By Irwin Loew
Chris Araoz, the reigning NHSCA Junior Nationals champion from Wantagh announced today that he will be attending Columbia University of the Ivy League in New York City next year. Araoz will be joining forces with head coach Carl Fronhofer, a former NCAA finalist at Pittsburgh, as well as his former high school teammate Chris Loew (now a freshman at Columbia) and Suffolk County standout Matt Leshinger of Sayville, who made his decision a few weeks ago. Wantagh has had a good run over the last several years, sending wrestlers into Division I programs such as Harvard, Hofstra, Binghamton and Edinboro.
Araoz went on several recruiting visits and was looking at West Point, University of Pennsylvania and Princeton. He had several reasons for choosing Columbia, including feeling very comfortable with the diverse coaching staff of Fronhofer (NCAA finalist), Roman Fleszar (two-time All-American at Hofstra), Adam Hall (two-time NCAA All-American at Boise State) and Hudson Taylor (three-time All-American at Maryland). He loved the feeling of being in the Big Apple and that he will be close to home and to his brother who attends Fordham in the Bronx. And, he felt that getting a Columbia education and competing in New York will be a great experience.
After placing second at the Section 8 tournament as a junior, Araoz had a great offseason, capturing the national title at 120 pounds at Virginia Beach. With that performance, he became the first Wantagh wrestler, as well as the first Section 8 and Nassau County grappler to achieve this feat. Keep in mind, this comes from a program that graduated current Ohio State head coach Tom Ryan, a former All-American at Iowa under the legendary Dan Gable.
After that championship, Araoz continued to work extremely hard this offseason, attending practices at the Wantagh 3 Style Wrestling Club several times per week under the tutelage of current head coach and Hall of Famer Paul Gillespie and assistant Reggie Jones, who was recently voted in as a National Hall of Fame member. He also wrestles at the Ascend Wrestling Club with Craig Vitagliano.
Araoz competed at Fargo over the summer and more recently wrestled at the Iron Horse Invitational in New Jersey where he finished with two wins and two losses in a bracket that contained four nationally-ranked wrestlers. He also won three matches at the Super 32 Challenge.
Gillespie holds Araoz in very high esteem, saying that he loves the intensity of his senior co-captain, who is as focused as any wrestler he has coached over the last 30 years. He emphasized that Aroaz works hard seven days per week and is the first one in the room and the last one out. The coach further stated that Araoz is very coachable and picks up everything, and finished by saying that he wished he had a hundred more kids like Araoz.
Araoz has been an important part of Wantagh’s team success during this career. During his tenure as a Warrior, the team finished first in the New York State tournament, was crowned the Dual Meet champions in 2011-12 and won three out of the last four Section 8 titles in Division I. On an individual note, Araoz will be one of the favorites to win a state championship at 132 pounds this year.
The newest Columbia recruit acknowledged wrestlers that came before him and set the bar high at Wantagh (and who also come back to visit and help) such as Paul Liguori, Steve Bonanno, Joe Barbato, John Greisheimer, Nick Fitzmaurice and Chris Loew.
He would like to compete at the next level at either 133 or 141 pounds.
Araoz answered some questions about his commitment . . . and a few other topics.
What were the main reasons you chose Columbia ?
Chris Araoz (CA): It’s the fourth best school for academics in the nation. I loved being in New York City and I really liked the team and the coaches.
What stood out to you on your official visit?
CA: The first thing I did when I got there was watch the team lift and they were all really into it and worked together well. Also, I loved that it was only an hour train ride to get there from my home.
What were some of the other schools you seriously considered?
CA: West Point, Princeton, and UPenn.
What weight do you expect to wrestle in college?
CA: Either 133 or 141
Are there any particular workout partners you look forward to wrestling with in college?
CA: I definitely look forward to wrestling with assistant coach Adam Hall.
Did the fact that several other NY wrestlers you may know picked Columbia have an impact on your decision?
CA: Not really. For the most part, I knew people on all the teams I was looking at, but it is nice to know that there are some other New York guys on the team.
After the County finals [Araoz finished second and didn’t receive a bid to the state tournament], what did it mean to you to win the NHSCA Nationals?
CA: It meant everything. It gave me another chance to really show how I can wrestle and it felt good to win something big after such a disappointment.
Did you get a lot of recruiting attention after that win?
CA: Yes, almost all of the schools I considered contacted me after the tournament.
What are your goals for yourself in your senior season?
CA: To win a county, state, and national title.
What have you done over the spring and summer to prepare for this year?
CA: Just a lot of wrestling, big tournaments and lifting.
What areas do you think you’ve most improved on?
CA: I think my neutral wrestling has gotten way better since last season.
Who are some of the people who have most influenced your wrestling over the years?
CA: Definitely all of my coaches but also some of the older Wantagh guys like Joe Barbato [now at Harvard] and Steve Bonnano [All-American at Hofstra]. Both were former Wantagh wrestlers.
What’s something wrestling followers might not know about you?
CA: I lost almost every match I wrestled in 8th grade.
Any idea about what you’re interesting in studying in college?
CA: Probably Economics
Who are your favorite college wrestlers to watch now and why ?
CA: Kyle Dake and David Taylor because they’re so dominant and I’m really excited to see them go at it this year.
What was your most memorable high school wrestling event?
CA: When we beat MacArthur in my eighth grade season
What motivates you?
CA: I just love winning and knowing I had to work hard for it.
What type of music do you listen to before you wrestle?
Just about anything, but mostly rock or rap.
What was the last movie you saw?
What was the last book you read?
What’s something people would not know about you?
I was voted biggest flirt in school.