When your name translates to “God Almighty”, high expectations have been set from birth.
New York’s top high school heavyweight, El Shaddai VanHoesen, isn’t intimidated.
“I have ‘God Almighty’ tattooed on my forearm,” VanHoesen said. “My mom is very religious and always instilled me with confidence. My mom and dad said they were thinking of a bunch of names and that’s the one they felt was right for me. They wanted me to live up to it.”
The Columbia High School senior, who was second at the state tournament in 2012 and who has earned accolades in competitions both in the Empire State and nationally over the years, is pushed by more than living up to his name.
In fact, he draws a lot of his strength from his 13-year old sibling.
“When my brother was younger, he needed a liver transplant,” VanHoesen said. “He was living a normal life for a couple of years after that. But right before the postseason last year, his liver failed again. He needed another transplant and not just for his liver. He had to go out to a hospital in Nebraska and before he left he told me wanted to see me keep winning. He gave me inspiration.”
That inspiration helped VanHoesen go on a tremendous run in the season’s most important event. After taking third at the Section 2 championships, VanHoesen earned the last wildcard spot in the 285-pound draw for the state tournament. He wanted to make the most of it, despite dealing with a high ankle sprain.
“It’s rare that three wrestlers get in from the Section,” said Columbia head coach Anthony Servidone, noting that Section 2 champion Cory Quintana and All-State wrestler Cole Lampman got bids as well. “We felt that [Van Hoesen] had a great opportunity and he took advantage.”
After wins in his first two matches, VanHoesen was set to face a familiar foe, Lampman, in the semifinals. Earlier in the season, the Shenendehowa wrestler (now starting at Princeton), defeated VanHoesen, 5-1.
It was a different story at the Times Union Center as VanHoesen came out on top, 4-2, in what he called the biggest win of his wrestling career.
“Beating Lampman made me realize what I could do if I put my mind to it,” VanHoesen said. “I was wrestling to the level of my competition before, wrestling not to lose. When you go out there, you need to fully believe that you’re the better guy. The coaches have always pounded into my head that I work hard and I should win. I realized that I am a top level guy and I need to wrestle like a top level wrestler.”
So while he fell a point short in the New York title bout against Syosset’s Evan Kappatos, his belief carried through to the offseason where he earned All-America status for the third straight year at the NHSCA Nationals in Virginia Beach and also registered quality victories at the Disney Duals in Florida and at the Freestyle Nationals in Fargo, North Dakota.
“After the state tournament, he took just one day off,” Servidone said. “On Monday, he wanted to drill. He wanted a partner to start getting ready for nationals. That’s when I knew he was really focused. I see a big difference in him this year all the way around from work ethic to overall attitude toward the sport. He committed to wrestling this past spring, summer and fall.”
And he’s committed to having wrestling as a part of his future. He is being pursued by four Division I programs, but hasn’t completed his official visits yet. VanHoesen said he isn’t sure on the timetable for his college decision as he’s focused on making the most of this season first.
That focus has been significantly enhanced by the addition of a new workout partner in the Columbia wrestling room — former New York state champion and Sacred Heart grappler Brandon Lapp.
“Bringing [Lapp] in has really paid dividends,” Servidone said. “Last year [VanHoesen] was wrestling guys half his size sometimes. It was difficult to find anyone who was big enough and could challenge him.”
“It’s probably made the biggest difference of anything in my career,” VanHoesen added. “[Lapp] is the perfect size where he forces me to move and work on my speed, positioning and leverage. I wrestled with a lot of smaller guys before who couldn’t really push me. Having a partner like this is huge for me.”
With that extra push in practice on a daily basis and a boost from feeling better at around 270 pounds, VanHoesen expects to not only win every time he takes the mat, but to win with dominance.
So far, he’s done just that, capturing all but one of his matches this season by pin. (The other victory was by technical fall).
In fact, this past weekend, VanHoesen pinned his way through the PSAL Holiday Tournament and only had to wrestle into the second period once.
The title in New York City was significant for a number of reasons. First, he collected a milestone win and second, he became the first-ever high school wrestling champion crowned at Madison Square Garden. (The finals of the event started at heavyweight).
“It definitely wasn’t a bad place to get my 100th win,” VanHoesen said with a laugh. “I tend not to let big stages get to me. I just try to focus and take care of business. So before the match, I wasn’t really thinking about the fact that I was wrestling at Madison Square Garden. But after the match, it was like, ‘wow’. It really hit me that I was the first person to win a high school tournament there.”
It’s likely that there will be a number of other titles for VanHoesen this year, however, the senior’s accolades on the mat aren’t the only things that impress Servidone.
“With his brother in the hospital in Nebraska, his mother has to spend a lot of time there,” Servidone said. “He’s a high school student living a young adult life.”
“My mom spends a lot of time out there [Nebraska],” VanHoesen added. “It’s tough for my little brother and two younger sisters who are here. But we have a strong support system with my grandmother and I feel like I stepped up as the older brother. We all take on a lot of roles and a lot of responsibilities. But along with that comes a lot of rewards too. And I feel like I have two families. Columbia wrestling has been with me the whole way. Coach Servidone takes care of all of us and the Columbia parents show me every bit of love they can. Everyone is so supportive.”
That support will continue. In February of 2013, VanHoesen expects that a special guest will help him in his quest to get to the top of the podium at the Times Union Center.
“I think my brother will be back from Nebraska for the state tournament this year — I’m confident about that,” he said. “He’s making progress, getting better every day. He’s the toughest kid on the planet. With the transplants and everything going on, he’s always positive and he refuses to give up. That’s my mentality in wrestling – refuse to lose. It’s sad that he can’t wrestle because he has the spirit for it. So I feel like I’ll keep doing it for him.”
And he’ll keep working to live up to his name.