was followed by another Section 11 victory, this time by state runner up Tyler Grimaldi over one of his current training partners, Dan McDevitt, to make the score 23-19.
With the late scratch of Dylan Palacio, McDevitt moved into the 160 slot and Dan Tracy stepped in at 170. Tracy, who agreed to participate the morning of the event, got Nassau back on track with a triumph over Zak Mullen, who took fourth at the state tournament. Mullen dominated the first period, but Tracy responded in the last two stanzas. He overcame a deficit in the third to win 7-2 and tighten the overall score to 24-22.
“Dan was literally a last minute fill in,” Vitagliano said. “He didn’t really practice this week because of other commitments and it was impressive that he went out and beat a state placer.”
Just two points separated the teams, but only briefly, as Gio Santiago made sure that gap widened quickly. The Sachem North junior hit a big move for a fall to put Section 11 ahead 29-22.
It was the last win for Suffolk, however. Chris Loew (195), Andrew Cole (220) and Dante Salkey (285) all earned victories for Nassau in the final three matches.
In fact, going into the heavyweight bout, Section 11 led 31-28 with Salkey taking on Mike Hughes in a rematch of the fifth place tilt in Albany. Salkey earned the victory, as he did at the Times Union Center, but since Hughes scored during the match, he earned a team point as well, leading to the 32-31 final.
While he was disappointed with the outcome, Vitagliano felt that the level of competitiveness was high.
“I think for Nassau it’s a moral victory,” he said. “It was so close and we actually won one more match. Suffolk is the perennial champs; the best in the state. But I think we’re closing the gap on them, breathing down their necks and [the event] is evidence of that.”
On top of the rivalry, Vitagliano felt that the event promoted the development of freestyle on Long Island.
“The goal is to create exposure for freestyle,” he said. “It’s all about getting the kids more matches and hopefully getting them out to Fargo. Kids get better when they’re wrestling better competition. It gives the kids a break from the grind of folkstyle and teaches new throws, new techniques. These days, if they want exposure to college coaches, wrestling freestyle is really important.”
Vitagliano wished to thank the many people who put the event together in a short two weeks, including Marcia Haise, Mike Leonard, Paul Gillespie, Ted DePasquale and several high school coaches in both Nassau and Suffolk counties.
100 Jesse Dellavecchia (S) over Chris Donnelly (N) in 3 periods
106 Alex Tanzman (S) over Jose Rodriguez (N) by fall
113 Krishna Sewkumar (N) over Joe Calderone (S) in 3 periods
120 Mark Raghunandan (N) over Eric Orellana (S)
126 Mike D’Angelo (S) over Jack Reina (N) in 3 periods
132 Chris Araoz (N) over Connor O’Hara (S)
138 Jacob Restrepo (S) over Quinn Knauer (N)
145 Justin Paradiso (N) over Thomas Dutton (S) by fall
152 James Dekrone (S) over Lou Hernandez (N) in 3 periods
160 Tyler Grimaldi (S) over Dan McDevitt (N)
170 Dan Tracy (N) over Zak Mullen (S) in 3 periods
182 Gio Santiago (S) over John Luxmore (N) by fall
195 Chris Loew (N) over Zach Connor (S)
220 Andrew Cole (N) over Ken Drew (S)
285 Dante Salkey (N) over Mike Hughes (S)