NY to NC: Fairport's Josh Lackey Talks Winning States as a First-Time Qualifier and Joining Coach Popolizio with the Wolfpack

Josh Lackey, Photo by Boris Veysman

When July 1 arrives, so does the official recruiting period for rising seniors.  There are wrestlers who wait anxiously by the phone or who welcome recruiters into their living rooms.

For Josh Lackey of Fairport, the experience was different.  He was without question a talented wrestler, but going into his last year of high school, he hadn’t yet made an appearance at the state tournament.  In fact, he hadn’t placed at the qualifying tournament – the SuperSectionals, either.  He hoped to change all of that as a junior, but a meniscus tear just two days before the SuperSectionals prevented him from participating in the postseason.

The injury threatened to take away activity in the summer – a time during which Lackey felt essential gains would be made in preparation for his last chance on the high school mats.  So he decided against surgery and continued on, both working on his skills and beginning to plan his future.

“The doctor told me it was a deep tear, and if I wanted to have surgery I could be out a full six months,” Lackey said. “That would mean missing clubs and summer tournaments to build up my skill level.  I thought that time was critical to success the following year and decided to just fight through it while being careful. When it hurt, I took a break.”

He also took some breaks from his workouts during the summer to visit campuses with his parents, during which he spoke to coaches about the college wrestling experience.

“We visited a ton of schools,” Lackey said. “I got a lot out of seeing what different places were like.  I talked to some coaches, who gave me a lot of insight into what they expect out of a college wrestler.”

Lackey learned a lot and got a feel for several schools, but he wasn’t sure whether his future would include wrestling or not.  In fact, going into his final campaign for the Red Raiders, Lackey thought he would probably hang up his wrestling shoes after leaving Fairport High.

“Going into my senior season, I didn’t think I wanted to wrestle in college,” he said. “It seemed like a huge commitment and I knew I had to either be fully committed and really want it or not do it at all.  There’s no in between.  Also, when I was talking to those coaches at that point, they weren’t too interested in me.  I was 29-11 as a junior and didn’t have much to show for myself yet.”

That wouldn’t last too long.  Lackey started his senior year at 220 pounds with an objective of becoming a Sectional champion, but very soon began to set his sights higher.  In his first bout of the campaign, he pinned Max Antone of Niagara Wheatfield, who had appeared at the state tournament in 2011.

“Once I beat [Antone], people came up to me and told me I could do more than win Sectionals,” he said.  “My goals slowly started creeping higher.”

Indeed, with every win, Lackey began believing he could achieve more.  However, his knee injury constantly grounded him.

“It was always on my mind,” Lackey said.  “Maybe once a week, it would act up a little bit and I would get a little worried.  There was never a time when I felt it was completely healed.  It’s always a gamble when you get on the mat because things happen so fast.  One bad move, or twist, the rest of the season could be gone.  My coaches watched it closely, but there wasn’t a time where I was totally confident in it.”

Despite that, Lackey kept winning, dropping only a single match to eventual 195-pound state champion Tony Fusco of Shenendehowa in December.

When the SuperSectionals rolled around, Lackey made up for his absence the previous year with a dominant performance in which he didn’t yield an offensive point.  With another goal crossed off the list, he said his new focus was on placing in the top six in Albany.  But when the brackets were released and his name was on the top line as the number one seed, he once again raised his ambitions.

“I started to believe I could be a state champion,” he said. “I wanted to shoot for first.”

A pin and two decisions earned him a spot in the finals against a familiar foe – Antone.  In addition to their meeting very early in the season, Lackey had beaten Antone again in late December.   (The Niagara Wheatfield grappler lost only one other match the entire season).

“I was glad to be facing [Antone] in the finals because I had wrestled him twice already and I knew what kind of wrestler he was,” Lackey said. “But I also knew I couldn’t be too confident.  I saw an article where he was talking about training just to beat me.  I never let myself be too confident because I didn’t want to look back and regret anything.”

He didn’t have to, earning a 10-8 decision to complete his 40-1 season.  And he made history in the process, giving Fairport High its first-ever state champion.

“I think the greatest thing about being the first one from my school is that I could set new goals for the underclassmen,” he said. “It’s hard to break the barrier to be the first one, but once it’s done, others believe too.  I think it sets a new standard for the team for years to come and lets people know that they can win the state championship too.”

The title run attracted the attention of college recruiters as well.  But Lackey said schools such as NC State and George Mason were at the top of his list all along, whether he was going to be a student-athlete at the next level or just a student.

“Day to day I changed my mind on whether I wanted to wrestle or not,” he said. “My parents didn’t want to influence me.  I decided on NC State on May 1 and I decided that I was going to wrestle a little bit after that.  At the end, I realized that if I graduated college without wrestling, I would regret it.  It’s such an enriching experience that very few people get the pleasure of doing.  I want to take the opportunity and make the most of it.”

The Wolfpack are happy to have him, at either 197 pounds or heavyweight.  In the past five years, the NC State roster included only two wrestlers from the state of New York.  But with the addition of Lackey, two-time state runner up Sam Speno of Fox Lane and a pair of transfers, All-American heavyweight Nick Gwiazdowski (from Binghamton) and Ryan Fox (Nassau), the roster will have a strong Empire State influence.  And with Pat Popolizio at the helm, that is likely to continue.

“I think it will be a great experience to be part of a building team rather than a team that already has had a great track record of success,” he said.  “I think the pursuit of success is most rewarding and I think I can be part of building something special at NC State.  That definitely contributed to my decision.”



Brandon Escobar Ready to Represent Honduras (and Suffolk County) at the London Olympics

Brandon Escobar kept the promise he made two years ago.

In 2010, he and his family were near the end of their vacation in Great Britain when Escobar, on a whim, stopped in a crowd and a made a loud declaration to a group of strangers.

“I was over by the London Eye,” he said. “I jumped up on the riverside by the ledge and I remember throwing my hands out and yelling, ‘London, I’ll be back in 2012.’ People were looking at me like I had three heads.  My family looked at me a little funny too and I said, ‘I’m going to make the Olympics.’”

The former Rocky Point standout has done just that.

In March, Escobar made the finals of the FILA Pan American Olympic Freestyle Qualifier in Florida to punch his ticket to the London Games, for Honduras.

The feat didn’t go unnoticed as Escobar received plenty of attention upon returning to the Central American country, where he lived for several years as a young child.

“It was really big,” he said. “Honduras is a small country of only about 8 million and everyone reads the newspapers.  People on the streets would notice me or point at me.  I was thinking, wow, this is not like the US for a wrestler.  The people love their country so much, they are so excited that Honduras will be represented.”

The representation holds special meaning, because when Escobar commences competition at 55 kg on August 10, he will be the first-ever Olympian for Honduras in the sport of wrestling.

How did Brandon Escobar, a relative newcomer to the sport who spent most of his life in New York become the inaugural Olympian for Honduras?

A simple e-mail made all the difference.

Escobar moved to Suffolk County in time for kindergarten, and despite not starting to wrestle until 8th grade, picked up the sport quickly, earning All-County honors three times and placing at the state tournament twice (fourth in 2008 and third in 2007).

After graduating from high school, he practiced with the college team at Morrisville for a short while, but said he “saw no future” there and moved back to Suffolk, where he attended some classes before entering a competition that changed his path.

“I saw an ad for the FILA Junior Nationals,” he said. “When I thought about it, it seemed like a good idea to go.  First, because going to Vegas would be awesome. But second, I really like wrestling Freestyle and Greco.”

So he ventured to Sin City and came back with an impressive haul – a first place finish in Freestyle and a runner up spot in Greco.  Adding to his excitement was an encounter he had with Henry Cejudo, a recent Olympic gold medalist, at the event.

“I remember watching [Cejudo] on TV at the Olympics and thinking how great it would be to be there someday,” Escobar said.  “He was everyone’s favorite wrestler at that point and on the last day in Vegas, he was there, talking to people.  I asked him to sign the plaque I won at the FILA Juniors and he was cool with it.  He told me he only had a few of those. I think that’s where it started for me.  I wanted to reach the goal he achieved at the Olympics.”

Escobar’s prowess in the international styles earned him an invitation to train at the New York Athletic Club (NYAC) in Manhattan. He competed in tournaments in various locations, honing his craft.  However, in the ultra-competitive 55 kg class in the United States, Escobar knew it would be a tough battle to win a berth to the London Games.  Knowing he had dreams of Olympic glory, one of his coaches suggested that he consider wrestling for Honduras, a recommendation that Escobar was unsure about at first.

“I didn’t know they had a wrestling team,” Escobar said. “I had to go onto the FILA website and check that they did. The name of the wrestling coach was there and I figured I would send an e-mail. I thought, what was the worst thing that could happen?”

What did happen was that the coach contacted Escobar with a high level of interest.  Before he knew it, Escobar was headed to Central America to train with his new national squad, from January to May of this year.

Escobar worked mostly with the team’s 60 and 66 kg wrestlers, since there weren’t any others in his weight class.

“Those six months made a huge difference,” he said. “I got bigger and developed a lot.  Everyone outweighed me by 10 or 20 pounds, which was a valuable experience. I had more technique but they had experience from a lot of traveling.  They came up with stuff from pure imagination and used their strength really well. It showed me that there are no boundaries to wrestling and opened my mind up more to think differently when I wrestle.”

He certainly kept his goals high.

At the Olympic Training Center in Honduras, he had to walk through a museum-like area to get to his room.

“Every day, I walked past this place with medals from different athletes,” he said. “I saw one for Athlete of the Century.  I told the security guard that I wanted to get that one.”

When asked what the key elements would be to reach that award or any other, Escobar immediately mentioned “strength”.

Strength is an important word for Escobar, as it not only signifies physical strength but that of his family, his supporters and his dreams. The word is featured prominently on the T-shirts he sells and it is tattooed on his right bicep.  How that ink got there is a story Escobar tells with a laugh.

“I was at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs and I forgot a toothbrush,” he said. “I was going to buy one but the tattoo place was on the way and I decided on the spur of the moment to go in.  I wanted to get a tattoo of something that emphasized my wrestling and how my life has gone. I felt my strength is something that has helped me out and will always be there for me. Right after I got the tattoo, I panicked about how I would explain it to my parents.  And I totally forgot about the toothbrush.”

When he returns from London, Escobar plans to add another tattoo – of the Olympic rings, signifying not only the 2012 experience but his plans to be part of the Olympics again in the future.

“I’ve really only had six months of international wrestling experience,” he said. “I’m looking forward to stepping out on the mat in front of the whole world. Once I’ve wrestled in the Olympics, any national or international tournament will seem like no problem. I’m excited to get a taste of the experience this time and then I’m looking to be there again in 2016 and maybe even 2020.  Wrestling is the most natural thing for me, it frees my mind and is my life away from life.  I want to do it for a long time.”

He’ll proudly continue to compete for Honduras. But he’ll also be competing for several others.

“My support group and fans constantly send me messages and fuel my fire to succeed,” he said.  “My mom (Angela Costanzo) and dad (Manuel Jesus Escobar) have always been supportive and I can’t thank all of my family enough. There are so many more people who are helping me like Jeremy Paul at Long Island Strength and Conditioning and there are so many coaches who have played such a big role. My high school coach Darren Goldstein, my NYAC Coach Nick Catana, my Cadet National Coach Anthony Ciolino. I am thankful to more people than I can mention.”

Besides coaching, Ciolino designs singlets and is involved in developing the uniform Escobar will wear in London.  But while competing, Escobar said he will also be thinking about another singlet that he wore back in his high school days.

“I bleed Section XI —  it’s where I came from and it got me to the point where I am now,” he said.  “You have to work so hard to beat all that great talent; that’s what gave me what I needed to get ahead.  I knew what I needed to do to get to the top.  Wherever I am, I’ll always be representing Suffolk County.”

Two years ago, Escobar told unsuspecting Londoners they would see him again in 2012.  In just a few days, Brandon Escobar will make good on his promise as the world watches.

Special thanks to Nancy Troisi for her assistance and photos.

Stevo Poulin and AJ Burkhart Claim Titles; Team NYWAY Competes at the Grand River Rumble in Michigan

A water park, two days of wrestling and some hardware to bring back home to New York.

That’s what Team NYWAY experienced last weekend, as the group traveled to Michigan for the Grand River Rumble, a two-day event featuring an individual tournament on Saturday and a Duals competition on Sunday.

In two days, the grapplers each competed in about 10 bouts in the Elementary School Division and in the end, five New Yorkers placed in the top four individually (including championships for Stevo Poulin and AJ Burkhart) while the squad took ninth during the Duals.

Poulin was undefeated throughout the weekend, going a combined 10-0 over the two days.  During the individual event, he outscored his opponents 26-2 and added a pin on the way to his crown.  He tacked on three more falls, a technical fall and a major decision while representing Team NYWAY during the Duals.

“Stevo was very focused, like he normally is,” said Steve Poulin, his father and one of the coaches, along with Adam Burgos of G2 World Wrestling Academy. “There were a few kids he was excited to wrestle, like Lain Yapoujian from Colorado who took second at Reno Worlds this year.  [Poulin won 7-0 in the individual tournament and 9-3 in the Duals against Yapoujian]. Stevo was pretty dominant.”

Also dominant was fellow champion Burkhart, who compiled a 9-1 mark overall, with four pins (three in less than a minute) as well as three major decisions.  But it was one of his close matches that was among the most memorable moments of the weekend, according to Steve Poulin.

“AJ had an awesome match with PJ Crane of Cincinnati Grapplers [a 2-0 victory for Burkhart],” Poulin said. “He had never beaten him before and beat him at the Duals.  Everyone was freaking out; it was awesome.  It was worth the trip out there just to have AJ beat him for the first time.”

Three additional team members medalled, including Tyler Barnes, who was the runner up at 110 pounds.  The Journeymen wrestler won eight of his 10 bouts, including a pair of pins.

“Tyler wrestled really well all weekend,” Poulin said.

Also making the podium for New York were Dillan Palaszewski and Colin Bradshaw.  Palaszewski dropped his opening bout in the 85-pound bracket, but responded with three victories to take third.  On Sunday, he added another four wins for Team NYWAY, including three falls.

Bradshaw also began with a loss, in the 50-pound tournament, but bounced back in the consolations to finish fourth.  During the Duals, he won three matches, all by fall.

The individual placers weren’t the only ones who contributed to the squad’s performance.

In the Duals competition, Nicholas Noel won four of his six bouts at 95 pounds, including a pin in less than a minute over Nathan Conley of Indiana Gold.  Also getting their hand raised for Team NYWAY were Andy Lucinski (60), Justin Smith (65), Ryan Burgos (70), Christian Bradshaw (75) and Camerin Galvin (105).  Wyatt Smith stepped in at 80 pounds for the Empire State, while Jake Cook took the mat at 135 on Saturday but injury defaulted his last match and did not compete during the Duals.

“It was a great event,” Poulin said. “We had a fun time as a team. For some of the kids, it was the first time they experienced something like this, so it was eye opening.  These types of events help kids realize what they need to do to take things to the next level.”

But it wasn’t all about wrestling.

“There was a water park right there and all the kids went on Saturday after the tournament,” Poulin said. “Then on Sunday, the Dual meet was actually at the park.  The wrestling was great but I’m guessing the park was probably the favorite part of the trip for the kids.”

Individual Placers

50 Pounds: Colin Bradshaw, 4th

55 Pounds: Stevo Poulin, Champion

85 Pounds: Dillan Palaszewski, 3rd

90 Pounds: AJ Burkhart, Champion

110 Pounds: Tyler Barns, 2nd

Team Dual Meet Results

Round 1: Chi City MonStarz defeated Team NYWAY 38-16

Round 2: Flat River Black defeated Team NYWAY 30-28

Round 3: Cincinnati Grapplers defeated Team NYWAY 63-6

Round 4: Indiana Gold defeated Team NYWAY 37-22

Round 5: Team NYWAY defeated Junior Titans 48-18

Round 6: Team NYWAY defeated Contenders Wrestling Academy 33-30

Zach Tanelli Promoted to Head Assistant Coach at Hofstra

Courtesy of Hofstra Athletic Communications (gohofstra.com)

Hempstead, NY – Hofstra wrestling assistant coach Zach Tanelli has been promoted to Head Assistant coach, Pride Head Wrestling Coach Rob Anspach announced today.  A three-time NCAA Championship qualifier and 2009 All-American as a student-athlete, Tanelli will begin his fourth season on the Hofstra Wrestling coaching staff in 2012-13.

“I am happy to promote Zach to the position of head assistant coach,” Anspach stated. “His work with our lightweight wrestlers the past three years has been a key factor in the continuous success of our team.” Last year, Hofstra was 12-3 overall, 5-1 in the Colonial Athletic Association and captured their 11th conference title in the last 12 seasons. 

As a student-athlete at the University of Wisconsin, Tanelli placed fourth at the 2009 NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships in St. Louis, Missouri. The Short Hills, New Jersey, native recorded a 6-2 record, including five straight victories, in the National Championships to earn his first All-America honor. Tanelli, who was the top-ranked wrestler at 141 pounds for eight weeks through the conference tournament, placed second in the Big 10 Championships. The 2008 Midlands champion finished the year with a 31-6 record, including a 15-1 mark in duals and a 7-0 record in the Big 10 and ranked second in the country. 

Tanelli earned his first NCAA Championship bid in 2007 as a wildcard after placing eighth in the Big Ten Championships. He recorded a 21-10 overall record including a 19-3 mark in dual matches and a 5-3 record in the Big 10. Tanelli also led the Badgers in dual points with 80. As a junior in 2007-08, he earned his second NCAA Championship bid by finishing fifth in the Big 10 Championships. Tanelli posted a 3-2 record at Nationals to finish the season with a 28-12 record including a 13-5 mark in duals and a 5-3 record in conference action.

A two-time New Jersey State Championship runner-up out of Millburn High School, Tanelli notched an 8-3 record and captured the Pointer Open title as a red-shirt freshman at Wisconsin in 2005-06. During his four-year career at Wisconsin, Tanelli posted an 88-31 overall record including a 49-10 mark in duals and a 17-6 record in the Big 10. 

Tanelli, who holds a degree in sociology from Wisconsin, will complete his master’s degree course work in educational leadership and policy studies at Hofstra this fall.

Former State Champions Announce Transfer Plans: Dutton to Michigan, Malvestuto to Buffalo

Stephen Dutton, Photo by Boris Veysman

Two former New York State champions recently made their transfer destinations official.

On Tuesday, the Dutton family confirmed that Stephen Dutton will be attending the University of Michigan in the fall.  The Rocky Point graduate was a two-time NCAA qualifier at Lehigh and a two-time placer at the EIWA tournament (4th in 2011, 3rd in 2012) at 141 pounds.

During his Mountain Hawk career, Dutton compiled a 42-21 record and made the Round of 12 at the NCAAs as a freshman.

After getting his release from Lehigh, Dutton also considered staying home on Long Island and wrestling for Hofstra before choosing the Wolverines.  He has two years of eligibility as well as a redshirt year remaining.  Dutton plans to stay at 141 pounds.

Dutton won his second state title in 2010, the same year that Niagara-Wheatfield’s Angelo Malvestuto captured his state crown at 189 pounds.  After a pair of seasons at Virginia Tech, Malvestuto recently announced his plans to change schools. He will now join the hometown Buffalo Bulls.

The all-time wins leader at Niagara-Wheatfield redshirted in his first season in Blacksburg and competed at both 184 and 197 pounds during his freshman campaign in 2011-12.  He amassed a 21-13 mark, which included placements at tournaments such as the Harris Open, Nittany Lion Open and Shorty Hitchcock Classic.  At the end of the year, Malvestuto represented Virginia Tech at 184 pounds at the ACC Championships.

The Bulls staff is pleased to welcome the three-time high school All-American back to New York to compete for a starting role in the upperweights.

“Angelo was a proven winner in high school,” said head assistant coach Matt Lackey in a Buffalo press release. “Coming to Buffalo after spending two years at Virginia Tech allows him to make an immediate impact at a weight class where we need him.  One more stepping stone has been added in our climb to the top of the MAC with the addition of Angelo.”

Fargo 2012 Recap for NY: Three National Champs and More Than 25 All-Americans

After eight days full of wrestling at Fargo, New York boasted three National Champions, 28 total All-Americans and a number of breakout performances.

The following are some of the stories that emerged during the week.

Seniors Go Out Strong

The Empire State’s class of 2012 was outstanding, featuring the winningest wrestler in state history (Quinton Murphy), a National Champion who represented the USA All-Stars at both the Dapper Dan and Dream Team Duals (Brian Realbuto) and a grappler who remained undefeated throughout the high school campaign, the New York Freestyle and Greco States, the NHSCA Senior Nationals and the Disney Duals (Dylan Palacio). In all, five New Yorkers were ranked in Intermat’s final Top 100.

Brian Realbuto, Photo by Boris Veysman

Murphy, Realbuto and Palacio all placed in the top four in brackets of more than 75 entrants at Fargo, going a combined 23-6 against some of the best in the nation.

After a bronze medal finish in 2011, Murphy returned and took silver at 138 pounds.  He showed resilience, winning five in a row to make the finals after losing a match on the opening day.  He will next compete in the Big 10 as a member of the Indiana Hoosiers.

Realbuto and Palacio will also wear red in college – Cornell Big Red.   Both took fourth on Saturday after impressive runs.

Realbuto, last year’s champion at 145, wrestled well despite an injury.  He defaulted to Oliver Pierce, a wrestler he defeated last year at this tournament, to take fourth.  Similarly, Palacio was dominant for much of the event and stood fourth on the podium after dropping his final bout against Wisconsin’s Matt Gray on Saturday.

All three will be worth watching on the NCAA scene in the coming years.

Stating Their Cases

The early national rankings included several Empire State representatives, such as Nicky Hall, Troy Seymour, Nick Lupi and Renaldo Rodriguez-Spencer.  But several of the state’s top rising seniors who weren’t listed made clear statements over the past few days.

Tyler Grimaldi, a 2012 state runner up who was an All-American at the NHSCA Junior Nationals in the spring, once again made his presence felt at a national event, winning seven matches and taking sixth place in the deep 160 pound bracket.

“I always see the rankings, but they don’t mean too much to me,” Grimaldi said. “It’s all about wrestling on the mat and getting the wins.  With more wins, the rankings will come.”

Those rankings may also come for other members of the Empire State squad.

Kyle Kelly of Chenango Forks, a two-time champion in New York, made the medal stand for the second consecutive year in Greco, and a pair of workout partners from Section 2, Nick Kelley (fourth at 132 pounds) and David Almaviva (eighth at 145 pounds) showcased their skills in Junior Freestyle.  Kelley, a multi-time state placer, picked up seven victories, defeating nationally-ranked grapplers such as Jared McKinley of Indiana.

“Before the tournament, I was really hoping to be an All-American, but you never know how it will work out there with the draw and so many great wrestlers,” Kelley said. “I felt like I was pretty strong at the weight. I had some tough matches where I think my strength and my conditioning were big advantages.  When the matches went on longer, I felt more confident.  I felt like [opponents] started dying down and I started regaining energy.”

The same could be said for Almaviva, who was wrestling up a weight from the high school season.

“It was great watching [Almaviva] do so well, especially wrestling up at 145,” Kelley said. “It seemed like he was still stronger than most of the guys he wrestled.”

Plainsmen on the Podium

Nick Kelley, Photo by Boris Veysman

Kelley and Almaviva weren’t the only success stories from their school this weekend.  Some entire states captured five or fewer medals.  Shenenedehowa High School earned five on its own, including a pair of national titles in the women’s competition by Alexis Porter and a Cadet Greco fourth place showing by Jesse Porter.

“There are a ton of All-Americans to work with in our room now,” Kelley said. “Having practice partners like that helps us all get better. We have a lot of tough wrestlers coming back next year.  I think we’ll be pretty solid.”

Head coach Rob Weeks will certainly have a solid team, one that will likely be a top contender again in Albany.

Girl Power

Speaking of Alexis Porter . . . the ladies brought home three national titles.

“Getting a pin in the Cadet finals like Alexis did – that’s a big deal,” Kelley said.  “Then, winning another title in Junior Freestyle was great. She had a great tournament.”

In addition to Porter’s two championships, Mary Westman improved upon her second place showing in 2011 to demonstrate that she is the top 159-pounder in the land.

Warsaw’s Hanna Grisewood was also a finalist for the Empire State, taking second at 112 and Rosemary Flores was third at 130 pounds a year after taking double titles.

The Future

Quite a few of the stars of this year’s event will be eligible to return.  In addition to wrestlers such as Nick Kelley, Almaviva, Grimaldi, Kyle Kelly, Flores and the Porters, several others who made an impact may wear the New York singlet again in 2013.

Rodriguez-Spencer went 10-2 at the Junior Duals and followed that up with a third place finish in Greco.  He’ll be a threat in both styles next year, as will Chris Cuccolo who medaled in Greco this year after placing in both styles in 2011.

Leading the charge for the Cadets were Freestyle All-Americans Thomas Dutton and Chris Tangora as well as Greco placer Benjamin Honis, who was one win short of medaling in Freestyle as well.  They will be joined by Santo Curatolo, Brendan Goldup and Sam Ward, who will look to climb higher on the podium.

And of course, there are the wrestlers who didn’t become All-Americans this time, but will break through the barrier next year.  Just ask Nick Kelley, who was 3-2 in his last appearance at Fargo in 2010.  Or Grimaldi, who went 1-2 last July.

“I got beaten up last year at Fargo,” Grimaldi said.  “It was tough.  But over the entire year I had the mentality of working hard to do better.  Am I happy with 6th this year?  No.  But if I put it in perspective and look at the step I took from last year, I realize it was a big accomplishment.  I’m 100% coming back next year.  I have unfinished business in Fargo, North Dakota.”

That kind of mentality promises to bring a large medal haul back to New York in July of 2013.  But for now, with Fargo 2012 in the rearview mirror, it’s time to change the focus back to folkstyle.  The countdown to the 2012-13 high school season has begun.


2012 New York All-Americans at Fargo


106 Pounds: Kyle Kelly, 7th Place Greco

113 Pounds: Josh Antoine, 8th Place Greco

120 Pounds: Santo Curatolo, 6th Place Greco

132 Pounds: Renaldo Rodriguez-Spencer, 3rd Place Greco

152 Pounds: Brendan Goldup, 5th Place Greco

160 Pounds: Connor Sutton, 5th Place Greco

182 Pounds: McZiggy Richards, 4th Place Greco

182 Pounds: Chris Loew, 7th Place Greco


132 Pounds: Nick Kelley, 4th Place Freestyle

138 Pounds: Quinton Murphy, 2nd Place Freestyle

145 Pounds: David Almaviva, 8th Place Freestyle

152 Pounds: Brian Realbuto, 4th Place Freestyle

160 Pounds: Dylan Palacio, 4th Place Freestyle

160 Pounds: Tyler Grimaldi 6th Place Freestyle



94 Pounds: Chris Cuccolo, Cadet Greco 5th

132 Pounds: Jesse Porter, Cadet Greco 4th

132 Pounds: Sam Ward, Cadet Greco 7th

182 Pounds: Benjamin Honis, Cadet Greco 7th


138 Pounds: Thomas Dutton, 8th Place Freestyle

195 Pounds: Chris Tangora, 8th Place Freestyle


Women –  Cadet

143 Pounds: Alexis Porter, Cadet Freestyle Champion

143 Pounds: Kennedie Eddings, Cadet Freestyle 6th

172 Pounds: Yuneris Diaz, Cadet Freestyle 3rd


Women –  Junior

112 Pounds: Hanna Grisewood, 2nd Place

130 Pounds: Rosemary Flores, 3rd Place

139 Pounds: Alexis Porter, Champion

159 Pounds: Mary Westman, Champion

172 Pounds: Yuneris Diaz, 5th Place

New York Crowns Six Junior Freestyle All-Americans; Quinton Murphy to Wrestle for the Championship

New York crowned six All-Americans in Junior Freestyle on Friday.  The placement matches will take place on Saturday as the tournament comes to a close.  The Empire State All-Americans are:

Wrestling for the Championship: Quinton Murphy (Holley), 138 Pounds (Took 2nd)

Wrestling for 3rd: Nick Kelley (Shenendehowa), 132 Pounds (Took 4th)

Wrestling for 3rd: Brian Realbuto (Somers), 152 Pounds (Took 4th)

Wrestling for 3rd: Dylan Palacio (Long Beach), 160 Pounds (Took 4th)

Wrestling for 5th: Tyler Grimaldi (Half Hollow Hills West), 160 Pounds (Took 6th)

Wrestling for 7th: David Almaviva (Shenendehowa), 145 Pounds (Took 8th)


Quinton Murphy finished third at Fargo in Junior Freestyle last year and was looking to cap off his high school career this July with a National Championship.  But after losing a match on Thursday, he knew he would have to go on a long winning streak to reach that goal.

He was able to do just that, reeling off five straight victories on Friday to earn his spot in the finals against Bryce Brill of Illinois at 138 pounds.

Friday began on the right foot for Murphy as he pinned Walker Damewood of Oregon in less than 30 seconds.  However, in his next contest, he dropped the first period 6-0 to Davey Dolan of Oklahoma before responding with a fall midway through the next stanza for another win.

From there, Murphy defeated the other three All-Americans in his pool, Darick LaPaglia of Missouri, Justin Arthur of West Virginia and Hayden Tuma of Idaho to reach the title bout.  Against Tuma in the decisive match, Murphy lost the initial period 8-0 before taking the next two by the scores of 5-3 and 5-1.

Last year, Murphy handed eventual champion Ben Whitford a loss in pool action and then watched the Michigan grappler take the title.  This time, Murphy hopes to be the one holding the trophy before beginning his college career at Indiana.

Beginning their college careers soon in Ithaca, NY will be Brian Realbuto and Dylan Palacio.  But before they do, they will look to pick up third place medals at Fargo.

Realbuto won the crown in North Dakota last summer and breezed through the early stages of the tournament, recording two pins and two technical falls in his first five matches.  In his sixth bout against Keilan Torres of Oklahoma, Realbuto dropped the first period 1-0 and fell behind 4-0 in the second while aggravating an injury sustained at the Junior Duals.  However, he was able to overcome the deficit to eventually win the middle stanza 6-5 and then wasted little time in racking up seven points in the third to end the match quickly.

The Somers graduate then defeated California’s Jake Elliott and won the first period against Yoanse Mejia of Florida 4-0 before taking a full injury timeout.  After the action resumed, Mejia grabbed a 0-4, 5-0, 6-0 decision.

On Saturday, Realbuto is slated to meet Oliver Pierce of Texas for third place.

Realbuto’s future teammate with the Big Red, Dylan Palacio will also battle for the bronze.  Palacio was in total control of his first seven bouts during which he didn’t lose a single period and yielded more than one point in just one match (his 2-0, 6-2 triumph over Seth Williams of Ohio).

“He just looks phenomenal,” said coach Craig Vitagliano of Ascend Wrestling in Long Island, after Palacio moved to 7-0 on Friday afternoon. “He had a tough draw, but he kept rising to the occasion.  He’s shown everything.  He can handfight, he wears people down, he works the line and knows when to go offensive and when to go defensive.  He’s such a gamer.”

The “gamer” went undefeated during the high school season, won the NHSCA Senior Nationals in Virginia Beach and went unbeaten at the Disney Duals.  His streak came to an end on Friday night when he lost a battle to California’s Isaiah Martinez, one of the nation’s top rising seniors.

Palacio will square off against Matt Gray of Wisconsin on Saturday for third.

Joining Palacio as an All-American in the 160-pound bracket is Tyler Grimaldi, who will compete for fifth.  The Half Hollow Hills West wrestler showed his composure throughout the tournament, coming back from deficits on numerous occasions.

Grimaldi cruised to wins in his initial two bouts, but then lost the first period in his next four matches.  All four times, he bounced back to take the last two stanzas, outscoring his opponents 33-11 over the last two periods in those bouts.

“Tyler isn’t as experienced in freestyle as a lot of other guys, but he makes up for it with mental toughness,” Vitagliano said on Friday afternoon.  “He’s totally coachable and fights tooth and nail for every point.  He lost some of those first periods but he is so good at making adjustments mid-match.  He’s also so well conditioned so he wears guys down.  If you’re not as experienced in freestyle but you’re good on your feet and you understand par terre defense, you can do well here.  All those things have put Tyler in the position he’s in now.”

That position is a battle for fifth with Idaho’s Austin Dewey on Saturday after Grimaldi topped Chris Lattner and lost to Gray and Nick Wanzek on Friday evening.

More Medals for Shenendehowa

Earlier in the week, Shenendehowa was well represented on the podium as Alexis Porter earned a pair of national titles and Jesse Porter placed in Greco.  Now, the Plainsmen have another two All-Americans to add to an impressive 2012 Fargo event – training partners Nick Kelley (132) and David Almaviva (145).

Kelley compiled an impressive 7-1 mark to earn a slot in the third place bout against Robbie Mathers of Arizona.  The 132 pounder started the day with a hard fought win over California’s Ali Naser.  Although Naser won the first period 4-0, Kelley grabbed the next two, 5-0 and 1-1 to move forward.  The multi-time state placer from Section 2 then defeated George Fisher of Illinois and Jared McKinley of Indiana to run his record to 7-0 before dropping a bout against finalist Zain Retherford of Pennsylvania.

Almaviva went 5-0 on Thursday and added another victory over Phil Downing to begin day two in a three period match.  He was then defeated by Brandon Sorensen and Austin Eads but will meet Brian Murphy of Illinois, a runner up at this weight a year ago, for seventh.

Placement matches begin at 11 a.m. Eastern time on Saturday.

The Conclusion of Cadet Freestyle

A pair of rising sophomores earned eighth place medals for New York on Friday afternoon as the Cadet Freestyle event came to an end.

Thomas Dutton captured the first period of the seventh place tilt by a 6-2 tally against Pennsylvania’s Chris Weiler, but his opponent came back to pin him in the second.  Dutton will return to Rocky Point next year after winning over 40 matches as a freshman 132 pounder in 2011-12.

Chris Tangora, a student at Bethlehem Central, also took eighth after losing to Matthew Olauson of Maryland in his final bout.  Tangora won more than 25 matches during the 2011-12 campaign at 182 pounds.

The Full List of New York All-Americans in All Competitions at Fargo


106 Pounds: Kyle Kelly, 7th Place Greco

113 Pounds: Josh Antoine, 8th Place Greco

120 Pounds: Santo Curatolo, 6th Place Greco

132 Pounds: Renaldo Rodriguez-Spencer, 3rd Place Greco

152 Pounds: Brendan Goldup, 5th Place Greco

160 Pounds: Connor Sutton, 5th Place Greco

182 Pounds: McZiggy Richards, 4th Place Greco

182 Pounds: Chris Loew, 7th Place Greco


132 Pounds: Nick Kelley, 4th Place Freestyle

138 Pounds: Quinton Murphy, 2nd Place Freestyle

145 Pounds: David Almaviva, 8th Place Freestyle

152 Pounds: Brian Realbuto, 4th Place Freestyle

160 Pounds: Dylan Palacio, 4th Place Freestyle

160 Pounds: Tyler Grimaldi 6th Place Freestyle



94 Pounds: Chris Cuccolo, Cadet Greco 5th

132 Pounds: Jesse Porter, Cadet Greco 4th

132 Pounds: Sam Ward, Cadet Greco 7th

182 Pounds: Benjamin Honis, Cadet Greco 7th


138 Pounds: Thomas Dutton, 8th Place Freestyle

195 Pounds: Chris Tangora, 8th Place Freestyle


Women –  Cadet

143 Pounds: Alexis Porter, Cadet Freestyle Champion

143 Pounds: Kennedie Eddings, Cadet Freestyle 6th

172 Pounds: Yuneris Diaz, Cadet Freestyle 3rd


Women –  Junior

112 Pounds: Hanna Grisewood, 2nd Place

130 Pounds: Rosemary Flores, 3rd Place

139 Pounds: Alexis Porter, Champion

159 Pounds: Mary Westman, Champion

172 Pounds: Yuneris Diaz, 5th Place

Dutton and Tangora Become All-Americans; Seven NY Wrestlers Undefeated After Day 1 of Junior Freestyle

New York had four All-Americans in Cadet Greco and now has two in Cadet Freestyle.  On Thursday night, Rocky Point’s Thomas Dutton (138 pounds) and Bethlehem Central’s Chris Tangora (195) clinched spots on the podium.  Both will wrestle for seventh place on Friday.

Dutton has amassed a 5-2 record with three pins, while Tangora has a 3-2 mark and will face Matthew Olauson of Maryland on Friday.

Also remaining in medal contention for New York is Benjamin Honis, who has racked up a 3-1 record thus far.  The Jamesville-Dewitt grappler will face Samuel Colbray of Oregon in his next bout.  With a victory, Honis will be an All-American as well.

Seven Wrestlers Go Undefeated for New York on Day 1 of Junior Freestyle

The Junior Freestyle tournament, the final Fargo event, got underway on Thursday and many Empire State wrestlers got off to a great start.  In fact, seven grapplers finished the day with perfect records, including three in the 160 pound bracket — Dylan Palacio (4-0), Tyler Grimaldi (4-0) and Burke Paddock (3-0).

Reggie Williams, Photo by Boris Veysman

Returning National Champion Brian Realbuto (152) began his run at another title by going 4-0, including two technical falls and a pin.

Shenendehowa teammates Nick Kelley (132 pounds) and David Almaviva (145) also were unbeaten, while Johnson City’s Reggie Williams (195) had an unblemished day as well.

Several others remain in the competition for the Empire State.  They include multi-time state champions Kyle Kelly (106) and Quinton Murphy (138), as well as 2012 state silver medalists Trey Aslanian (120) and El Shaddai Gilmore Van Hoesen (285).  Representing New York at 220 pounds on Friday will be NY Freestyle state champion Soslan Gularov and Matthew Abbott of Windsor, who both registered 2-1 marks on Thursday.

Action resumes at 10 a.m. Eastern time on Friday in both the Cadet and Freestyle competitions.


Honis, Dutton, Vines and Tangora Move On in Cadet Freestyle on Day 5 at Fargo

On Wednesday, the fifth day of competition at Fargo, the Men’s Cadet Freestyle tournament began and four New York wrestlers remained in medal contention after the first day of action.

  • At 138 pounds, Rocky Point’s Thomas Dutton went 4-1 with three pins to advance.  He will face Miguel Barreras of New Mexico, who also went 4-1, in his first bout on Thursday.
  • At 145 pounds, Nick Vines of Wantagh won three of his four matches and will take on Weston Dobler of North Dakota in the next round.
  • At 182 pounds, Jamesville-Dewitt’s Benjamin Honis won all three of his bouts and will have a bye in Round 4 on Thursday.  Honis earned All-America honors in the Cadet Greco event earlier in the week.
  • At 195 pounds, Bethlehem Central rising sophomore Chris Tangora went 2-1 and will next take the mat against Montana grappler Matthew Welch, also 2-1.

The Empire State women’s team provided a number of highlights throughout the week, including three National Champions – Mary Westman (159 pounds, Junior Freestyle) and Alexis Porter (in both the Cadet and Junior divisions). In addition, the squad boasted five additional All-Americans.   On Wednesday, the team placed eighth in the Women’s Freestyle Duals.

 Full List of 2012 New York All-Americans – In All Competitions


106 Pounds: Kyle Kelly, 7th Place Greco

113 Pounds: Josh Antoine, 8th Place Greco

120 Pounds: Santo Curatolo, 6th Place Greco

132 Pounds: Renaldo Rodriguez-Spencer, 3rd Place Greco

152 Pounds: Brendan Goldup, 5th Place Greco

160 Pounds: Connor Sutton, 5th Place Greco

182 Pounds: McZiggy Richards, 4th Place Greco

182 Pounds: Chris Loew, 7th Place Greco



94 Pounds: Chris Cuccolo, Cadet Greco 5th

132 Pounds: Jesse Porter, Cadet Greco 4th

132 Pounds: Sam Ward, Cadet Greco 7th

182 Pounds: Benjamin Honis, Cadet Greco 7th


Women –  Cadet

143 Pounds: Alexis Porter, Cadet Freestyle Champion

143 Pounds: Kennedie Eddings, Cadet Freestyle 6th

172 Pounds: Yuneris Diaz, Cadet Freestyle 3rd


Women –  Junior

112 Pounds: Hanna Grisewood, 2nd Place

130 Pounds: Rosemary Flores, 3rd Place

139 Pounds: Alexis Porter, Champion

159 Pounds: Mary Westman, Champion

172 Pounds: Yuneris Diaz, 5th Place

Porter and Westman Capture Freestyle National Titles and Eight Become All-Americans in Junior Greco

Now there are three National Championship plaques heading back to New York.

On Saturday night, Alexis Porter picked up the first National Title for the Empire State in Cadet Women’s Freestyle action at 143 pounds.  On Tuesday, Porter made it two-for-two at Fargo, capturing her second crown of the week, this time in Junior competition at 139 pounds with a 1-0, 1-0 victory over Jasmine Mendoza of California.

Joining Porter on top of the podium on Tuesday evening was Mary Westman, the title winner at 159 pounds.  The Jamestown College-bound wrestler topped Kiaya Von Soyoc of Washington in the title bout.  After dropping the opening period 7-2, Westman responded by dominating the remainder of the match.  She stayed on the attack, getting to her opponent’s legs often, to take the last two periods by the scores of 7-2 and 3-1.

Also earning All-America honors were Hanna Grisewood of Warsaw, who was the runner up at 112 pounds after picking up five wins, and Rosemary Flores, who took third at 130 pounds after registering pins in five of her six victories. Yuneris Diaz rounded out the New York medalists, grabbing fifth at 172 pounds.

Eight Become 2012 Junior Greco All-Americans

On the men’s side, eight New Yorkers were crowned All-Americans in Junior Greco Roman.  Leading the way was 2012 state runner up Renaldo Rodriguez-Spencer, who took third at 132 pounds after notching six victories in seven matches.

Joining him on the medal stand were a pair of future Columbia wrestlers, Connor Sutton (fifth at 160) and Chris Loew (seventh at 182).  Sutton’s high school teammate at LaSalle Institute, Brendan Goldup, was also fifth (at 152 pounds), while a trio of PSAL standouts also gained All-America status: McZiggy Richards (fourth at 182), Santo Curatolo (sixth at 120) and Josh Antoine (eighth at 113).  Kyle Kelly (106) grabbed seventh for the second consecutive year in Greco competition.

The Junior Freestyle tournament begins on Thursday.

 Full List of 2012 New York All-Americans – In All Competitions


106 Pounds: Kyle Kelly, 7th Place Greco

113 Pounds: Josh Antoine, 8th Place Greco

120 Pounds: Santo Curatolo, 6th Place Greco

132 Pounds: Renaldo Rodriguez-Spencer, 3rd Place Greco

152 Pounds: Brendan Goldup, 5th Place Greco

160 Pounds: Connor Sutton, 5th Place Greco

182 Pounds: McZiggy Richards, 4th Place Greco

182 Pounds: Chris Loew, 7th Place Greco



94 Pounds: Chris Cuccolo, Cadet Greco 5th

132 Pounds: Jesse Porter, Cadet Greco 4th

132 Pounds: Sam Ward, Cadet Greco 7th

182 Pounds: Benjamin Honis, Cadet Greco 7th


Women –  Cadet

143 Pounds: Alexis Porter, Cadet Freestyle Champion

143 Pounds: Kennedie Eddings, Cadet Freestyle 6th

172 Pounds: Yuneris Diaz, Cadet Freestyle 3rd


Women –  Junior

112 Pounds: Hanna Grisewood, 2nd Place

130 Pounds: Rosemary Flores, 3rd Place

139 Pounds: Alexis Porter, Champion

159 Pounds: Mary Westman, Champion

172 Pounds: Yuneris Diaz, 5th Place