The rain came down in buckets on the roof of the open-air venue in Hoosick Falls on Saturday. But it didn’t stop the intensity of the wrestling for a second nor did it take away from the experience at the Third Annual Northeast Youth Duals, otherwise known as, “The Riot at the Rink.”
“It was like the end of the year bash,” said Superior Wrestling Academy coach Ed Schafer. “You couldn’t pick a better place and it had everything you need for a great tournament.”
According to event director Michael LaPorte, everyone remained dry and the 12-team dual meet competition featuring wrestlers from more than 10 states continued without interruption, with NJ Elite emerging as the championship squad.
The Garden State-based team swept its contests in convincing fashion.
“NJ Elite went undefeated and no one really even came close to them,” LaPorte said. “They were well coached, very deep and had no holes. It was obvious that every one of those wrestlers has been on the mat for a long time. They were really tough.”
Also very tough was Superior Wrestling Academy, which finished in the runner up spot with a lineup full of wrestlers from the Empire State.
The top two teams met in the opening round on Saturday and it wasn’t quite the start Schafer and his team desired.
“We lost our first dual to NJ Elite right off the jump,” Schafer said. “If you looked at the score, you’d think we got shellacked. But there were some overtime matches and a bunch of one-point matches that didn’t go our way. A lot of kids that age could have bagged it mentally and said ‘we’re done.’ But they held their composure and responded.”
Indeed, the Superior wrestlers did. That first loss was the only setback of the weekend, as they came back to take the silver medal.
“We felt we could make a run at the title coming into the event with the team we had,” Schafer said. “The level of the competition was over and above what we expected. But the way the kids competed after the first dual and took true second, that was the best part of the weekend for me.” (See team roster below).
Leading the charge for Superior was a trio of unbeaten wrestlers – Freddy Eckles, Bryce Bailey and Dakota Gardner. Gardner took sixth place at 120 pounds at the New York state championships this year as an eighth grader.
“When that whistle blows, Gardner is like a little hand grenade out there,” LaPorte said. “He’s an exceptional athlete. He was one of many tremendous wrestlers on the mats this weekend. I felt that the level of wrestling this year was unbelievable — some of the best youth wrestling I’ve ever seen. The referees were telling me that they were in awe of the abilities of some of these kids. Sometimes when I watched, I lost track of the fact that they are just young kids.” (The tournament was limited to wrestlers 14 and under).
The coaches mentioned a plethora of grapplers who impressed, including Joe Manno of Apex and Peter Del Gallo of Mercury Rising, who according to LaPorte, didn’t yield any points during the weekend.
In fact, when the coaches were asked to vote for the Most Outstanding Wrestler, there were many nominees. But the trophy went to Brian Courtney of the New York-based G2 World Wrestling Academy for his outstanding efforts.
“Brian Courtney is a great young man in addition to being a great wrestler,” LaPorte said.
Courtney and his G2 teammates (see roster below) had a successful weekend, taking fourth place overall in the team race and according to coach Adam Burgos, they’ll be back for another run in 2013.
Superior and G2 were joined by a third Empire State squad in the championship pool. Team New York, headed by LaPorte, took sixth.
“I couldn’t have been happier with the way our team wrestled,” LaPorte said. “We had at least four kids on our team that had just one loss. That was tough to do here where there were so many champions and placers from state and national events.”
While the wrestling was the centerpiece of the weekend, the highlight for LaPorte came away from the action, during the awards ceremony.
Many New York wrestling fans are supporting Monroe Woodbury’s Vinny Vespa in his battle with cancer. (For more on Vinny Vespa, see here). Vespa, a state qualifier in 2012, participated in Riot at the Rink for the Olympic Wrestling Club a year ago and returned this weekend to watch his team and his younger brother Marco.
However, Vespa became more than a spectator after the competition was over. He was called to the mat to receive donations collected throughout the weekend as well as a card and “Riot at the Rink” banner signed by all of the athletes, coaches and fans. And then, Vinny Vespa was asked to hand out an award, named after him, to a wrestler determined by the Olympic Club. That recipient was Marco Vespa.
“I felt horrible that I couldn’t make it to the Victory 4 Vinny Takedown Tournament a few weeks ago,” LaPorte said. “We were glad to do a small fundraiser and have everyone sign a card and banner for Vinny. It was extremely surprising and gratifying that Vinny came to the event. When he came out on to the middle of the mat, it was a little bit of a tearjearking moment. I felt like we did a little bit to make a difference and that was the highlight of the weekend for me.”
It wasn’t the only highlight. While the planned swimming, golf and live band on Saturday evening couldn’t take place due to the inclement weather, LaPorte found different ways to put smiles on people’s faces that night.
“On Sunday, we were able to get in the pool and there was a barbecue,” LaPorte said. “But on Saturday night when the rain was there, I brought a limousine as sort of a team bus, just for fun. We took some of the kids for a ride in the limo, which they got a big kick out of. I kept telling them, ‘this is how we roll in New York’. We definitely got some laughs.”
So it was a weekend with a high-end car and high-end wrestling. And both LaPorte and Schafer believed it was a good barometer of where New York wrestling is heading.
“To have that amount of talent show up in the middle of the summer to the middle of nowhere, that says something about the strength of our sport,” LaPorte said. “It’s a good healthy sign that things are going in the right direction, as is the support we’re getting from the clubs, the schools, the community. I believe it shows that New York wrestling is going the right way. Now it’s time to see what we can do for 2013. I can’t wait to see what next year brings.”
Check out more photos from the event at: http://www.davegilchrestphotography.com
Champion: NJ Elite
2nd Place: Superior
3rd Place: Olympic Gold
4th Place: G2 World Wrestling Academy
5th Place: Mass Maniacs
6th Place: Team NY
7th Place: Apex
8th Place: Marcaurelle
9th Place: Virginia Slaughter House Black
10th Place: Mercury Rising
11th Place: Olympic Black
12th Place: Virginia Slaughter House Blue
Superior Wrestling – 2nd Place Team:
G2 World Wrestling Academy – 4th Place Team:
48 Pounds: Michael Santore
53 Pounds: Carson Alberti
58 Pounds: Andy Lucinski
63 Pounds: Greg Diakomihalis
68 Pounds: Ryan Burgos
73 Pounds: Max Kropman
78 Pounds: Cooper Kropman
85 Pounds: Brian Courtney
93 Pounds: Derek St. James
99 Pounds: Parker Kropman
105 Pounds: Yianni Diakomihalis
112 Pounds: Louie DePrez
119 Pounds: Charlie Kane
126 Pounds: Keith Penny
134 Pounds: Logan Smith