Connor Lapresi couldn’t stand it. After suffering a high ankle sprain during his state championship victory at 132 pounds in February, the Lansing grappler was forced to take some time off from wrestling.
“It’s simply the greatest sport in the world,” he said. “I love it and it’s a huge part of me. If I don’t wrestle for more than a week or two, I feel like something’s wrong. When I was out after states, I was emotionally distraught. It’s kind of unhealthy. It was a good thing it was the NCAA tournament so I got to watch a lot of matches and afterwards, I watched a lot of youtube videos.”
He also continued mulling his college options. He’s had a strong connection with Cornell for a long time. In fact, he said he thought about attending the Ivy League institution since he was in sixth or seventh grade. But after a parent of a teammate, a Bucknell alum, started talking about the Pennsylvania-based school, he slowly began to consider leaving the Ithaca area. And after taking an official visit and making a detailed pros and cons list, Lapresi recently gave his verbal commitment to Coach Dan Wirnsberger and the Bison. He hopes to compete at 141 or 149 pounds without redshirting the first year.
“If I’m not putting on a singlet and stepping out on the mat to represent my team, I’m not happy,” he said. “I can’t just practice. Cornell was the only college I cared about for a long time. I’ve been wrestling in the Friedman Center with the Finger Lakes Wrestling Club for years – a lot of the guys there watched me grow up. But I was surprised when I visited Bucknell how much I liked it. It’s an awesome place. I really liked the coaches and the campus. The biggest factor was that I think I have the opportunity to be a four-year starter at Bucknell while at Cornell there are highly ranked guys everywhere. Unless you’re Kyle Dake, you may have to sit. I love wrestling and competing and I want to be where I can wrestle. That’s what will make me happiest.”
Lapresi was often happy during his 41-1 junior campaign in which he earned the state crown. The highlight moment for him, however, took place in the state semifinals where he faced Chittenango’s Wesley Blanding, the top seed in the bracket who had handed Lapresi his only loss of the season in overtime.
The rematch in Albany also went to an extra session. But this time, it was the Lansing wrestler that came out on top, notching a takedown with just three seconds remaining to earn a 3-1 decision.
“Blanding beat me in the Windsor Tournament. It was heartbreaking, but I knew I could beat him if we wrestled again,” Lapresi said. “With very little time left, I did a snap down, go behind. It was like a peewee move; it was amazing. As the referee was putting his hand up to show the two [points], the time expired. After a big win like that, I believed I could do anything. I felt like the sky was the limit at that point.”
That confidence showed when Lapresi came out and immediately took control of the title bout against Duanesburg’s Curt Rowley. With 20 seconds to go in the second period, Lapresi took his opponent down to take a 5-0 lead, but suffered a third-degree high ankle sprain in the process. He said it was extremely painful but he knew he still had more than a full period to go to achieve his goal.
“It actually still hurts now,” he said. “I did absolutely nothing the entire third period. I could barely stand. I spent the entire time thinking that I wasn’t letting this injury stop me from getting that championship, but every single movement hurt. Every third period seems like the longest two minutes of my life, but this one was really long.”
The physical pain was intense but almost as painful was the fact that he gave up a takedown in the final stanza on his way to a 6-3 victory. It was the only time Lapresi gave up offensive points the entire season.
“It was a little annoying to give up a takedown after not allowing anyone to take me down all year,” he said. “But it gives me something to aim for this year. State champion. Undefeated. No takedowns or back points allowed. That’s about the best you can do and that’s what I want to do.”
He also wants to be part of what he calls Lansing’s “dynamic duo” with junior teammate William Koll, a state champion in 2011 and third place finisher last season. Lapresi wished to thank his parents and the rest of his family for all of their contributions to his success and he also credited a large portion of his achievements to Koll and a few others in the Bobcat room.
“I wouldn’t be half the wrestler I am without William Koll, Corey Dake and coach Doug Dake,” he said. “The three of them have helped me get so far ahead of where I used to be. [Lapresi moved to Lansing before his sophomore year]. Part of it is the mentality and just being with people who want to win every bit as much as I do. They’ve been like a family for me.”
With that family still behind him, Lapresi looks forward to his final season as a Section 4 star. However, he first will finish up his defensive duties for the football team before getting back to his favorite sport full time.
“In football, it’s fun to tackle but then they blow the whistle and you have to wait another play to try to do it again. But in wrestling, you take a kid down, get a big mat return, smash their hip on the mat, get a tight tilt and watch the referee award back points. Nothing beats that. I can’t wait for wrestling season.”
He said he hopes to be a key player in the continuing rise of the Bucknell program. But he isn’t losing sight of more immediate goals.
“A lot of seniors fade after they make their college decision,” he said. “They lose the drive and get upset at states. I want to do great things in college. But I’m focusing on one day at a time. November 8 is the day it all gets started again. And on February 22 and 23 [the state tournament] I want to finish high school wrestling the right way.”