Shenendehowa All-American Nick Kelley Gives Verbal Pledge to Binghamton

Nick Kelley Photo by Boris Veysman

In an interview earlier this summer, Binghamton All-American Donnie Vinson talked about how committed the new coaching staff was to compiling a top recruiting class this year.

The Bearcats are certainly off to a great start, as Shenendehowa All-American Nick Kelley gave his verbal pledge to the CAA school on Friday, a few weeks after Canastota’s Zack Zupan did the same.

Kelley, a future 141 pounder, made a splash this summer when he took fourth place at 132 pounds at the Freestyle Junior Nationals at Fargo in a bracket full of acclaimed grapplers.  It wasn’t the first time on a national podium for the Section 2 star, as he took fifth at FloNationals in 2011 and third at NHSCA Freshman Nationals in 2010.

Intermat’s #93 senior recruit has been a standout in New York for years, as he first qualified for the state tournament as a seventh grader.  He has made the podium in the Empire State on multiple occasions, including a third place showing at 132 pounds in 2012.  Kelley is currently ranked #9 in the country by Flowrestling at 132 and will look for his first state title in February, likely up a weight, for the Plainsmen.

Please check back for a full story on Nick Kelley’s commitment in the coming days.

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Rob Koll's Cornell Season Preview and 2012-13 Big Red Schedule

By Rob Koll

Photos by Boris Veysman

Last year we enjoyed a great season, even with the addition of five new starters. This year, due to graduation and growth, we will have a fresh look at the 125, 174, 197 and 285 weight classes. We are fortunate to have a great incoming class as well as a room stocked full of returning talent. The following is a weight-by-weight breakdown of what you can expect to see on the mats this year.

125 POUNDS: Two wrestlers will compete for the starting spot at this weight class. Sophomore Bricker Dixon was 13-5 last year, placing at the Southern Scuffle and winning the NY State Intercollegiate and National Collegiate Open championships. Bricker was a four-time Missouri state finalist in high school.  Bricker’s competition will come from freshman Nahshon Garrett, who was a two-time California state champion and a NHSCA Senior National champion as well.

These two are incredibly tough and talented young men. It will be difficult to replace All-American Frank Perrelli, but I believe either one of these two have the ability to pick up immediately where Frank left off. Whoever ultimately represents the Big Red in the postseason will be vying for All-America honors.

Others to watch: Logan Connor (Fr)

133 POUNDS: After transferring into Cornell in January, junior Nick Arujau won one match at the NCAA tournament before being eliminated. Last year he was undersized and did not compete favorably against the very best. Nick has worked incredibly hard over the summer and he looks like a completely new and improved version of himself. He has built himself into a very good-looking 133-pound wrestler and size will not be an issue this year.

Others to watch: Josh Kennedy (Jr)

Mike Nevinger, Photo by Boris Veysman

141 POUNDS: There is little doubt that Mike Nevinger made the biggest improvements on the team last year. He went from second/third string to 7th in the country at NCAAs.  I am pleased to say that he continues to improve and he will be even more dominant this year. Joe Stanzione enters his senior campaign after an outstanding 23-9 record last season. Nik Pena is taking the year off.

Others to watch: Joe Rendina (Fr) and Connor David

149 POUNDS: Chris Villalonga was 24-12 last season. Although this would be great for most freshmen, we expect even more from Chris this year.

Others to watch: Ryan Dunphy (Jr), Scott Bosak (Fr) Aaron Benedict (Fr) and Andrew Gonzalez (So)

157 POUNDS: Senior Kyle Dake is 100-4 with three NCAA titles. He has much to work on before he scores on me in the room, but he has not gotten frustrated. I’m proud to say he is working hard. His goal is to beat Coach Spates in a match and to score on me before he graduates. Personally I believe the last wish on his graduation bucket list is unrealistic but I gotta let the “Kid” dream.

Sophomore Evan Knight hopes to return to the mats after missing all of last season due to injuries. We hope Evan can safely return, but we expect to bring him back slowly.

Others to watch: Chris Dowdy (Fr)

165 POUNDS: Sophomore Marshall Peppelman gained invaluable experience in racking up a 28-17 first-year record. Last year he qualified for the NCAA tournament, where he won one match. This year we expect for him to compete for All-America honors.

This weight will be one of our most hotly contested. Junior Craig Eifert has amassed a 36-17 mark over the past two seasons wrestling from 149-165 pounds. More impressive is the fact that Craig’s record includes victories over numerous All-Americans. Sophomore Jesse Shanaman returns to the mats after recovering from last year’s season-ending knee surgery.

Others to watch: Cody Hutcheson (Sr) Casey O’Malley (Fr)

174 POUNDS: Sophomore Billy George has eaten and trained himself out of this weight class and will compete for the starting spot at 197. In his place we have a host of incoming freshmen as well as returning talent. Junior Michael Alexander is back after posting a 9-11 record. Sophomore Matthew Cunningham returns after suffering through an injury-plagued freshman campaign. Freshmen Duke Pickett and Owen Scott will undoubtedly make their presence known.

Others to watch: Patrick Sullivan (Jr)

Steve Bosak, Photo by Boris Veysman

184 POUNDS: Senior Steve Bosak will be expected to lead our team as he returns to defend his NCAA title. Senior Peter Mesko will provide us with a solid back-up if and when Bosak needs a break.

197 POUNDS: On paper this weight would appear to be one of our “holes”.  The reality is not only will this not be a hole, but we will be more than competitive at 197.  Four very capable wrestlers are lining up to replace NCAA champion Cam Simaz.

Sophomore Jace Bennett had a 16-7 record last year and will only improve now that he has a legitimate chance of breaking into the lineup. Billy George, last year’s starter at 174, is a full sized 197-pound wrestler. Billy had a roller coaster freshman campaign but still amassed an impressive 18-13 record. Senior Lukasz Stala enters his senior year after compiling a career 26-23 mark. Freshman Craig Scott, a two-time New York state champion, should also figure prominently into the fray.

285 POUNDS: This is the only weight class where Cornell has never had an All-American. I would like to blame Damion Hahn for this but since he has not been coaching at Cornell for 100 years, sadly I cannot pass the buck onto him! We are placing our hopes of breaking this streak on junior Stryker Lane, senior Oney Snyder or freshman Jacob Aiken Phillips.

Stryker placed 5th at the EIWAs two years ago and last season finished with a 19-11 record, which included 10 falls. Oney only needs one more semester to graduate so he will not be competing until the second part of the year.  Jacob Aiken Phillips, from this point forward referred to as JAP, suffered an early season injury, which forced him to miss the majority of the season. JAP is a former Georgia state champion who has good speed and size.  We are excited to finally get an opportunity to see him compete.

Exciting Changes Made to the Schedule

I am typically fairly conservative in how I schedule, but this year I’ve decided to mix things up a little. We finally have the depth to handle a much more grueling dual meet slate, and the schedule reflects this situation. In the past, if we lost one or two wrestlers we were sunk in a dual. As a result, I tended to push a tournament-laden schedule. The New York Coaches Association also agreed that every team would attend the New York State Intercollegiates this year, if the event was moved to the first semester.  I was willing to do this on the condition that we were the permanent host site. As a result, we have dropped the Body Bar from our schedule.

Because we do not have as many tournaments to help us pick our starting lineup, we have added a Red/White wrestle off on November 9. This will help us choose the team for our opening night Binghamton dual. In addition to this change we will be competing against Oklahoma, Central Michigan and Drexel at the Journeyman Duals on November 24 and against Missouri and Oklahoma State at Madison Square Garden on December 16.  We also added home contests against Oregon State on January 27 and Bucknell on February 10.

I believe this is an ambitious schedule but we have the type of team that needs to be challenged and this schedule will do just that.

2012-2013 Schedule (Home Events in Bold)

Date

Event

Time

November 9 Red vs. White 6 p.m.
November 16 Binghamton 6:30 p.m.
November 17 NY State Intercollegiate Varsity All Day
November 18 NY State Intercollegiate JV All Day
November 24 Journeymen Duals (Albany, NY) 9:30 vs. Drexel; 1:30 vs. Oklahoma; 3:30 vs. C. Michigan
November 30-Dec 1 Las Vegas Invitational (Las Vegas, NV)
December 16 Madison Square Garden 10 a.m. vs. Missouri; 12:30 vs. Oklahoma St.
January 1-2 Southern Scuffle at Chattanooga, TN All Day
January 6 at Lehigh 2:00 p.m.
January 12 Princeton
January 19 at Brown
January 19 at Harvard
January 26 Pennsylvania 2:00 p.m.
January 27 Oregon State 2:00 p.m.
February 2 at Hofstra 12:00
at Columbia 6:00 p.m.
February 10 Bucknell 2:00 p.m.
February 17 National Duals
February 24 National Duals Final Four at Minneapolis, MN
March 9-10 EIWA Championships at Rutgers
March 21-23 NCAA Championships at Des Moines, IA

–Printed with permission

One-on-One With Recently Promoted Zach Tanelli, Hofstra's Head Assistant Coach

Zach Tanelli, Courtesy Hofstra Athletic Communications

New York Wrestling News spent time talking to recently promoted Hofstra Head Assistant Coach Zach Tanelli about a range of topics, from the team’s loaded 2012-13 schedule, to the newcomers who could have an immediate impact, to the New York-New Jersey wrestling rivalry.

Q: Let’s start with the schedule.  Hofstra has a lot of tough tests early, including opening with last year’s National Duals champion, Minnesota.  What was the thought process when putting together this schedule?

Zach Tanelli (ZT): You can blame me because [head coach] Rob [Anspach] put me in charge of scheduling.  We wanted to change our philosophy a little bit.  With the way the NCAAs are structured today, you’re judged on All-Americans.  We have a strong tradition of having All-Americans and an overall good team, but we know we can’t be complacent and happy with having just a few All-Americans.  We want to be a top-10 team and to do that we have to be as ready as possible to wrestle the best.  So our goal is to match up with teams like Iowa, Ohio State and Minnesota early in the season to know what we need to work on to be best prepared for the NCAAs.  We’d love to go 15-0 in dual meets, but that’s not our main focus.  The goal is to be prepared for March.  We know this doesn’t ensure All-Americans by any means, but we feel as a staff that it will get the guys as prepared as they can be for the part of the season that matters the most.

You’ll be meeting two of the teams you mentioned, Iowa and Ohio State, at the first-ever wrestling event at Madison Square Garden.   How does the team feel about participating?

ZT: It’s definitely exciting for us to be a part of the inaugural event.  Madison Square Garden would like to do it every year, but it will depend a lot on attendance.  I think it will be a great draw.  We wanted to wrestle the tough teams and we’re getting the chance pretty close to home.  We’re really excited about wrestling at Madison Square Garden and about getting our guys an early season opportunity to see where they are.

You also will be participating in the National Duals this year.  How did that come about?

ZT: Honestly, we always want to be a part of National Duals.  Last year, we didn’t get invited.  This year, we’re happy to be a part of it.  As long as we get the invite, we’ll be in attendance.

You mentioned the focus on March and having All-Americans.  Steve Bonanno made the podium last year and returns for more one season.  What was the difference for him in 2011-12 and what do you expect from him in his senior campaign?

ZT: Last year everyone surrounding the program knew he was capable of being an All-American.   The biggest thing that happened was mental.  He started really believing in himself and stopped asking questions.  He really committed to what we were telling him and dealt with the adversity.

He was an All-American, he was proud and we were proud.  But immediately after, we sat down and agreed – 8th place isn’t good enough because he can do more. This year, instead of being a guy [ranked] in the 5-8 range, we want him to be a guy in the 1-4 range and in title contention. He put in a good summer and we feel confident he can take that next step.  A lot of it will come down to how he handles the adversity and pressure of being the hunted.  No one will take him lightly and there’s a big mark on his back.  I think he’s a kid who will step up to the plate and accept the challenge.

Justin Accordino also became an All-American for the first time last year.  He was granted his sixth year of eligibility after missing most of two seasons with injuries.  What are you looking for from him this season?

ZT: When Justin finally trusted and believed that he wasn’t going to go out there and get hurt, it really showed. And that’s what’s most important for him.  If he’s consistent, the sky’s the limit for him.  He’s a quick learner who listens well.  Everyone saw what he’s capable of when he was healthy for a full year with a good year of training.  We think he can punch his way into the finals this year rather than drop that semifinals match like he did last year.

Who do you see as a breakthrough performer for Hofstra this year?

ZT: I think there could be a couple, but I’ll start with [141-pounder] Luke Vaith.  I thought he was very good last year.  He had some solid wins over [former All-American from Penn] Zach Kemmerer and Billy Ashnault [of Rutgers].  I hate to make excuses but he had a pretty tough draw at the national tournament, getting [two-time NCAA champion] Kellen Russell in the second round and then Kemmerer, who had some experience at the NCAAs. I thought he could make the Round of 12 last year and after this summer, I think he will surprise a lot of people.  He’ll definitely be tested right away with the schedule we have and I think he’ll pass.  I’m looking for him to be an All-American this year.

Speaking of possible breakthrough performers, your incoming recruiting class had some of the top wrestlers in New York, such as 2012 state champions Dan Spurgeon (Plainedge) and Jamel Hudson (St. Anthony’s) as well as strong out of state talent.  What have you seen from the class so far?

ZT: [Assistant coach] Dan Vallimont has done a great job on the recruiting side.  He has done very well building relationships and reaching out to kids.

A lot of the kids were here over the summer, training and getting workouts in.  I think the biggest thing isn’t necessarily the accolades they had in high school, but their attitude.  We like the attitude they bring and feel strongly that they will pan out.  There are 18 of them coming in, filling every weight other than 125.  It’s exciting for the program.

Do you think some will see the mat right away?

ZT: It’s always hard to say with freshmen.  Victor Pozsonyi [NHSCA All-American from New Jersey] will be right up there to start at 197.  He’s had a really nice summer with us.  Dan Spurgeon looks good as a 174 pounder.  He has been around too and we’re really excited about him.

Then we have a newcomer in Taras Luzhnyy [silver medalist at the 2010 University World Championships in freestyle], who should be our starter at 184 pounds. It’s great because after Ben Clymer graduated, we thought we would have to start fresh at that weight.  He’s a workhorse who has been here all summer and really wants to take care of business.   As of now, he has only one year of eligibility and I wish we had more time with him.  The biggest area of focus is obviously on the mat, but with his work ethic, he’s making the adjustments.  We feel confident that by March, he’ll have a shot to be a high All-American. He brings a very different dynamic into the room and the amount of respect he has from the guys already is outrageous.

Another impact upperweight signed from Colorado, Dwight Howes (two-time Colorado state champion, FILA Junior Pan Am Games champion).  Will he be at Hofstra this season?

ZT: Dwight is training at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs.  He’ll be spending this year out there, trying to get ready to make a World Team, and then he’ll be at Hofstra in the fall of 2013.

Congratulations on your recent promotion to Head Assistant Coach.   What changes does the promotion bring about for you and in the coaching staff?

ZT: As far as responsibilities go, the responsibilities are pretty similar to what they were between [Head Coach] Rob [Anspach], Dan [Vallimont] and I last year.  Everything I was doing last year, I’m still doing.  It’s a really nice thing, though, to be recognized by our coaches, the Athletic Director and the leaders of the University. It’s an honor.

So, will the coaching staff remain the same for next year?

ZT: Gregor Gillespie is moving on to fight and Ryan Patrovich will be coming on as the volunteer assistant.  We’re really excited about having Ryan on board as a coach.  He had a great career at Hofstra and is an important part of the program.

Did you know you wanted to get into coaching after you graduated from Wisconsin?

ZT: Even when I was competing, I thought of myself as a better coach than wrestler.  I knew I would be helping out in wrestling somehow after Wisconsin and I was fortunate that this opportunity arose close to where I grew up and I jumped on it.

Whenever I was home during college, I’d help out with my high school and the Edge Club with Ernie Monaco. I think I have a good sense of breaking technique down so guys can relate and understand and fit it into their style.  There are some guys who are better wrestlers, but they have a hard time explaining the moves.  Doing it and teaching it – totally different ballgames.  The best coaches aren’t always the best athletes and I think that’s accepted in a lot of other sports, but in wrestling, personal accolades are taken heavily into consideration.

What are some of the things that challenged you as you went from wrestler to coach?

ZT: There were a couple of things.  First, I think realizing that everyone is different and that you need to be patient.  What motivated me isn’t what’s going to motivate every kid.  You need to connect to each kid as an individual because at this level nearly everyone is capable of turning the corner and being successful, for the most part.  There aren’t too many secret moves or techniques.  It’s about getting people to buy into a system or philosophy and finding the buttons to push to make them get to their best.

Recruiting also takes getting used to.  It’s a new experience to be confident and comfortable in a kid’s home.  You’re talking to the kids and their parents about pivotal years in life and helping a kid go from being a young adult to a man.  It took some time to get used to those types of conversations.

Also, I never really saw some of the things that go into coaching beyond the actual coaching – like the relationship building and fundraising.  I guess I wasn’t expecting it.  The wrestling part is easy – it’s enjoyable to hang out with the guys — lifting, training, wrestling.  The other parts are challenging and probably go unnoticed.  But the number of hours are worth it when the guys achieve their goals.

You’re from New Jersey.  There is a growing rivalry between New York and New Jersey in wrestling.  Was that rivalry in place when you were growing up?

ZT: When I was in high school, it wasn’t really a rivalry.  But now, New Jersey has to worry about New York.  New York wrestling seems to have grown quite a bit in the past decade.  I saw some of that New York/New Jersey rivalry when I was up at the Adam Frey Classic.  New York was always known for very good individuals, but is now well known for depth as well.  I definitely get a lot more questions about New York kids on the national circuit now than I did even a few years ago.   The state’s wrestling is heading in the right direction and I’m really excited to be a part of it at Hofstra.

Columbia's Wyatt Baker Ready for the International Stage at the Junior World Championships

Photo courtesy of Columbia University Athletics

When Columbia sophomore Wyatt Baker defeated Parker Betts in the 120 kg title bout of the Greco Roman Junior World Team Trials in May, he made the United States team that will travel to Thailand this week to compete against the best competition from all over the globe.

But his victory did more than that.

It got rid of a feeling he’d been carrying around with him for over a month after losing to Betts on his way to third place at the FILA Juniors in Wisconsin.

“When I lose, I just get sick to my stomach and it doesn’t go away until I redeem myself against that person or someone better,” Baker said.  “I’m really, really competitive and I hate losing so much.  I told myself I definitely wasn’t going to lose to the kid who beat me a few weeks before, even though he beat me pretty badly.”

He was right.  Baker got his redemption against Betts to make the World Team, winning straight bouts, 1-0, 1-1 and 1-0, 0-4, 1-0.

So, what was the difference?

For starters, Baker learned a lot more about Greco in the time between the two tournaments.  He said he didn’t do much in that style while at Servite High in California, where he played three sports and spent more time on football than he did on the mat.

In fact, his Greco experience in high school wasn’t what he categorized as successful.

“I was on a Junior Duals team,” he said.  “I think I lost almost every match. I had no idea what I was doing.  I was basically wrestling folkstyle.  At FILA Juniors, when I lost in freestyle, I knew exactly what I did wrong, but when I lost in Greco, I didn’t really know what to fix.  It lit a fire under me.  I was uncomfortable in some throwing positions during the college season and I thought if I focused on Greco, it would help me in my college career too.”

So Baker got to work, training with Columbia head coach Carl Fronhofer.

“[Fronhofer] did a lot of Greco and he was super helpful,” Baker said. “He knew I was really new to it and he didn’t get frustrated with me at all.  We just worked on the basics and things I would be good at based on my strengths.”

Baker further prepared by spending time at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, where he interacted with many experienced Greco competitors.

“I had a lot of help from resident athlete Rob Smith, who worked with me everyday.  Slowly, little by little, I caught on to Greco,” he said.  “I also had some of the Olympians helping me and the coaches there were great.”

The efforts paid off with his Junior World Team Trials title.  And he followed that by briefly going home to California before returning to Colorado Springs for the remainder of the summer.

“It’s been eye opening to see what the next level looks like and what you need to do to get there,” he said.  “I know now that’s what I want.  I was here [Colorado Springs] almost the whole summer, except for a few days back in New York.”

Baker returned to the Empire State to make sure everything was in place for the fall semester of his sophomore year.

He expects to be the starter at 285 for the Lions in 2012-13 after backing up NCAA qualifier Kevin Lester in his debut campaign.  Baker compiled a 13-5 record with nine bonus point victories as a freshman.  He won the New York States B title at heavyweight and also placed in the Freshman/Sophomore division at the Michigan State Open.

“I felt the difference between high school and college wrestling was huge,” he said. “You go from the top of the totem pole in high school to the bottom where you’re getting beaten up every day.  The first year is really a character builder.  You have to have the mentality to say, ‘I’m going to keep getting better and if he’s going to beat me, he’ll have to work for every single point’.  Kevin [Lester] and I would go at it everyday and he taught me a lot.  As the season went on, I started believing a lot more.”

His belief has continued to grow, especially with his success in the college offseason.

“My goal is to be an All-American next year,” he said.  “I feel like the Ivies are wide open right now at my weight and I know that the EIWA has some good heavyweights, but I think I can be at that caliber if I stay hungry and humble.”

Helping him do that is assistant coach Hudson Taylor, a multiple-time All-American at Maryland.

“Hudson beats me down pretty much every day and it’s a really good situation,” he said. “I’m used to heavyweight wrestling – matching strength for strength.  But Hudson is goofy and he’s like Gumby.  It’s really different.  He’s teaching me so much and what’s great is that every day we pick one thing to work on when we go live.  It makes things so much more tangible and makes me so much better.  I’m more and more prepared for the college season.”

The California native was also prepared for the East Coast weather when he arrived to college.  When he was on a trip to visit the Columbia campus as a high schooler, he experienced a severe blizzard.  So when he decided to attend the Ivy League institution, he got himself ready.

“I spent my summer earnings on Arctic certified jackets and snowboots and everything like that,” he said with a laugh. “Everyone was really happy that last winter wasn’t terribly cold, but I was a little disappointed I didn’t get to use the things I bought.”

Still, there’s little else that has disappointed him about his time in New York City.

“California is a lot more laid back, but the people in New York are really good people,” he said. “Being in this city is really awesome.  And the team and the coaches are great.  I think what really put things over the top for me was the alumni support we have at Columbia.  It’s amazing.”

While he loves New York, he excited to be heading to Thailand for the September 4-9 FILA Junior World Championships.  He’s hoping to see some of the country, but is focused first on what he needs to do on the mat.

“I’ve never been to any part of Asia before and I think we’ll have fun when the wrestling is done.  But we’re there for business and to win.  The scenery doesn’t matter; all that matters is winning.  I’m itching for the competition and ready for the international stage for the first time to see how I stack up against the rest of the world.  It’s a huge honor to represent the United States. I feel really blessed.”

Long Island Native Jenna Burkert Returns to FILA Junior World Championships Looking for Gold

Photo courtesy of Jenna Burkert

It had been quite some time since Jenna Burkert took the mat against a male wrestler.  But Burkert didn’t treat her opponent any differently than the females she typically faces, and the result was familiar.

She won by fall.

“I probably hadn’t wrestled an official match against a guy in four or five years,” she said of the exhibition dual in March 2012 against a group from Japan at Northern Michigan.  “It was a lot of fun to participate and especially to get the pin. It almost felt like a new experience.”

The experience may have felt new, but it was common years ago on Long Island.  In fact, when she first began in the sport, Burkert primarily competed with the boys and did so with a lot of success.

“I started wrestling in first grade in Rocky Point,” Burkert said. “There was a flyer in my classroom and a kid told me I couldn’t do it because I was a girl.  I begged my mom for a long time and finally she let me do it.  I fell in love with it and did well right away.“

She did, recalling that she was undefeated for years against her male foes.  She said her first loss was an unfamiliar feeling for a number of reasons.

“The first time I was beaten was by a girl – Lisa Anson,” Burkert said. “I was used to winning against the boys so when I lost, I didn’t know what to do.  She’s actually a friend of mine, but I never did get the chance to get revenge on the mat.”

Over the years, losses have become fewer and far between.  And now, Burkert is getting ready to take on some of the best at the FILA Junior World Championships in Thailand in early September.

“I’ve trained all year for this,” she said. “I’ve put in the time, the training, the running.  I’ve gotten some great experience and participated in both Olympic camps.  I feel like I’m ready.  I plan on getting the gold and having fun doing it.”

This won’t be the first time at a high profile international event for Burkert.  She was a Junior Olympian in 2010 and last year at the Junior Worlds in Romania, she went 2-2 (with two pins) and finished eighth.

“It’s just an honor to compete at such a high level,” she said.  “I thought I wrestled just okay at the Junior Worlds last year.  I think the nerves got to me.  Even the two matches I won, I had to come back in both.  It wasn’t fun because I let so much pressure build up.  But there’s a big difference this year.  I’m having a lot more fun and it think it will show.  I can do better and I will this time.”

Part of the fun is appreciating the trip.  Burkert said she is hoping to ride an elephant while in Thailand and to experience some of the country, something she felt she was able to do while in India in May of this year.  On that journey, she notched an impressive second place performance in the Hari Ram Grand Prix in New Delhi, despite wrestling on relatively short notice.

“I had no idea I was going until a little bit before,” she said.  “Olympian Kelsey Campbell was going at 55 and the coach said they needed at 59 pounder.  We were there about a week.  It was one of my favorite trips.  We had a really fun group, including Kristie Davis, who is someone I’ve always looked up to.  The people of India that we met were really nice and we went on runs where we really got to see the town. It was frustrating to lose in the finals, but it was a great experience.”

The great experience was one of many for Burkert in 2012.  She had a productive year, including a second place showing at the Dave Schultz Invitational and a dominant performance at the Body Bar, where she earned her berth to the upcoming Junior Worlds.

She continued to increase in confidence, going to toe to toe with many of the top grapplers in the nation, including Olympian Campbell.

“It was really good to wrestle Kelsey and a lot of the Olympians,” she said. “Sometimes you get caught up, putting them on a high level and forgetting that when you’re on the mat, you need to see them as just girls with wrestling shoes on.  They deserve respect for all they’ve done but not when you’re out there wrestling them.  I started to try to take it to them.”

Burkert saw a lot of the London-bound wrestlers in Colorado Springs, which will be her new place of residence after living in Michigan for a number of years.

During her sophomore year of high school, she moved to the Wolverine State when coach Tony DeAnda offered her a spot in the US Olympic Education (USOEC) program at Northern Michigan University.   She had been attending school in Longwood, but found the invitation to the elite training environment at the USOEC difficult to turn down.

“It was really hard to leave, even though I was excited,” she said. “It was just one of those opportunities that may never come again if you don’t take advantage.”

It certainly was an adjustment.  Burkert said she had practice at 5 a.m., then attended high school at nearby Marquette Senior High before attending another practice, which ended around 7:30 in the evening.   The severe winter in the first year didn’t make things easier.

“It was really hard at first,” she said. “New team, new coaches, new school, no parents.  I would cry every day in the beginning to anyone who would listen. But, after a few months, it got better.  Erin Golston and I became good friends and helped each other through.  By the end, I wound up loving it.  I made great friends and the whole town is wonderful.  I was even voted the class clown.”

She had plenty of success on the mat as well as she was named the ASICS Women’s High School Wrestler of the Year in 2010 and 2011.  But despite her happiness in Michigan, she didn’t forget her original home in Suffolk County.

“It’s great to come back. I always go to Rocky Point and see the guys there, who are really nice and give me so much respect.  I get some good workouts in too with lots of people, like the Duttons.  But I mostly like to beat up on Darren Goldstein and [Steven] Ketcham,” she said with a laugh.  “The support I get from Long Island is great.  Sometimes I think they may have forgotten about me, but then I see they still talk about me and want to see me succeed, and that’s amazing.”

Coming to New York also gives Burkert a chance to see others who are so important to her.

“I really appreciate the support of my family.  They’ve given so much time, effort and money since I was young to help me get where I am,” she said.

And, her family has also served as an inspiration to her and her career goals off the mat.

“With the women’s freestyle program moving from Northern Michigan, I’ll be resident athlete at the OTC,” she said. “I’ll be training and going to the University of Colorado Springs.  The education is so important to me.  I’ve always been around autism with my brother Joshua.   He is the reason I want to be a special education teacher, hopefully in kindergarten, because I feel you can have so much impact at that age.”

Burkert’s dedication is apparent to everyone who sees her, or more accurately, to all of those who see her ankle, where she has a tattoo that says “Joshua” on top of the symbol for Autism Awareness.

“I plan on getting an Olympic medal and using that platform to really get the cause out there,” she said.

But before the Rio Games in 2016, Burkert has many other intermediate goals in mind. It all starts next week in Pattaya, Thailand where she looks to become a Junior World champion.

Army Releases 2012-13 Schedule

Courtesy of goarmysports.com

WEST POINT, N.Y. – Army wrestling head coach Joe Heskett released the program’s 2012-13 schedule on Monday. The slate, which features a home dual meet versus arch-rival Navy in late February, concludes at the EIWA Championships.

“Our schedule provides an excellent mix of elite tournament action and dual meet competitions,” said Heskett. “The Cliff Keen Invitational and Southern Scuffle are two of the best tournaments in the country, while the Virginia Duals and Northeast Duals are arguably the best dual meet tournaments in the nation outside of the National Duals. Our slate is diversified and focused on continual progress, setting us up for postseason success.”

Army opens its 2012-13 campaign on Nov. 3 when the Black Knights travel to Buffalo, N.Y., for the Buffalo Open. The Black Knights’ New York road trip continues through the month of November as the team travels to the Oklahoma-Gold Classic (Nov. 10) in Brockport, the New York State Championships (Nov. 17) in Ithaca and the Northeast Duals (Nov. 24) in Troy.

After traveling to Las Vegas for the Cliff Keen Invitational on Dec. 1, Army lifts the lid on the home portion of its schedule with a dual meet versus Drexel on Dec. 8.

After taking a break for term-end exams and the holidays, Army returns to action on Jan. 1, when the Black Knights travel to Chattanooga, Tenn., for the Southern Scuffle. Army’s southern swing then stops in Charlottesville, Va., for the Virginia Duals on Jan. 11-12.

Road duals versus Bucknell (Jan. 19) and Rider (Jan. 23) cap Army’s road slate and lead into a busy four-week stretch of home competitions for the Black Knights. Army welcomes Brown to West Point for a dual meet on Jan. 27, before hosting the All-Academy Championships on Feb. 2. Then, after facing both Boston University and American University on Feb. 10, the Black Knights have two weeks to prepare for the annual Star meet opposite Navy (Feb. 24).

Less than two weeks later, Army will take part in the 109th annual EIWA Championships March 8-9. The NCAA Championships are schedule for March 21-23 in Des Moines, Iowa.

To see the schedule, please go to http://www.goarmysports.com/sports/m-wrestl/sched/army-m-wrestl-sched.html

Hernandez, Fabian, Dellavecchia, Calderone and Chambers Add Another Summer Title at Wantagh Tournament

Louis Hernandez, Photo by PhotoTrens, http://www.phototrens.com

Louis Hernandez has spent the summer trying to not only win matches, but to win those matches convincingly.

“I like to be dominant and be in the driver’s seat,” he said. “I try to go out there and break my opponent.  I definitely don’t like to leave the match in the referee’s hands.”

This August, mission accomplished.

The Mepham junior won his second tournament in the past three weeks when he captured the 155-pound title at the Wantagh Summer event on Saturday after earning the championship at the Ken Lesser Memorial Summer Heat earlier in the month.  In those two tournaments five of his six wins were by bonus points and the other was a comfortable 8-2 decision.

“I’m really happy with the way I’ve been wrestling,” he said. “All my training is paying off.”

Hernandez has been motivated by the way his sophomore campaign ended.  He compiled an impressive 26-4 record but missed a chunk of the season in January.  When he returned to the lineup in February, he earned the Section 8 title and had high expectations for his first appearance in Albany.

“My goal before the season even started was to win counties and go All-State,” he said. “But I broke my rib the week before the state tournament. I still went and gave it everything I had.  Even though I didn’t do as well as I wanted to, I thought it was a good experience to compete there to get ready for next year.”

At the Times Union Center, Hernandez dropped a one-point decision to John Northrup of Rush Henrietta in his opening bout before recording a 17-1 technical fall over Richie Lupo of Union Endicott in the wrestlebacks.  In his next contest, eventual fifth place finisher Dale White came out on top, 8-5.

“He didn’t place but he wrestled well at states,” said Craig Vitagliano, who coaches Hernandez at Ascend Wrestling Club. “I think he put things in perspective and realized what he did despite being injured.  He’s been wrestling the whole spring and summer.”

Hernandez said he has followed a simple regimen throughout the offseason.

“Lift, run, wrestle,” he said. “That’s what I’ve been doing.  I work out in the gym in my basement, go out for a run and go to Ascend to practice. I am focused on learning and getting better.”

Vitagliano believes he’s on the right path.

“[Hernandez] is one of the most talented kids I’ve ever coached,” Vitagliano said. “He’s a natural who is physically mature for his age.  He’s extremely strong and athletic and great on his feet.  He also has that killer instinct.”

That killer instinct has served him well in his bonus wins in the past few weeks.  He hopes to keep piling up the victories as he puts himself to the test several more times before his high school season begins at either 145 or 152 pounds.

“I definitely want to go to Super 32 [in North Carolina] this year and try to be an All-American there.  I’ll also be going to Waterway Duals in Pennsylvania because there’s always some great wrestling in that state.  I want to get as much good competition to prepare for this season as I can because I’m hungry for a state title.  That was what I was thinking after my last loss at states – I’ve experienced states now and next year, I plan to win the whole thing.”

TJ Fabian, Photo by PhotoTrens http://www.phototrens.com

Hernandez wasn’t the only wrestler to win the title at Wantagh after finishing on top at the Summer Heat earlier in August.  The same could be said for a pair of East Islip grapplers, Jesse Dellavecchia (109) and Chris Chambers (198) as well as returning state placers Joe Calderone of Walt Whitman (123) and TJ Fabian of Shoreham Wading River (141).  All were dominant. Fabian and Calderone both had two pins while Chambers had a pin and a major and Dellavecchia outscored his opponents 26-1.

About 180 wrestlers took the mat at the tournament in four divisions – Youth, Middle School, High School and Open.  One of the organizers, Ray Handley Sr., was pleased with the event overall.

“We had wrestlers from a lot of different places – Albany, New Jersey and of course Suffolk and Nassau,” he said. “We lost the football players because of the timing, but the crowd was great and we got a lot of help to make it run well and end on time.  All the money we raised goes back into the program to help with the travel during the season. Our goal with the tournament is to get the wrestlers sharp in the summer and I think we saw some quality wrestling throughout the day, at all levels, from Youth to Open.”

 Championship Results – High School

102 CJ Archer (Rocky Point) over Jordan Richter (Longwood), 6-0

109 Jesse Dellavecchia (631 Elite) over Ryan Holzgruber (Ascend), 5-0

116 Gary Sidoti (Wantagh) over Paul Capobianco (VHW), 8-2

123 Joe Calderone (Walt Whitman) over Kevin Parker (Journeymen), Pin

129 Tyler Walsh (West Islip) Fft Travis Passaro (631 Elite)

135 Vinny Turano (Wantagh) over Chris Cataldo (5 Star), 18-2

141 TJ Fabian (X-Cel) over Brandon Aviles (Huntington), Pin

148 Ken Gallagher (VHW) over Brandon Mendez (Huntington), 5-4

155 Louis Hernandez (Ascend) over Chris Morrissey (Albany Titans), 18-3

163 Dennis Ferro (East Islip) over Matthew Russo (Apex), 7-2

173 Steve Schneider (Levittown) over Andrew Psomas (Lions), 5-0

185 James Corbett (Wantagh) over Kevin Rodriguez (Pat-Med), 3-2

198 Chris Chambers (East Islip) over Christian Araneo (Ward Melville), 14-0

223 Joe Marcantonio (Calhoun) over Larry Baker (Wantagh), Pin

Championship Results – Middle School

Dylan Rider (631 Elite) over James Langan (Wantagh)

John DeRidder (Wantagh) over Kyle Mosher (Gladiators)

Thomas Rohan (Wantagh) over Joe Conklin (Wantagh)

Johnny Devine (Albany Titans) over Albert Hernandez (Grand Avenue)

 

Elijah Rodriguez (Gladiators) over Tyrese Byron (Gladiators)

Harley Lopes (VHW) over Daniel Finkelstein (Jericho)

Caleb Wilson (Kensington) over John Hayes (Wantagh)

Championship Results – Open

Jamel Hudson (Quiet Storm) over Kevin O’Hagan (Sachem North)

Evan Wallace (Albany Titans) over Nick Miceli (X-Cel)

Elton Gonzalez (Fallout) over Chirs Dolon (Unattached)

Anthony Bonaventura (Warzone) over Brian Adriance (Albany Titans)

Steven Hromada (Rocky Point) over Carlos Torres (Fallout)

Christian Psomas (Lions) over Steven Vidal (Fallout)

Championship Results – Youth

Marco Codignotto (Wantagh) over Aidan Araoz (Wantagh)

Josiah Encarnacion (Wantagh) over Nico Berlingeri (Olympic)

Christian Encarnacion (Wantagh) over Bobby Moore (Wantagh)

Joe Moore (Wantagh) over Nicholas Killard (Wantagh)

CJ Andres (N Haledon) over Joe Russo (Wantagh)

Kyle Mosher (Gladiators) over Kerik Pollock (SEQKWA)

Stefan Major (631 Elite) over Jacob Tutuska (Brentwood)