By Matt Diano
When the Empire State reflects upon this weekend’s collective effort at the Super 32 Tournament in Greensboro, North Carolina, the word “almost” will be a term that gets dropped often in the conversation. Heading into day two with a squad of six strong, on paper, New York knew it would need to catch some breaks in order to maximize real estate on the podium. Unfortunately, the cosmos would just never align, as one-by-one, after battling hard against the nation’s best for the past two days, five of the six student-athletes would fall just short of placing in the top 8.
Setting the tone for the kind of day it would be for NYS was Nick Piccininni of Ward Melville (Section XI). Less than 24 hours removed from pulling the most significant upset of the opening day of the tournament when the 2012 NYS DI champion upended the top-ranked wrestler in the nation, Zahid Valencia of California, everything seemed to be falling into place for the super sophomore who was looking to win his third Flo major in as many weeks. All that would separate him from the top step on the medal stand would be a pair of wins over nationally-ranked foes. After all, having already defeated the “best of the best,” many looked at Piccininni as an invincible force. Unfortunately, the #11 wrestler in the land, Georgia state champion Sean Russell had different plans, as he asserted his offense early and often, halting Piccininni’s trek to title town with a 10-6 decision. This loss would set up a rematch in the consolation round with Valencia. And this time, it would be the native of the Golden State reversing the decision, eliminating Piccininni by the slimmest of margins, 2-1. Valencia would go on to win his remaining matches to finish third, with Russell losing to his high school teammate, Ryan Millhof, in the finals. By virtue of losing only to the silver and bronze medalists in a loaded 113-pound bracket, Piccininni easily showcased that he is deserving of a spot in the national rankings.
Another wrestler riding a high after an impressive day one performance was Connetquot senior Steve Bulzomi. Perhaps a bit of a surprise to those outside of Suffolk County, the 120-pounder who finished fourth in section XI in 2012 would find himself closing in on All-America honors this weekend. Posting a 3-1 record on the first day (with his only loss being a narrow defeat at the hands of #20 ranked Nathan Boston from Kentucky), Bulzomi would take to the mat this morning needing three wins to secure a place on the podium. Beginning the day on a high note, Bulzomi would win his opening match, 4-2, but would be unable to string together the winning streak he would need as his day was ended one round later via a loss by fall to 2012 New Jersey sixth place finisher, Christian Innarella, at the 4:58 mark. Innarella would conclude his weekend with an eighth place finish.
Also entering play today with a 3-1 tally was Eastport South Manor junior Travis Passaro. A runner up at the Journeymen Classic a few weeks ago, no one has ever questioned the talents of the 2011 NHSCA Freshman All-American. However, having watched as older brother Maverick placed last season at the “Battle for the Belt,” this weekend was about making it two-for-two for the family. Passaro lost two consecutive bouts to NJ state qualifier Sal Profaci during the lead-up to this tournament. So when an opening win this morning set up the trilogy, it would have been easy for Passaro to get down on himself. However, that simply is not the “Strong Island” way; rather, he would use the previous outcomes as a motivation. It would work, as Passaro controlled the entire match, cruising to the 8-2 victory, putting him one more “w” away from placement. Again, it would be a familiar foe that opposed Passaro as he would be pitted against the only wrestler to beat him up to this point, Florida’s Jared Prince. Determined to avenge the loss, Passaro undoubtedly gave 110 percent effort, but much like yesterday, it would be the kid from the Sunshine State pulling out the decision, 5-2.
The unofficial award for biggest heart/guts this weekend goes to returning NYS DI fourth place finisher T.J. Fabian of Shoreham Wading-River. Dropping his opening bout of the tournament, the multiple-time NHSCA All-American would put together one heck of a rally, winning seven straight matches (including a 1-0 victory this morning against 12th ranked Ken Bade of Michigan). In agreement with the emerging theme, the win over the blue chipper would put the New Yorker a single victory away from pulling off a feat that 24 hours earlier had seemed impossible. But, as evidence that a higher power has a cruel sense of humor, after all of the blood, sweat, and grit that went into his comeback story, yet again, a NYS representative would see his effort met with humble pie as Fabian would get pinned by Pennsylvania’s Colby Ems, a wrestler who came in as an unknown, but rode a hot streak to a seventh place showing at 126 pounds. To call this twist of fate heartbreaking would be a gross underestimation of the situation. If there was a single wrestler this weekend that deserved to go out with a “w”, without hesitation it would be the senior from Suffolk County.
The shutout streak would finally be broken at 182 pounds when 2012 NYS DI runner-up Shayne Brady of Carthage rebounded from a 4-0 quarterfinal loss to Cornell recruit (and eventual champion) Jacob Taylor of Pennsylvania, to reign victorious in his first consolation bout, etching out the 6-5 decision over New Jersey’s Nick Zak. The win guaranteed that the senior from Section III would finish in the top 8. Brady would get the short end of the stick in his final two bouts of the tournament, losing a pair of decisions to Ohio’s Alex Belaia and nationally-ranked Keystone Stater (#3) Dakota DesLauriers by respective 4-2 and 5-0 scores. The loss to DesLauriers was in the match for seventh.
220-pounder Nelson Wymbs of Horace Greeley would be defeated in his only bout of the day, getting bested by 2012 Virginia State runner-up, Eldon Valery, 6-1. Valery would win one more match before dropping his remaining bouts to finish up with an eighth place showing.
New York Middle Schoolers Pile Up Hardware
While the day may not have belonged to the NYS scholastic level athletes, it did prove to be a banner day for the next generation as the Empire State would crown a pair of champions in the middle school tournament. Sixth-grader Adam Busiello (75 pounds) and 100-pound eighth-grader Yianni Diakomihalis (who competed on the Hilton High School varsity last season), went 5-0 and 4-0 to win their individual weight classes. In doing so, they became the first New York State wrestlers since 2007 (Joe Booth) to win a Super 32 title at either level of competition. Busiello finished third here in 2010. 90-pounder Peter Pappas would finish second at his weight, compiling a 4-1 record this weekend.
Other middle school top 8 finishes included the following (in weight order):
- Dylan Ryder: 6th at 70
- Hector Colom: 7th at 95
- Vitali Arujau: 3rd at 100
- Louie Deprez: 7th at 120
- Michael Spallina: 3rd at 157