Section 4 Preview: State Champions Kelly, Lapresi, Koll and Rifanburg Look for More Titles; Williams for His First

Section 4 has nine 2012 All-State wrestlers returning, including former state champions Kyle Kelly, Connor Lapresi, William Koll and Tristan Rifanburg, as well as runner up Reggie Williams.  For the teams and wrestlers to watch in 2012-13, please read on.

Division I 

Returning State Placewinners (from 2012)

99 Pounds: Kyle Kelly, Chenango Forks, State Champion

106 Pounds: Jimmy Overhiser, Corning, Fourth Place

182 Pounds: James Benjamin, Vestal, Fifth Place

195 Pounds: Reggie Williams, Johnson City, Second Place

 

Additional Returning State Qualifiers (from 2012)

113 Pounds: Jake Green, Chenango Forks

120 Pounds: Richie Burke, Ithaca

126 Pounds: Brock Post, Maine-Endwell

132 Pounds: Curtis Grant, Elmira

138 Pounds: Trevor Hoffmier, Newark Valley

152 Pounds: Greg Kleinsmith, Johnson City

160 Pounds: Zach Colgan, Johnson City

 

Leading the Way:

Kyle Kelly, Photo by Boris V

Let’s start with two-time titlewinner Kyle Kelly of Chenango Forks.  Kelly boasted a perfect 37-0 junior season with 31 wins by bonus points.  His dominance wasn’t limited to the regular season, as he outscored his opponents in Albany 17-3 and also recorded a pin.  The Section 4 standout, who took fourth as a freshman, will try to finish his career as a Blue Devil with three straight times at the top of the podium at the Times Union Center, likely up a weight or two.

Reggie Williams of Johnson City isn’t a state champion … yet.  But he’ll be favored to get his first title this year. Williams has been one of the top upperweights in the state since his freshman season.  In his ninth grade year, he was sixth in Albany and as a sophomore, he took a few more steps forward, notching second in the Empire State after going 40-3 with all three losses coming to New York champion Tony Fusco of Shenendehowa. To learn more about Reggie Williams, see the link here.

James Benjamin rarely needed a full six minutes for his matches last season. The Vestal wrestler went 38-3 a year ago with 32 pins.  In fact, he won four bouts at the state tournament on his way to fifth place and all four victories were by fall (and all in less than three minutes).  As the highest returning placer from the 182-pound bracket in Albany, Benjamin will have a good chance to end his career at or near the top of the podium.

Jimmy Overhiser, Photo by Boris V

Also looking to step up higher on the medal stand is Jimmy Overhiser, who racked up a 31-4 mark on the way to fourth at 106 pounds and who participated in some high profile offseason events, such as the Disney Duals with Team New York Kong in Florida.

 

Also Keep an Eye On . . .

Reggie Williams isn’t the only person to watch on the Johnson City squad.  He is surrounded by quality wrestlers, including returning qualifiers Greg Kleinsmith (26-10 as a freshman 152 pounder) and Zach Colgan (39-8 at 160 pounds with a pin over Fox Lane’s Matt Pasqualini in Albany).  Winning Section 4 titles meant more than just a trip to the state tournament for Colgan and Kleinsmith last year.  According to head coach Jordan Glenn, both made “family history” as their fathers and/or uncles had wrestled for the Wildcats in the past and had come close to capturing Section crowns, but hadn’t quite achieved the feat.  Glenn believes that both will win more matches this year in Albany, and also has high hopes for a number of young wrestlers on the squad, including another Colgan (Isaiah), who won over 20 matches as an eighth grader at 99 pounds.

Jake Green (Chenango Forks) – Kyle Kelly is unlikely to be the only person racking up points for Chenango Forks this year in the postseason. Jake Green went 1-2 at the state championships in 2012, but he did so with a very challenging draw. His three matches were against the top two seeds in the bracket (Mark Raghunandan and Corey Jamison) and the eventual champion, Dylan Realbuto.  Green was in every match, defeating Jamison, while dropping a 6-4 decision to Realbuto and a three-pointer to Raghunandan.  He proved he could hang with some of the best and will look to get over the top in 2013.

“He was good enough to place last year but faced some really tough wrestlers in a strong weight class,” said Union Endicott coach Josh Ruff.  “He put in the time after the season and I would be really surprised if he didn’t place this year.”

Richie Burke (Ithaca) – As a ninth grader, Burke made his second trip to wrestle at the Times Union Center.  He capped off a 29-7 year by going 1-2, losing to the fourth and fifth place finishers. Four of his other setbacks during the season came to qualifier Jake Green (three times) and state champion William Koll, while he registered a victory over Division II qualifier Nate Hayes of Windsor.  Burke will look to build off victories such as that one in his sophomore season.

Trevor Hoffmier and Derek Holcomb (Newark Valley) – As a sophomore, Hoffmier compiled an impressive 28-4 mark with 18 pins.  In Albany, he began with a loss against runner up Alexis Blanco of Section 11 but rebounded with a victory before a one-point setback against Section 1’s Tom Grippi ended the competition for him.  However, he and teammate Derek Holcomb should once again form a formidable duo in the Newark Valley lineup.  Holcomb, who had over 30 wins in 2011-12, recorded several quality victories, including one over All-State wrestler Dan Dickman from Greene.  In addition, Holcomb made the medal stand at the NHSCA Nationals in Virginia Beach.  He hopes to add to his accolades in February in the state capital.

“They’re both really talented kids,” Ruff said.  “I could see both of them winning matches at the state tournament.  Holcomb got caught up in a tough match at Sectionals and got upset, but he has a great chance of getting to Albany this year.”

Alex Francik (Vestal) – As a 152-pound junior, Francik sported a 34-2 record, with 23 pins and only six regular decisions.  He defeated Greg Kleinsmith 7-5 in late January before the Johnson City wrestler returned the favor with a one-point win in the Section tournament.   In his final high school season, Francik will look to take the next step to the state championships.

 

The Team Race . . .

Union-Endicott ran away with the Division I team title in 2012 by over 40 points with tremendous balance – 13 wrestlers were fourth or higher in their weight class (and two others competed in the fifth place tilt).  Ten of those grapplers are back, including second place finisher Mikey Carr (106) and third place medalist Heze Morgan (120).  In addition, fourth placers Kyle Hughes, Xavian Hughes, Nathan Bomysoad and Lucas Depofi are slated to take the mat again.

Ruff believes that many of those wrestlers are ready for breakout years. Bomysoad, for example, earned 30 wins at 152 pounds, including a victory over Greg Kleinsmith (who won the rematch).  Ruff believes he is ready to take the next step.

“Nate wrestles so hard,” the coach said. “His work ethic is incredible and he showed he could beat high caliber kids last year.”  Two of the many other wrestlers Ruff believes are ready to compete at a higher level are Zack Bendick, who won over 20 matches as a freshman and Xavian Hughes, who took fourth in the Section as a sophomore at 132 pounds.

“I’m confident that Xavian can wrestle with anyone in the section on his feet.  If he improves on the mat, he could qualify for states.  And Bendick is very talented.  He has improved so much since last season and is ready to wrestle the top caliber guys.”

All of those returners will certainly put significant points on the board, but sizable scoring was lost with the departure of Section champions Richie Lupo and Tyler Bayer as well as Jordan Billet (second), Tyler Hubbert (third) and Tyler Allen (third).  In addition, 2012 Section 4 runner up at 160 pounds, Sammy Davis, suffered an injury in football that will keep him out at least until January.  Those losses will open the door for challengers such as last year’s runner up and third place team, Vestal and Johnson City, respectively.

“We were very well balanced last year,” Ruff said. “We didn’t really have superstars, but we had a tough guy in every weight class.  This year is a little different. We bring back Lucas Depofi at 220 but we graduated most of our other upperweights and now with Sammy Davis’s injury, we’re a little thin there.  We do feel, though, that we’re stacked in the lightweights and middleweights and we do bring back a lot of points.  I think if we continue to work really hard, we’ll be challenging for the title at the section tournament.”

Reggie Williams, Photo by Boris V

Also clearly in the mix is Johnson City, which has significant firepower. The squad is led by the trio discussed above: Reggie Williams, Zach Colgan and Greg Kleinsmith.  In addition, four wrestlers who lost only once at the Section tournament a year ago, juniors Anthony Johns, Joseph Hamdan and Conner Halladay as well as freshman Isaiah Colgan, will look to improve upon their showings.  Meanwhile, Corey McCormick, Nick Bidwell, Joshua Dember and Nikola Cejic will bring experience to the table.  Reggie Williams spoke with excitement about his squad’s potential in 2012-13.

“We have a great coaching staff and a great team,” Williams said. “We’re better than people think.  The sky’s the limit for us at Johnson City.”

Union Endicott and Johnson City will be tested by Vestal, which returns six wrestlers who were top four a year ago, including All-Stater James Benjamin. The Golden Bears graduated 220-pound state qualifier Anthony Osman and fourth placer Andre Strano, but will be a threat with Alex Francik, heavyweight Juwin Jumpp and young up and comers Robert Mastronardi (third at 126 as a freshman), Owen Jarrold (third at 132 in ninth grade) and Hunter Beck (fourth at 106 as an eighth grader).  Other experienced wrestlers who competed in the fifth place bouts last year such as Alex Crostley, Tom Flynn, Collin Vangordon and David Gardner will try to push Vestal higher in the race.

Newark Valley has some heavy hitters to account for, including returning champion Trevor Hoffmier and other top three placers Vinnie Darpino, Dan Geisenhof and Derek Holcomb.

While Union Endicott won the section by a significant number of points a year ago, a 40-point margin between first and second seems a lot less likely this year.

 

Division II

Returning State Placewinners (from 2012)

99 Pounds: Joe Nelson, Oxford, Third Place

113 Pounds: William Koll, Lansing, Third Place

126 Pounds: Tristan Rifanburg, Norwich, Sixth Place

132 Pounds: Connor Lapresi, Lansing, State Champion

152 Pounds: Dan Dickman, Greene, Fourth Place

 

Additional Returning State Qualifiers (from 2012)

99 Pounds: Dylan Wood, Walton

106 Pounds: Sean Ballard, Whitney Point

113 Pounds: Nate Hayes, Windsor

120 Pounds: Austin Ryan, Unatego

132 Pounds: Frank Garcia, Norwich

145 Pounds: Kyle Halladay, Chenango Valley

160 Pounds: Mike Beckwith, Greene

170 Pounds: Ryan Wolcott, Waverly

182 Pounds: Mike Beers, Walton

195 Pounds: Mark Viviano, Bainbridge-Guilford-Afton

220 Pounds: Dillon Hurlbert, Marathon

 

Top Wrestlers:

Senior Connor Lapresi of Lansing is looking to end his high school career with a second consecutive state crown before heading off to Bucknell.  After avenging his only regular season loss (to Wesley Blanding) in the semifinals in Albany, Lapresi controlled the finals against Curt Rowley to end his junior campaign with a gold medal.  Lapresi hasn’t limited his wrestling success to the Empire State, as he was an All-American in Virginia Beach at both the NHSCA Freshman and Sophomore Nationals in 2010 and 2011.

William Koll, Photo by Boris V

Lapresi isn’t the only Bobcats grappler with title aspirations.  Teammate William Koll has made the medal stand in both of his appearances at the state tournament.  As a freshman, he captured the 103-pound crown with a fall over multiple-time state placer Trey Aslanian of Edgemont.  This past February, Koll took third at 113 pounds in a bracket that featured at least five past medalists.   He also was the New York State Greco Roman and Freestyle champion in May, winning both brackets in dominant fashion.  Additionally, Koll has demonstrated his national competitiveness on multiple occasions, with strong performances at the Disney Duals and a runner up finish at the NHSCA Freshman Nationals in 2011.

Tristan Rifanburg also knows what it’s like to place second nationally, as he did just that at the NHSCA Freshman tournament this spring.  That showing came after the Norwich wrestler earned his third consecutive medal in Albany, taking sixth in a deep 126-pound class.  Rifanburg will look to get back to a familiar place in 2013 at the Times Union Center – the Saturday night finals.  He was a state champion as a seventh grader at 96 pounds and a runner up a year later.  For all his accomplishments, Intermat has Rifanburg ranked as the #45 sophomore in the country.

Joe Nelson, Photo by Boris V

Section 4 offers a number of other wrestlers who can challenge for top billing this season in Albany.  Joe Nelson of Oxford entered the state tournament as the top seed last year and after absorbing an upset to eventual runner up Nick Casella of Locust Valley, bounced back to earn third place.  Greene’s Dan Dickman also lost his second bout at the Times Union Center last year at 152 pounds, but came back to take fourth.

But other than those who were All-State before, here are some other wrestlers to keep tabs on this year . . .

Lightweights and Middleweights:

Austin Ryan (Unatego) – In his freshman season, Ryan picked up over 30 wins and made an appearance at the state tournament, where he went 1-2.  Scott Stafford, who handed him four of his losses, has graduated and one Section 4 coach mentioned that he believes Ryan is primed for a breakout year.  Unatego teammate Codie Nichols is another wrestler who could have a big campaign after going 37-6 last season.

Frank Garcia (Norwich) – The Norwich wrestler had a strong ninth grade season at 132 pounds, racking up a 36-5 mark with 11 falls and coming within one win of becoming All-State in Albany.  Garcia dropped multiple close decisions to state champion Connor Lapresi, including a 3-2 result in the quarterfinals at the Times Union Center.  The medal stand seems within the sophomore’s reach this season.

Jordan Torbitt (Whitney Point) – Torbitt wasn’t intimidated as an eighth grade middleweight, compiling a 29-6 record with 14 pins at 145 and 152 pounds.  Half of his losses were close decisions against wrestlers who placed in the top five at the state tournament – Dan Dickman of Greene, Wesley Blanding of Chittenango and Isaiah Riccio of Beaver River.  After the tough competition during the season, Torbitt excelled on the national stage, winning the NHSCA Middle School national title at 154 pounds in Virginia.  He will be a freshman to watch.

Kyle Halliday (Chenango Valley) – The senior boasted a 33-3 record in 2012, with 29 victories coming by bonus points.  He injury defaulted out of the state tournament after an opening round defeat, but registered several quality wins during course of the year, including over state qualifiers JT Romagnoli, Tyler Spann (twice), Greg Kleinsmith, and Richie Lupo.

And moving into the higher weights . . .

Mike Beckwith (Greene) – Beckwith faced a number of setbacks in an abbreviated 20-2 season in 2011-12.  However, he was able to get back on the mat for the Section 4 tournament, where he was completely in control of his bouts with two pins and two major decisions.  He has the talent to be on the podium, and although he dropped a pair of two-point matches at the state tournament this past year, he will be looking for more in 2013.

“Mike had a tough year,” Greene coach Tim Jenks said. “First an injury, then a car accident. He only had 11 days of practice between Christmas and the Section finals.  It’s amazing that he won the Section with so little practice.  What hurt him at the states was his conditioning.  In the close matches, he just didn’t have the gas.  We believe he’ll have a great year.”

Christian Dietrich (Greene) – Dietrich has the potential to be one of the Section’s best as he is set to return from a knee injury that kept him out for the 2011-12 campaign.  He accomplished the rare feat of placing in the middleweights as a seventh grader as he took sixth at 152 at the 2011 state tournament.  Now an upperweight who may compete anywhere from 170 to 195 according to Jenks, he is ready to pick up from where he left off two years ago and ascend higher on the podium as a freshman.  Jenks also mentioned that junior Joel Roselle may open some eyes this year after a solid sophomore season where he took third in the Section. “It was the first time he wrestled in a while,” Jenks said.  “He’ll be back and he’ll be tough at 170 or 182.”

While Greene offers some tough wrestlers like Beckwith, Dietrich and Roselle in the upperweights, they’ll have plenty of competition in the Section as three returning top 8 wrestlers will take the mat – Mike Beers, Ryan Wolcott and Dillon Hurlbert, as will qualifier Mark Viviano.

Mike Beers (Walton) – Keegan Cerwinski was a bit of nemesis for Beers last year, handing him three losses. Still, Greene coach Jenks was impressed with what Beers showed in those bouts and pointed to him as a wrestler to watch in 2012-13. The Walton grappler notched 28 victories, including 19 pins and came within one win of earning All-State honors in Albany after he dropped a 2-1 decision in his last bout at the Times Union Center.

Ryan Wolcott (Waverly) – Wolcott didn’t get an easy road in Albany, going 2-2 with both of his losses to top three finishers (Nick Mitchell and Burke Paddock).  Wolcott and Paddock were the only entrants at 170 pounds that weren’t juniors or seniors.  He’ll have a great opportunity to get on the podium this time.

Dillon Hurlbert (Marathon) – Like Beers and Wolcott, Hurlbert split his four matches at the state tournament.  He was third in Section 4, but there was no shame in that, as he stood behind state champion Kyle Stanton and fourth place finisher Nick Talcott.  As a junior, the Marathon wrestler went 40-8 with more than 25 pins.  With only three of the top 8 competitors at 220 pounds returning, he will have a good chance to end his career with a medal.

Not to be forgotten is fellow upperweight Mark Viviano from Bainbridge-Guilford/Afton, who got a wildcard bid to Albany.  He had close to 30 wins, including a victory over state qualifier Kegan Levesque in the Section 4 tournament after losing to him the previous week. With the graduation of Ryan Todd, who defeated Viviano twice, including at the Times Union Center, Viviano will be expected to make a return trip to the state capital.

 

Division II Team Race . . .

Greene, the returning champion, lost All-Staters Keegan Cerwinski and Kyle Stanton to the college ranks.  But the Trojans, who won the Section 4 title by 13.5 points, will enter the campaign as the favorites as they bring back gold medalists Dan Dickman and Mike Beckwith as well as three other placers – Brendan Wheeler (third at 106), Joel Roselle (third at 170) and Trevor Parrish (fifth at 138). The addition of Christian Dietrich will also be significant.

“We have great kids coming back, including some who missed last year with injuries,” Jenks said.  “I think we should be the team to beat, but we do have some questions. I’m not sure whether we’ll have a 99 pounder and we need to figure out some things with our lineup.  We have a lot of great kids in the same weight classes and we’re not sure yet how we’re going to iron it out.  I look forward to a great year.”

Who can challenge Greene for the title?  The list of possibilities is long.

Connor Lapresi, Photo by Boris V

There are teams that are lead by a few top-notch wrestlers, such as Lansing and Norwich, the second and third place teams in 2012, respectively.  The Bobcats feature state champions William Koll and Connor Lapresi as well as freshman Greg Lee, who was fourth at 106 as an eighth grader.  However, they will have to replace the points of standouts Ryan Todd and Corey Dake.

As for Norwich, Rifanburg and Garcia will tally significant points, but they, like Lansing, lost substantial points in the form of four graduated Section placers.

Jenks mentioned a pair of teams that could challenge on the strength of a number of wrestlers that saw success in last year’s postseason – Bainbridge-Guilford/Afton and Unatego.  Bainbridge offers a solid team, with five of its six Section placers returning, including runner up Mark Viviano and a trio of fourth placers – Austin Carr, Justin Cirigliano, and Jesse Griswold.

Unatego had three finalists a year ago and all three are back – Austin Ryan, Kevin Thayer and Codie Nichols.  When you add Ryan Marszal (third at 145), Leland Slawson (fourth at 152) and Lucas DeJoy (sixth at 132) into the mix, it seems likely that the team can improve upon its eighth place showing.

Also looking to make its mark again is Chenango Valley, led by Kyle Halliday and a pair of sophomores – Anthony Colon and Billy Liberati, and Tioga with five 2012 Section medalists, including fourth placers Kaleb Stone and Tyler Spires.

Special thanks to all the coaches and wrestlers who contributed to this story.

 

More Season Previews:

Section 1 Preview

Section 3 Preview

Section 4 Preview

Section 7 Preview

Section 8 Preview

Section 9 Preview

CHSAA Preview

 

Season Preview Features (more to come):

Section 1 Feature:  Aslanian and Realbuto, All-State Wrestlers and Workout Partners, Seek to End Their Careers on Top of the Podium

Section 4 Feature: Looking for “Number Nine”: Reggie Williams Aims to Make History at Johnson City

Section 5 Feature: The “Miracle” Continues: The Return of Aaron Paddock

Section 11 Feature: Nick Piccininni Looks to Continue Winning Streak

 

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Young New York Talent Ready to Take On the West Coast Through NYWAY Trips

“The mystique of getting on a plane and traveling all the way across the country is unbelievable for the kids,” Michael LaPorte said.

A number of young wrestlers from New York will be experiencing that mystique over the next few weeks as part of a pair of NYWAY trips.  On November 1, a group of elementary school grapplers will head to Las Vegas for the NUWAY Southwest Kickoff.  About a week later, a contingent of middle schoolers will make the journey to California to take part in the Final Four Duals and Junior Mid Cals.

Carson Alberti, Courtesy of Cobra Wrestling

Both trips involve plenty of high quality wrestling as well as an opportunity to see the surrounding areas.

The Vegas-bound crew includes 11 students ranging from kindergarten to sixth grade.

“We wanted to give kids a chance to see a new place and showcase them in a different environment,” said Kevin Lucinski, who is leading the trip. “We’ll do a little sightseeing when we get there and then wrestle in the tournament.  I think we’re all looking forward to seeing some different styles of wrestling.  When you go to different parts of the country, different things are emphasized.  Personally, I’m anxious to see the kids from California and Nevada.  Some of the brackets have Reno Worlds placers and champions.  It gives our kids a chance to test themselves and shows everyone that even if you’re the best in your state, you still have to work really hard because there are so many good wrestlers out there.”

The list of wrestlers going to Vegas includes: Carson Alberti, AJ Burkhart, Josh Gill, Michael Gonyea, Jason Hoffman, Justin Hoffman, Andy Lucinski, Jakob Lucinski, Caiden MondoreMitchell Seaver, Garrett Skeens and Carter Schubert.

Golden State Adventure

Matthew LaPorte and Orion Anderson, Courtesy of Michael LaPorte

LaPorte, who led the trip to Northern California last year as well, never had any doubt that he wanted to return again in 2012.

“Just hearing the kids talking amongst themselves about how much fun they were having was worth all the hard work that goes into it,” he said. “I knew I wanted to do it again.  It’s really important to helping the sport grow in New York and having the kids advance as much as they possibly can. Having West and East coast meet each other is something special.”

There were some exciting matchups last year for the Empire State squad.  The team placed fourth at the dual meet competition and had two wrestlers win individual titles as well.  Both of those grapplers, Orion Anderson and Dane Heberlein, are coming back.

“It’s always great competition,” LaPorte said.  “Orion (80 pounds) was the only New York wrestler to go undefeated last year on both days.  He had some close matches, but he always came out on top. I think some of those California kids will be looking for him because of his performance last year.  Dane will be at 90 pounds.  He’s super excited about going back.  He was the tournament’s Most Outstanding Wrestler last year and I think some of those West Coast kids will be looking for another chance at him as well.”

Also returning is Matthew Laporte (70 pounds), who registered a number of victories in 2011.   Joining the team will be Isaiah Bailey, Anthony Cirillo, Grant CuomoAntonio Cutrie, Connor Fredericks, Michael Gonyea, Jason Hoffman, Stephen KapuscinskiZach Kornberg and Dillan Palaszewski.

What excites LaPorte about the squad is that it brings wrestlers from all over the Empire State.

“The really good thing is that we were able to get a nice balance of the state with the addition of a few Long Island kids this year,” LaPorte said.  “Just about every area of New York has some representation, which is a good, healthy sign.”

According to NYWAY President Clint Wattenberg, the organization is working to expand to cover more of the Empire State this coming season.

“In representing New York with wrestlers from all corners of the state, it helps us get the word out about the many things that we are trying to do to increase opportunities for our young wrestlers. This year we hope to have the same broad representation at our NYWAY State Championships, which will serve to coalesce our season.”

As is the case with the Vegas trip, NYWAY will be covering a large portion of the wrestler costs.  According to LaPorte, the cost to each wrestler to go to California, including airfare, hotel, custom singlets, event entry costs is $250.

Like last year, the team will take some time to explore San Francisco in addition to both a dual event and an individual tournament.

“We’ll get there on Friday and have some time to rest,” he said. “Then, we’ll wrestle in the Final Four duals on Saturday and the Mid Cals on Sunday.  On Monday, which is a holiday, our agenda is to take the kids sightseeing – the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, Fisherman’s Wharf.  It will be a great end to the trip.”

As for accomplishments on the mat, LaPorte said he’d like to improve upon last year’s fourth place showing in the duals.

“We’d like to be top three as a team this time,” he said. “And we want to place as many kids as possible into the finals on the second day.  But the biggest thing for me is making sure that it’s a great experience for the kids.  It’s great for them to know there’s so much more out there in wrestling and outside of it.  It’s really rewarding for me as a coach to be part of it.”

Columbia Lands Top 100 Recruit Garrett Ryan of Wyoming Seminary

 

By Matt Diano

While most of the East Coast spent the early hours today fretting the impending damages that will accompany the wrath of Hurricane Sandy, one man, Columbia University head coach Carl Fronhofer, was no doubt smiling ear to ear this morning when he received word that premier big man, Garrett Ryan, had opted to verbally commit to the Lions as a part of their 2013 recruiting class.  The addition of Ryan comes less than one week after the Ivy League Institution landed 2012 NHSCA Junior National Champion, Chris Araoz, to bolster the lineup down low.  Now with Ryan on board, EIWA foes have every reason in the world to fear Columbia’s bookends for years to come.  While still very early in the recruiting season, as the #76 overall prospect in the current senior class, it is possible that the Scottsdale, Arizona native will end up being the crown jewel of the class.

The 170-pound 2012 Arizona state champion, after posting a pair of fifth place showings in his first two years on the Horizon High School varsity at 145 and 160 pounds, respectively, Ryan made the decision prior to the start of his senior campaign to transfer to Pennsylvania prep powerhouse,Wyoming Seminary for the 2012/2013 season. He cited the quality of workout partners and the more competitive national schedule among other factors in expressing his sentiments that the Scott Green-led program will best position/prepare him for success on the next level.  His commitment to Columbia is the second huge one in the past four days for the Blue Knights, as teammate Eric Morris (the #21 rated senior) decided upon Harvard as his future destination late last week.  In doing so, Ryan became the third blue chipper this fall to select the New York City based school, joining the aforementioned Araoz and 2012 120-pound NYS DI bronze medalist Matt Leshinger in representing the first wave of talented student-athletes flocking to the EIWA conference member.

Experiencing something of a David Taylor growth spurt (in reference to Penn State’s current returning national champion who jumped several weights in a short period of time and still enjoyed unmatched success), the bigger Ryan gets, the better he seems to perform.  In fact, despite the 50 pound difference in weight classes, Ryan would complement his state title last season by becoming a double All-American on the Junior level, finishing fourth in Greco-Roman and fifth in Freestyle at 220 pounds.  He would also earn gold medals in both international styles at the FILA Cadet National Tournament, affording him the privilege of representing the Red, White, and Blue at the FILA Cadet World Tournament this past August in Baku, Azerbaijan.  Here, he would add one final bullet point to a successful summer resume, finishing fifth in FS.  Ryan will head into his swan song as the #5 ranked wrestler in the country at his weight class, per FloWrestling.

A 3.97 student with monster scores on the the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT), as that special breed of dual threat (killing it in the classroom as well as on the wrestling mat), Ryan had his pick of top notch academic colleges/universities, choosing Columbia over the likes of fellow Ivy League members, UPenn and Princeton, as fellow as nationally acclaimed universities Cal Poly and Northwestern.   With 2012 Junior World representative (finished 10th), Wyatt Baker, only a sophomore, already on the Lion roster, the path to the starting lineup will not be an easy one for Ryan.  However, in much the same way that the move to Wyoming Seminary fit his interests from a developmental standpoint, so too will the opportunity to go toe-to-toe with Baker and Columbia assistant, Hudson Taylor (3x NCAA All-American for the University of Maryland).

This article was originally published on http://www.gothamcitywrestling.com

Check Out the Results of the Army Wrestle-Offs

Here are the results from Army’s wrestle-offs.  The Black Knights begin the season at the Buffalo Invitational on November 4.

125 Pounds: Hunter Wood over Nathan Santhanam, 9-1

133 Pounds: Jordan Thome over Charlie Costanzo, 6-0

141 Pounds: Connor Hanafee over Shane Connolly, 20-7

149 Pounds: Javier Rodriguez over John Belanger, 6-0

157 Pounds: Paul Hancock over Brian Harvey, 11-3

165 Pounds: Jared Ross over Derek Allen, 9-3

174 Pounds: Coleman Gracey over Ryan Tompkins, 8-2

184 Pounds: Collin Wittmeyer over Robert Doyle, 8-1

197 Pounds: Bryce Barnes over William Gray, 18-4

285 Pounds: Stephen Snyder over Curtis Garner, 2-1

–Courtesy of Army Athletic Communications

Looking for "Number Nine": Reggie Williams Aims to Make History at Johnson City

At first, it was about the trophies.

Reggie Williams missed basketball tryouts and he was looking for something to take the place of hoops in his schedule.

“In sixth grade, I didn’t have a sport to play in the winter,” Williams said.  “One of my friends always rubbed in my face that he had all these wrestling trophies.  I got only trophy per season in baseball, basketball and football, but in wrestling there were more.”

So, he decided to give wrestling a shot. And he took to it right away.

When seventh grade rolled around, Williams began on the modified team like most of his classmates, especially those at the higher weights.  But that didn’t last too long.

“I think I was on modified for a week,” Williams said with a laugh. “I pretty much destroyed everyone.”

So the next stop was the junior varsity, where his stay was longer than a week, but still pretty brief.  About halfway into the season, Williams moved up to the varsity squad only about a year after picking up the sport.

He didn’t waste any time finding success, placing fifth at the Section 4 tournament.

“It was pretty cool that I took fifth,” he said. “Coach [Peter] Capone did a great job teaching me some basics – a double leg, a breakdown, a stand up.  But I still didn’t know what I was doing a lot of the time on the mat.”

Photo by Boris V

He asked Capone what he needed to do to get to the next level and then he got to work.  He began lifting, learning more technique and training with a variety of partners.  A wide variety.

There were, of course, partners like the many he works with in the Johnson City room now, such as fellow state qualifiers Greg Kleinsmith, who Johnson City head coach Jordan Glenn said is exceptional on his feet and Zach Colgan, who is excellent in the top position.   But Williams worked with several others as well.

“I honestly believe anyone can wrestle anyone,” he said. “I was beaten up in the room by a guy who weighed 140 pounds.  I mean, brutally destroyed.  Good technique can do anything.  I wrestle with everyone.  I find myself wrestling the little guys more than the big guys.  I love training with the lightweights, so I can change up the pace of my matches.  After my practices, I also love to go wrestle with the pee wees.  They gang up and all attack me at the same time.  It’s fun to see the smiles on their faces and I try to teach them the basic things, because the basics can take you far.”

They took Williams pretty far as an eighth grader.  In the semifinals of the Sectionals, he pinned an opponent who had placed higher than him in a tournament earlier in the year.  He was headed to the Section 4 title bout and he said he was overcome with emotion.

“I looked at my coach and I started crying,” he said.  “My whole family came for the finals and the crowd was packed.  I wrestled my heart out and ended up losing in triple overtime.  I was hoping for a wildcard to states, but didn’t get it.”

Williams said he was disappointed, but not for too long.  His breakthrough was about to come.

“I felt like I really kept getting better and better without taking one step back,” he said of his ninth grade year.

It showed.  He racked up a 32-14 record as a freshman and captured his first Section 4 crown, winning by bonus points in each of his Sectional bouts.

Williams was unseeded in Albany as one of only two ninth graders in the 189-pound bracket, but he was undaunted.  In the second round, he met the number-two seed, Joe Cummings of Nyack, and came out on top 5-4 after hitting a snap down, spin behind in the third period.

In the semifinals, he fought hard against current North Carolina wrestler Frank Abbondanza, but a big move at the end of the second period was the difference in a loss.

“I still don’t remember how it happened,” he said.  “He had my leg and then the next thing I knew, I was trying to scramble and then I was falling backwards and the referee was counting back points.  I was really down after that match and it cost me a lot.  I didn’t bounce back well and I lost to guys I shouldn’t have in the wrestlebacks.  I learned something there about being stronger after losses.”

He put that to good use that summer as he earned All-America status at the NHSCA Freshman Nationals in Virginia Beach (fourth at 189 pounds).  His mettle was tested early as he fought through a close bout in the first round with some recognizable college coaches looking on.

“At Virginia Beach part of the reason that I finished where I did was that I was more of a straightforward wrestler at the time,” he said. “I didn’t really take angled shots.  Learning some Freestyle and Greco really helped me improve with angles.”

He apparently was a quick study as he went to Fargo for the Freestyle and Greco national championships a few months later and got on the podium there as well – while up a weight class (fifth at 215 pounds).

“Going into Fargo, I had an idea of how big the tournament was, but when I got there, I saw it was so much bigger than I expected,” he said. “I didn’t realize how tough it is to wrestle so many matches in such a short time.  You go hard in every single match against good competition and it got to me.  I’ve never been so exhausted.  If I was in better shape, I could have done better but the experience was amazing.”

Amazing could describe his sophomore year back in New York for the Wildcats as well.  In 2011-12, Williams registered a 39-3 mark, with all but six victories coming by bonus points and with all three losses coming against Shenendehowa state champion Tony Fusco.

The final setback was in the state finals, where Williams had quite a crowd pulling for him.

Courtesy of Reggie Williams

He said he remembers looking up at the stands and seeing Doug Stento, his football coach who he speaks fondly of, his mom and dad who don’t often see his matches, and his teammates.  In addition, he caught a glimpse of the t-shirt that was signed by a large number of Johnson City students (pictured).

“I saw all those people and I had that desire,” he said. “I got so fired up and wanted to do well to represent my school and my section.  Honestly, I felt like I was ready to play in the Super Bowl.  I made three mistakes and they cost me dearly.  Tony [Fusco] isn’t offensive or flashy, but he’s tough and strong.  When I made mistakes, he took advantage.  The worst part was that I felt like I let a lot of people down.”

Williams retreated to his hotel room afterwards, where he was soon joined by fellow silver medalist Keegan Cerwinski of Greene and a number of other Section 4 wrestlers.

“It seemed like the whole Section team was there,” he said. “We went out and walked the streets in Albany, talked and had a good time. Sometimes you have to just enjoy the little things in life.”

Right now, that’s enjoying football season where he is a fullback and linebacker and, for a brief time, he eats whatever he pleases.  But his mind doesn’t often stray from wrestling, which he sees far into his future.

Photo by Boris V

He said he has received letters from a number of top schools, including Iowa, Cornell, Columbia, Oklahoma and Lehigh, among others.  Williams isn’t sure what direction he’ll choose, but did stress that he’s looking for a place where his academic success will be a priority.  He also made clear that contrary to what he might have thought in the past, he won’t be a heavyweight.

“Reggie was thinking for a while he could be at 285 in college but then we went to the Penn State vs. Ohio State dual meet,” head coach Jordan Glenn said.  “After he saw the size of the boys at that level, he didn’t think that heavyweight would be the route for him.”

In fact, Williams said he “should have gone 182” last year and that he may certify at that weight for the upcoming campaign.

But at this point, the most important number isn’t his weight – it’s “nine”.

“We tell the boys all the time about the eight individual state champions we’ve had at this school,” Glenn said. “We talk about who will step up and become the ninth. We’re looking to get number nine this year and Reggie has what it takes to do it.”

“I’m thinking all the time about being number nine,” Williams said before quickly adding, “Or number 10 if one of my teammates beats me to it. That’s what’s driving me so much right now.  I’m going all out. I don’t want to lose a match and I want to pin anyone who steps on the mat with me.  My mindset now is that I have to win.  I wanted to be a three-time state champion but now I want to be the first two-time champion in Johnson City history.  I daydream about what I would do after winning states a lot.”

That would be yet another trophy for Reggie Williams.

 

More Season Preview Articles (and more on the way)

Section 1 Preview

Section 3 Preview

Section 7 Preview

Section 8 Preview

Section 9 Preview

CHSAA Preview

 

Features (more to come):

Section 1 Feature:  Aslanian and Realbuto, All-State Wrestlers and Workout Partners, Seek to End Their Careers on Top of the Podium

Section 5 Feature: The “Miracle” Continues: The Return of Aaron Paddock

Section 11 Feature: Nick Piccininni Looks to Continue Winning Streak

Check out the Binghamton Wrestle-Off Results

With the opening dual of the season at Lehigh less than two weeks away, Binghamton held wrestle-offs on Saturday afternoon.  Here are the results, courtesy of assistant coach Jasen Borshoff.

125 Pounds: Patrick Hunter over David White, 2 matches to 1

133 Pounds: Dan Riggi over Dylan Cohen, 2 matches to 1

141 Pounds: Joe Bonaldi over Derak Heyman

165 Pounds: Vincent Grella over Adam Lepkowsky, 2 matches to 1

174 Pounds: Caleb Wallace over John Paris

 

"Olympic Level Good": Friends Remember Jeff Blatnick

National Wrestling Hall of Fame member and Olympic Gold Medalist Jeff Blatnick’s passing was a shock to the wrestling community.  It’s a story that has been covered by both the wrestling and mainstream media as many have articulated his numerous and signficant accomplishments both on and off the mat.

For some additional perspectives, New York Wrestling News asked a few people who knew Jeff Blatnick to provide reflections on the impact he had on their lives.  We’ll let them tell more of the story of Jeff Blatnick.

 

Kyle Dake, Three-time NCAA Champion at Cornell

“When I first met Coach Blatnick, I found out pretty quickly that he was one of the friendliest and most incredible people to be around.  What I really remember is how he was full of wisdom.  I always took to heart what he said, whether it was about wrestling or life in general because it was always wise.

He called me “The Ferret” because when we first met I was a 98-pound freshman who was all over the place with so much energy.  As I got bigger, he tried to think of another nickname, but Ferret stuck.  The years I wrestled at Fargo, Coach Blatnick was there.  He was my second coach with Scott Green.  I always had complete trust in him.  I always felt good when he was in my corner because he was a commanding presence who was so knowledgeable about the sport.

After my freshman year in college I went to Fargo to be a team coach and I got to spend time with him. Not as a wrestler and a coach, but as a friend. We had some great conversations about wrestling and life and it was a really special time that I’ll never forget. We had a relationship where we were really strongly connected even though we didn’t see each other that much. I’m still in disbelief that he’s gone.  I appreciated him and looked up to him so much as a person.”

 

Nick Gwiazdowski, NCAA All-American (now at North Carolina State)

“In eighth grade when I started Freestyle and Greco, Jeff Blatnick started coaching me.  The thing he helped me with the most was my approach to wrestling.  Wrestling is such an exciting sport and it’s easy to get really pumped up and have a lot of emotion.  He taught me how to bring the emotion down, visualize and relax and get prepared for matches.  He simplified things for me and a lot of the little things he taught me, I still do in my matches today.

More important, he was someone I liked being around.  You could travel to a tournament with him and never talk about wrestling.  He was someone you could always talk to about anything and he would be there for you.  People would introduce him as an Olympic champion, but he would never introduce himself like that.  He was so humble.  He never really mentioned the things he accomplished.  It was all about helping you get better at wrestling or helping you in some other way.  He will be missed by a lot of people.  It will be very different without him.”

 

Alexis Porter, Two-Time Freestyle National Champion

“I remember when I first met him, at a small peewee tournament.  I hadn’t been wrestling for more than a few months.  He saw something in me that day that not a lot of people had seen and he became my coach.  I knew he was a legend who was courageous and inspirational but he didn’t focus on his own story.  He was focused on making everyone in our club the best wrestler they could be and help them achieve the biggest goals possible.

My first year at Fargo, I lost in the consolation finals.  I was upset and angry. He told me I had nothing to be ashamed of and that next year I would be on top of the podium.  He said I had bigger things to look forward to.  Sure enough, the next year, he was in my corner when I won my first national title.  He was one of the best wrestlers and coaches I’ve seen and an even better man.  I’m grateful that I had the opportunity to know him and to call him my coach.”

 

Craig Vitagliano, Team New York Freestyle Coach (Ascend Wrestling)

“I knew about Jeff Blatnick growing up.  He was one of the first wrestlers I saw on the Olympic level and I remember sitting and watching the gold medal match.  I’d heard about all the adversity he had to overcome and the way he focused and won the Olympic gold was inspiring for me. It was an amazing moment in Olympic history.

Fast forward to the past couple of years when I got to know Jeff on the Freestyle circuit.  Our club battled Journeymen a number of times and he was always respectful, friendly and approachable.  There was no arrogance despite all he accomplished.  He was also light hearted with a great sense of humor.  He was behind a big joke played on me at Fargo this year when I was told that I failed my bronze certification test and was going to be removed from the event.  Jeff was the leader of it and had me going for about 20 minutes.  He was a great man and a great ambassador and it’s a huge loss.”

 

Dylan Palacio, High School National Champion and Cornell Recruit

“Even when I was unsuccessful, [Blatnick] believed in me.  He saw some potential and kept pushing me to achieve what he thought I was capable of.  It’s really rare to find someone so genuine, who just wants you to be better and achieve great things.  He truly cared about the sport and the people in it. My biggest regret is that I never told him how much of an impact he had on me. I really want to do things now to make sure he looks down and says, ‘I was right about that kid.’ I could go on for days about all the things he’s accomplished but what really sticks with me is how sincere he was about wanting to see kids succeed.”

 

Mike Kelley, Journeymen Wrestling

“He always went out of his way to help the kids.  There was a tournament in Connecticut that was over two hours away and bunch of kids were supposed to go.  Then kids started dropping out and only two were left.  A lot of coaches would have decided not to go with only two kids.  But he insisted on going. That’s the kind of guy he was.  If he said he was going to do something, he did it. He always took the time.

Last year at Freestyle states, Nick [Kelley, Mike’s son and Fargo All-American] had an injury to his mouth and it got hit again and was pretty bad.  [Blatnick] went around the place asking everyone if they had a facemask for Nick to use.  He didn’t stop until he found one.  He looked out for everyone.  It wasn’t just successful wrestlers.  It didn’t matter who it was.  If it was first-year kids making all kinds of mistakes, he went out of his way to spend time with them.  He went the extra mile.

He was a great coach. He had a calming effect.  Nick said no matter how loud it was, he could always hear [Blatnick] and his instructions even though he didn’t scream.  There was just something about him.  He was a great guy that will be missed.”

 

Frank Popolizio

“Jeff was an enormous part of our organization at Journeymen Wrestling and the wrestling community as a whole.  Above all, Jeff was a gentleman and an ambassador.  A lot of people look at him as a wrestling guy, but he was a lot more than that. He was a major ambassador for the disabled.  He played a big role in the Special Olympics.  He was involved in cancer-related causes.  It seemed like he was always at fundraising events for cancer and helping to raise awareness.

He was a tremendous worker on top of it all.  He spent a lot of time in the wrestling room trying to help the kids.  He was in charge of our Freestyle program.  Freestyle ends in July and so did his obligations and responsibilities to being there for the kids.  But he’d be there in August and September and October.  I’d tell him he didn’t have to be there, but he wanted to be.  That’s the kind of guy he was.  He cared tremendously about the kids and they really responded to him.

The angle that’s not being covered is an ability that Jeff had as maybe the best, most effective wrestling diplomat.  He was in charge of things that were very political, including the head of USA Wrestling New York.  It’s a difficult position working with many different groups and personalities, but he was able to navigate through it with ease.  I don’t think it was easy, but he made it look easy.  He was really good at it – Olympic level good.  We were all better off for the work he did.

We lost a giant of a guy figuratively and literally.  It’s an enormous void on so many levels and I’m not sure you can ever truly fill it.”

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We’ll end with an inspiring video of Jeff Blatnick at the 1984 Olympic Games, winning his gold medal and reacting afterwards.  Popolizio said watching it gave him goose bumps and it did the same for us.  RIP, Jeff Blatnick, you will be missed.