Section 8 Preview: Who Will Be Nassau County's Next State Champion?

In 2012, Nassau County featured three state champions – Dylan Palacio, Dan Spurgeon and Evan Kappatos.  All three have moved on to the college ranks while second place finisher Jose Rodriguez now lives in Ohio.  But Section 8 will no doubt be well represented on the medal stand in February in Albany.  For the wrestlers and teams to watch in 2012-13 in Nassau in both Division I and Division II, read on.


Division I

Returning Placewinners

106 Pounds: Justin Cooksey, MacArthur, Second Place

113 Pounds: Robert Person, Bellmore JFK, Fifth Place

138 Pounds: Dan McDevitt, Wantagh, Fifth Place

Other Returning State Qualifiers

145 Pounds: Louis Hernandez, Mepham

152 Pounds: Dan Tracy, Mepham

182 Pounds: Dan Choi, Syosset

Justin Cooksey, Photo by Boris V

The three returning All-State wrestlers are all strong candidates to make the Saturday night finals at the Times Union Center in February.  Justin Cooksey, who will likely be up a few weights, has experience in the title bout, having earned the silver medal at 106 pounds as a sophomore.   Robert Person isn’t a stranger to Albany, having been there the past two years.  He was one win short of placing in 2010 and then fifth last year. He’ll be looking to earn his highest finish yet.  As for Dan McDevitt, he will be among the contenders at a much higher class than last year, possibly 170 pounds, after earning All-America status at 138 at the NHSCA Junior Nationals in Virginia Beach in the spring.

Louie Hernandez, Photo by phototrens

Louie Hernandez wore the Section 8 singlet in Albany last year but wrestled with a significant injury as he went 1-2.  He has been dominant in the offseason and a finish atop or near the top of the medal stand is within the realm of possibility.  Dan Choi came within one win of earning All-State honors last season at 182 and will be looking to get over the hump, as will Dan Tracy, who made his state tournament debut in February. But beyond those who have been on the mats representing Nassau in the past, there are a number of wrestlers who are capable of doing damage in late February.  So, the question is:


Who Will Make the Most of a First State Tournament Trip?

Plainedge’s Dan Spurgeon was named the Nassau Wrestler of the Year in 2012 by Newsday after an undefeated senior campaign in which he won the state championship at 170 pounds.  It was Spurgeon’s first appearance at the biggest event of the New York high school season.

Will there be another Section 8 wrestler in 2013 who turns his first state tournament appearance into a title?  There certainly are a plethora of candidates who have the tools to make it happen.  Some of these include:

Chris Araoz (Wantagh) – Araoz got the attention of a lot of fans in the spring when he won a national championship at the NHSCA Juniors in Virginia Beach at 120 pounds.  The Wantagh senior was ranked throughout the year in the Empire State, and defeated several grapplers who competed on championship weekend at the Times Union Center.  However, he was upset in the county finals by Roslyn’s John Lanzilotti and didn’t get a bid to Albany.  After showing he can compete with the nation’s best in Virginia, he will be a solid favorite in Nassau and a contender for a state crown at the end of February, likely at 132 pounds.

Chris Koo (Great Neck South) – Koo has made the podium on multiple occasions – the national podium, that is.   While he has yet to appear at the New York state tournament, he has twice been an All-American at the NHSCAs in Virginia Beach, taking seventh at 152 in 2011 and sixth at 145 the previous year.  The senior will look to translate those types of results to the medal stand in Albany in 2013 after taking the bronze at the Section 8 tournament at 160 last season.  He will likely wrestle at 152.

James O’Hagan (Seaford) – The heavyweight sported a 31-3 mark as a sophomore, taking third at the Section 8 tournament behind eventual state champion Evan Kappatos and fifth-place medalist Dante Salkey, with whom he split matches during the campaign.  (O’Hagan topped Salkey in December and Salkey returned the favor in overtime on his way to the Nassau County title).  O’Hagan, a starting offensive lineman for the football squad, followed up his strong high school season on the mat by grabbing third at the NHSCA Sophomore Nationals at 285.  He will be an upperweight to watch in 2012-13 as he sets his sights on being the first Seaford wrestler to ever stand on top of the podium at the end of the season.

Steven Schneider (MacArthur) – In 2012, Schneider was 41-4 at 152 pounds, including victories over state qualifier Dan Tracy (who beat Schneider at Sectionals) and 2012 New York State medalists Anthony Pistone and Dan McDevitt.   The MacArthur grappler has wrestled well in preseason events and will be one to keep an eye on throughout the campaign.

Vinny Turano (Wantagh) – Turano had over 30 victories a year ago, with five of his six losses to state placers – Shenendehowa’s Nick Kelley, Kenmore West’s Dylan Caruana and Garden City’s Mike Lofrese.  The senior, who split time between 126 and 132 in 2012, will look to make his first appearance in Albany for the Warriors.  Teammates Nick Vines and Kyle Quinn will try to join the parade of Wantagh wrestlers headed upstate at the end of February.  Vines was impressive as he earned several victories in Fargo this summer in freestyle and Quinn went 30-6 on his way to third at the Section 8 tournament before earning All-America honors at the NHSCA Freshman Nationals.


Also Keep an Eye On . . .

Michael Fera (Manhasset) – The senior was third in a strong 120-pound weight a year ago during a 36-4 season.  He notched solid wins over multiple-time All-State wrestler Drew Longo of Section 1 as well as Oral Allen of Long Beach while all of his setbacks came to accomplished wrestlers – state champion Sean McCabe, placer Justin Corradino, qualifier John Lanzillotti and national champion Chris Araoz.

Quinn Knauer (Baldwin) – Knauer reached the 40-win plateau with 23 falls last year in the process of taking second in Nassau.  He should be a strong contender to win the county, as will one of the wrestlers who defeated Knauer, Chris Broccoli of Massapequa.  Broccoli was fifth at the Section 8 event in 2012.

Steven Sewkumar (Long Beach) –  The list of All-State wrestlers that Sewkumar beat during his 36-6 junior season at 99 pounds is sizable – Cheick Ndiaye (Division II runner up), Andrew Flanagan (fifth place) and Nick Barbaria (sixth in DI).  He also topped qualifiers Vinny Skokos, Vinny Vespa (twice) and Hunter Dusold.  However, he didn’t receive a wildcard bid to Albany after taking second in Nassau behind state silver medalist Jose Rodriguez of Wantagh.  It would be surprising if he didn’t get a chance to go to the state capital this February, at either 106 or 113 pounds.

There are a slew of young wrestlers to keep an eye on as the season approaches.  Two of them have very familiar last names – Arujau (Vitali) and Loew (Jonathan).  They will jump into the lineup this year for Syosset and Wantagh, respectively after compiling some impressive results this offseason.  Another lightweight to keep tabs on is Peter Pappas of Plainview, who won the War at the Shore in the spring and this past weekend took second in the Middle School division at the prestigious Super 32 Challenge.


Team Race

Dan McDevitt, Photo by Boris V

Wantagh was the winner at the Division I tournament last year by more than 60 points and the Warriors will be the favorite again.  Paul Gillespie’s squad returns champion McDevitt and a pair of second place finishers in Araoz and Turano. In addition, Wantagh boasts two other bronze medal finishers in Nassau from 2012 – Quinn and junior Vines as well as two upperweights – James Corbett and Sean Tomlinson, who were fourth in the county a year ago.   TJ Ragusa, formerly of Massapequa, looks to build upon his 26-victory season while adding another weapon to the Wantagh lineup.

MacArthur took third in the team race last season and has the depth to put up significant points this time around (and will be dangerous in the dual meet tournament).  In addition to reigning county champion (and state runner up) Cooksey, the Generals feature four other grapplers who took top six in 2012 – and lost only one placer from a year ago.  Several coaches believe Schneider is primed for a breakout season after taking third at 152 as a sophomore.  Anthony Boccasini (fourth at 113), Chris Cataldo (sixth at 120), Rob Bennett (fifth at 132) and Michael Marrero (fifth at 145) should all contribute heavily as well to compensate for the loss of Joe Cataldo.   In addition, ninth grader Vincent Thron is a young wrestler to keep tabs on after a 20 win season that featured quality wins over wrestlers like Hunter Dusold (who he also lost to) and Patrick Briody.

“It’s two-horse race this year,” one Nassau coach said.  “Wantagh and MacArthur are way ahead of the pack and it should be exciting to watch.”

Also very much worth watching is Mepham, which doesn’t have as many returning medalists but has a strong core, led by reigning county champions Louie Hernandez and Dan Tracy as well as middleweight Steven Lambert (fourth at 152) and lightweight Jamie Dunn (sixth at 106).   Both Lambert and Dunn have the ability to move significantly up the podium.

Don’t forget about last year’s runner up squad from Long Beach, which graduated six Nassau placewinners, including champions Mark Raghunandan and Dylan Palacio.  They will return strength at the beginning of the lineup with two top three finishers from last season – Steven Sewkumar (second) and Jaemon Connelly (third).   A possible sleeper contributor is Zamar Allen, who was in his first year of wrestling last season but has made great strides, according to coach Ray Adams.

Also mentioned were an improving Baldwin squad led by Knauer, Victor Robinson and Enrique DeJesus as well as the always-strong teams from Massapequa (led by Broccoli) and Plainedge (featuring returning fourth place Nassau finishers Hector Guerrero and Conor Sullivan).


Division II:

Returning Placewinner

99 Pounds: Nick Casella, Locust Valley, Second Place

Other Returning State Qualifiers

106 Pounds: Hunter Dusold, Locust Valley

120 Pounds: Cassidy Exum, Oyster Bay

138 Pounds: Matt Long, Mineola

145 Pounds: Jordan Formicola, Locust Valley

220 Pounds: Ian Estevez, Oyster Bay


Seniors to Watch

Matt Long, Mineola – Long went an impressive 32-4 as a junior and was named the Most Outstanding Wrestler at the Section 8 championships.  He went 1-2 at the state tournament for the second consecutive year and hopes his third straight journey to the Times Union Center will yield a medal.

Ian Estevez, Oyster Bay – Estevez went 24-9 in 2012, including a victory at the state tournament at 220 pounds.  He looks to make a return trip and get his hand raised a few more times.

“Ian Estevez worked very hard in the offseason to improve,” said Locust Valley coach Joe Enea.  “I imagine he’ll be at 220 again.  Another year of experience and growth will give him a shot to win some matches upstate.”


Also Keep an Eye On . . .

Nick Casella, Photo by Boris V

Nick Casella, Locust Valley – Casella was unseeded going into the state tournament last year, but that didn’t stop him from going all the way to the finals before dropping a 1-0 decision to Lyndonville’s Tony Recco.  The sophomore faced the bracket’s top seed, Joe Nelson of Oxford, in the second round and pinned the Section 4 wrestler, who eventually took third.

“Going into state tournament, we didn’t know what to expect,” Enea said. “But we thought he had a good chance to place and he came out and really dominated his first few matches.  Nick has tried to get as many competitive matches as possible since the season ended to prepare himself for upstate.  The goal is for him to return to the finals and this time, win a state championship.  To lose 1-0 served as a great motivator because when you’re that close and don’t win, you want so badly to get it the next time.”

Cassidy Exum, Oyster Bay  – Enea calls Exum “a very tough wrestler” and the results would support that statement.  He won Section 8 at 120 pounds a year ago and compiled a 20-13 mark, including his trip to the Times Union Center.   In his junior season, he will look for a few more wins at the end of the year.

Jordan Formicola, Locust Valley – After coming within one victory of placing at 145 pounds in 2012 following a 23-15 campaign, the junior will take the mat at 160 looking to find a spot on the medal stand.

“Jordan really hit the weights hard in the offseason,” Enea said. “He wasn’t focused on wrestling because he’s also the quarterback of the football team, but he’s so much bigger and stronger.  He has the athleticism and strength to be very dangerous.”

Sam Ward, Locust Valley – Ward spent last season at St. Anthony’s but has returned to the Falcons.  With the Friars as a ninth grader, he went 21-9 at 126 pounds, taking third at the CHSAA tournament.  Ward had a productive summer, earning All-America status (seventh place at 132 pounds) in Greco Roman at Fargo.

“He’ll really help us out,” Enea said. “We’re really happy to have him on our team and we think he has a really good shot to get on the podium at the end of the year, probably at 138.”


And Don’t Forget the Young Guns

Hunter Dusold – As a seventh grader, Dusold racked up a 21-9 record.  He primarily competed at 99 pounds, but went up to 106 for the postseason, where he won the Section 8 title and made a trip to the state tournament.  After some strong offseason work, Enea is excited about what his eighth grade season will hold, possibly up at 113.

“Hunter bumped up at the end of the year and did a great job,” Enea said. “He wanted to win some matches at states, but we had a feeling it would be difficult being a seventh grader and up a weight.  He got some good experience and we’re really happy with how he’s progressed.  He’s worked extremely hard.  I think he has a chance to place this year.”

While mentioning Hunter Dusold, Enea couldn’t help but talk about his sophomore brother Mike Dusold, who dropped a 13-9 match to Mineola’s Long in the County final at 138 but has put in significant time in the offseason.  He will likely wrestle at 152, according to the coach.

“He works out everyday here at Locust Valley and then again at VHW club,” Enea said. “I think there’s always a little rivalry between brothers and seeing his younger brother go up to the state tournament motivated him even more than he already was.”

John Pedranghelu, Locust Valley – Pedranghelu took second in the Section 8 tournament a year ago with 23 total wins during the season and looks ready to take the next step.

“John has been on varsity since seventh grade,” Enea said. “I think he could have a really strong year.  I look for him to qualify for states and win some matches in Albany, probably at 132 pounds.”

Patrick Briody, Locust Valley – Like Pedranghelu, Briody was the runner up at the county event, losing to Casella in the title bout at 99 pounds.

“Patrick did well as a seventh grader,” Enea said. “We knew it would be tough with Casella there but he’ll still be at 99 and has a good chance to qualify and do something upstate.”


Team Race

Locust Valley was a 19-point winner over Oyster Bay for the Division II crown in 2012 and the Falcons look like the team to beat again with a number of champions and high placers back for another season.

Leading the way for Coach Enea’s team will be the aforementioned trio of returning section champions — Casella, Hunter Dusold and Formicola.  In addition, the squad boasts four wrestlers who were second at the Nassau tournament a year ago in Briody (99), Pedranghelu (113), Mike Dusold (138) and Yamique Webb (160), all of whom are sophomores or younger.  The loss of 132-pound Section 8 titlewinner Robert Heney, bronze medalist Jose Mejia and a pair of fourth place finishers should be largely compensated for with the nine additional medalists coming back.

If Oyster Bay is to make a run at the team title, it will need to make up for some lost firepower.  2012 champions Jack Leguelaff, Ryan Arnel, Blake Meyer, Rob Morgan and Dylan Rankin all graduated, as did runner up Jon Escobar and two third place finshers.  The squad will lean on returning 120 pound victor Exum and fellow champion Estevez as well as a pair of runner ups (Vincent Catala and Alex Galizia) and bronze medalists (Matt Santos and James Mon).

Mineola boasts Long, county runner up Peter McCormack and several third and fourth place finishers, such as Luigi Miranda, Edien Hincapie, Eric Lopez, Justin Sandler and Kevin Merino.  However, champions Joe Massaro and Dave Gorry were seniors a year ago.

Adding to the team dynamic is the movement of Clarke into Division II from Division I for this season.

“We have the best team we’ve had in the five I’ve been coaching in terms of the talent we have,” Enea said.  “There will be strong pushes from Oyster Bay and Mineola. We may be sitting in a good spot, but we know nothing is decided until February and we have to be ready.  Having Clarke come down to Division II adds an excellent program that will make our division stronger.  We had the option of going to Division I but chose to stay put.  We want to help strengthen Division II and get Locust Valley back to being a player on the state level, back where it was under Matt Sanzone.  We finished in the top 25 in the state last year and want to be in the top 10 this upcoming year.”


Thank you to the many contributors to this article, including Ray Adams, Matt Diano, Joe Enea, Irwin Loew, Vougar Oroudjov and Craig Vitagliano.


More Season Previews:

Section 1 Preview

Section 3 Preview

Section 7 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 5 Feature: The “Miracle” Continues: The Return of Aaron Paddock

Section 11 Feature: Nick Piccininni Looks to Continue Winning Streak



1 thought on “Section 8 Preview: Who Will Be Nassau County's Next State Champion?

  1. 9th Grader Jeremy hughes of Macarthur will be someone to watch, In August at 160 lbs he beat Matt Long at the Hofstra tournament.

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