Over the next few weeks, New York Wrestling News will previewing New York’s high school Sections. We begin in Section 1 with a look at two of the top lightweights the Empire State has to offer.
The 113-pound finals at the state tournament in February presented a bit of a pleasant challenge for Section 1 fans. Two of the area’s best, John “Trey” Aslanian of Edgemont and Dylan Realbuto of Somers, were on the mats at the same time, each battling to win the championship against a Section 5 opponent a year after finishing second in Albany.
Having both wrestlers make the title bout at the Times Union Center two years in a row wasn’t an accident. In fact, they helped each other get there. Although Edgemont and Somers are at least 30 minutes away from each other, the two wrestlers have trained together since fifth grade and have continued to work out quite a bit, often at the Askren Wrestling Academy.
“I feel lucky because it’s such a good situation for both of us,” Aslanian said. “Dylan’s one of my best friends. Since he’s big school and I’m small school, we know we won’t have to compete with each other at states, so it’s ideal. Dylan is incredibly hard to score on with his funk, so if I can score on him, I feel like I can score on anyone in the state. I think we push each other so much because we’re such different wrestlers and seeing a totally different style is never a bad thing.”
Not a bad thing at all. In fact, it’s a really good thing, according to coach Max Askren.
“They are almost exactly opposite in their styles,” Askren said. “But it’s totally complementary. Both are very, very technical wrestlers. But Trey wrestles from ties, likes to control things that way. Dylan really wrestles from out in the open. So it works to have them train together. If these guys want to wrestle in college, they should be wrestling together.”
Both Realbuto and Aslanian do plan to compete at the Division I level, with Aslanian considering Penn, Princeton and Harvard. However, they first have some business to take care of at the high school level.
For Aslanian, that means a first state title. He took fifth as a freshman and second the last two seasons at 103 and 113, respectively.
“Finishing second the last two years was obviously disappointing,” Aslanian said. “I go into every year wanting to win a state championship and when you come so close but don’t get it, it’s really difficult. Last year, I was more confident because I had already been in the finals before, so I think I was that much more disappointed not to get the job done.”
Aslanian felt he dropped the title bout to Sean Peacock of Midlakes because he was focused too much on his opponent and not on himself.
“I didn’t get to my gameplan and most importantly, I didn’t get to my offense,” he said. “I needed to force my offense – my shots and my takedowns – and instead I was thinking too much about what he was doing and lost sight of what I do well.”
Since stepping off the mat in Albany, Edgemont coach Peter Jacobson believes Aslanian has made significant improvements, partially due to his offseason wrestling.
The outstanding student made a smooth transition to freestyle, getting his hand raised often. At the Junior Duals in Oklahoma City, Aslanian went 7-1 for Team New York and he won four matches at Fargo. (He was an All-American in North Dakota in 2011).
“There’s great translation from strong freestyle skills to folkstyle skills and Trey has taken that to heart,” Jacobson said. “He wrestled some really strong matches at the Junior Duals and at Fargo went up against some very high level competition. I know he feels that he didn’t wrestle as well as he could have, but I can see already that the experience has made him better.”
“I think I grew a lot as a wrestler,” Aslanian added. “I got to wrestle some of the best kids in the country and I think I grew, just getting to see that national competition. I hoped to place or possibly win Fargo and I didn’t have my best performance. But I know I’ve gotten better.”
In addition to the top-notch opposition and additional practices in places like Vougar’s Honors Wrestling on Long Island, Aslanian’s improvement stems from significant time invested in video study.
“I love watching John Smith,” Aslanian said of the multiple-time NCAA and World Champion who now coaches at Oklahoma State. “He’s always attacking and pushing his offense. I also watch a lot of Ben and Max Askren. They’re so entertaining with their funk. Not too many people use the techniques they use. I learn so much by watching.”
“I think Trey’s biggest strength is the amount of time he puts into honing his craft,” Jacobson added. “He’s very much a student of the sport. He watches films of himself and standout wrestlers from around the world. If you line him up against the best in the state, he won’t be the strongest kid or the best natural athlete. He’s achieved what he has by working hard to play to his strengths.”
Helping him do that are two other members of his family and team – younger brothers Tyler and Kyle. Tyler, a junior, was one match from placing a year ago in Albany, while Kyle competed at 99 pounds as an eighth grader.
“It really benefits them to be pretty close in weight. They can work out at home or can drill whenever and wherever they want,” Jacobson said of the three Aslanians. “It’s not like the 190-pound older brother wrestling the 120-pound younger brother and expecting it to be beneficial. Having them all in the room couldn’t be better – they’re supportive of each other with totally different personalities. Tyler has the ability to make the podium this year and Kyle will make a huge jump. He’s the best natural athlete of the group and most of the matches he lost last year were size and strength related. He’ll be a full-sized 99 pounder this year and will see more success.”
Trey Aslanian believes more success is in the cards for all of the Aslanian brothers in 2013. (A fourth brother, Wyatt, is in elementary school).
“Last year’s Sectional tournament was probably the most memorable moment for me in my career, with Tyler and I both winning titles,” he said. “That’s probably the best I ever felt in wrestling. The plan for this year is for all three of us to win.”
But that’s only part of the plan. Trey Aslanian said he hopes to go undefeated after a 39-2 campaign in 2012, but even that isn’t most important. There’s one thing he can’t get out of his mind.
“I want to be a state champion,” he said. “I’ve wanted that ever since I started in this sport in fifth grade. I think about it every second of every day.”
He’s come close twice before and he knows this is the final opportunity before he heads off to the Ivy League.
“This season is the last of a lot of things,” he said. “I really enjoy wrestling with my brothers and it’s the last time to compete with them. It’s such a unique situation and I’ll miss it. I want to win states and I know there’s a lot of pressure because it’s now or never.”
Now or never was the situation Realbuto was in during last year’s state finals bout. He trailed by a point with just a few seconds left and it looked like he was going to get the silver again. But in dramatic fashion, he took Hilton’s Vincent DePrez down as time expired to win.
“I thought it was over just the same as everyone else thought it was,” Askren said. “Some people said Dylan was lucky, but if that’s true then he put himself in the position to be lucky.”
Realbuto and his frequent training partner Aslanian will try to put themselves in that gold medal position in February. Realbuto will make another leap in weight, according to Askren, going either 126 or 132. Aslanian, according to Jacobson, is still growing and will be at 120 or 126.
If both are at 126, Section 1 fans hope to have to divide their attention between the mats during the state finals, as they did in 2012, to watch Aslanian and Realbuto both try to complete their careers with a state championship.