By Matt Diano
With many of their collegiate wrestling heroes competing directly next to and/or across from them, the student-athletes from nearly 40 schools, spanning everywhere from Long Island, the five boroughs, and New Jersey proved that it will not be long before it is them participating in the main event at the world’s most famous arena, Madison Square Garden.
Having earned the right to take part in the historic Grapple at the Garden (the first college wrestling event ever hosted by the 34th Street Mecca of sporting events) by surviving an elimination tournament the previous day at Harry S. Truman High School, the top 8 grapplers in each weight class excitedly took their turns creating lifelong memories. Whether they won or lost their respective placement matches, no one will ever be able to take away the fact that their legacies are forever carved into foundation of the building that knows no equal and needs no introduction. And, in the end, hand raised or not, there were no losers. We (fans, competitors, media, etc.) all won because we got the experience the best of both worlds; we were privy to seeing the best of the present, while equally mindful that we were getting treated to a rare and unmatched look at the future. For every Dake/Caldwell or Garrett/Waters match, there was a scholastic equivalent, such as Kelly/Ndiaye, Roberts/Rose, or Thompson/Green. While only 26 (including the ladies) individuals would leave as titlists, all entered and exited as champions.
Getting the party started at 99 pounds would be freshman phenom John Busiello from Eastport South Manor in Suffolk County. A decorated wrestler on the youth level, Busiello, who was a 20+ match winner for the varsity as an 8th grader, entered the Garden as the #3 ranked wrestler in his weight class in Section XI. If he wrestles the rest of the season the way he did this weekend, there is every reason to foresee him moving up a few spots on that totem pole. Going 3-0 between the two day affair, Busiello recorded bonus points in all of his bouts, outscoring his first and last victims by a combined tally of 31-3, sandwiched around a third period fall in the semifinals. He would claim the hardware with a 19-3 technical fall over fellow Long Islander Matt Maquet, of Long Beach in Section VIII.
Brooklyn would be in the house at the 106-pound weight class as defending NYS Private School Champion, Noah Malamut of Poly Prep, would score one for the five boroughs when he bested Maquet’s teammate, Charlie Spada, in a high scoring finals battle. Jumping out to the early lead, including a pivotal tilt for near-fall points, the junior from PP would have to contend with a late rally from his opposition, showing strong defense down the stretch to emerge with the 11-8 decision. Malamut would be the only individual champ for Poly Prep, leading the hometown favorite to a top-10 (8th) finish in the team standings.
113 would be one of the highlight bouts of the afternoon as Chenango Forks’s two-time defending NYS DI Champion, Kyle Kelly, would be pitted against the 2012 NYS DII runner-up, Cheick Ndiaye, of Brooklyn International. With points expected to be at a premium in such a hotly contested battle of returning Empire State finalists, it would be the Binghamton University bound Kelly that struck in a big way, locking up a cradle and taking it over to gain the early lead. He would not look back, fending off the athletic and immensely polished Ndiaye 6-4. For the weekend, Kelly went 3-0, with Ndiaye being the only foe who was able to make it out of the first period against him.
Two weight classes later, it would be Kelly’s teammate, Jake Green, making it 2-for-2 for Forks over opponents from Brooklyn. Regarded as a slight underdog in the 126 pound title bout after his opponent, 2012 PSAL Large School Champion, Keanu Thompson (Grand Street Campus), defeated NHSCA All-American Travis Passaro (ESM) 7-3 in the semifinals, Green refused to be intimidated, scoring the only takedowns of the match to win a hard fought 4-2 decision. This victory should serve as a major confidence booster for Green as he looks to repeat as a Section IV champion and earn his first All-State placement in 2013. For Thompson, who prior to the loss had been on a hot streak (including a win over Ndiaye earlier in the season), the goal is to put the loss behind him and get back on track. The senior captain from Grand Street Campus came one victory short of the podium last season in Albany.
Getting Staten Island in the win column was standout extraordinaire, Santo Curatolo. A senior who is seeking his fourth career PSAL DI title, Curatolo might be among the fastest growing prospects in the Empire State. After falling to place in Albany for the third straight season, the Tottenville student-athlete has been on a tear, commencing with an All-American finish in Junior Greco-Roman in Fargo this past summer. Curatolo would show no mercy on the field this weekend, pinning two of his opponents and adding a 13-1 major decision to reign supreme at 120 pounds. His finals win, a 1:38 fall via cement mixer (I call it a Billman Mixer in tribute to former Pennsylvania great, Jamarr Billman, who hit a similar variation of the move in the 1997 AAA state finals his senior season) came over Wingate’s Kenton Greaves in what could potentially represent a preview of the 2013 NYC finals.
After watching two of his PSAL peers fall short of their championship goals, one wrestler who had no intention of kowtowing to Coach Rick Gumble’s mighty Forks squad was New Utrecht 132 pounder, Saidyokub Kahramonov. A runner-up in 2012 to current Brown University freshman, Ahmed Elsayed, Kahramonov is a heavy favorite to make his second consecutive trip to the state capital after being an injury placement last season. He certainly had his “A” game on full display 72 hours ago, finishing a perfect sweep of pins when he stuck returning Section IV bronze medalist, Carl Rouse, with 24 seconds remaining in the second period. Kahramonov also had falls over 2012 USA Wrestling Schoolboy Greco-Roman All-American, Leonard Merkin (Poly Prep), and 2012 Catholic High School Athletic Association returning placewinner, Ralph Maio, of Monsignor Farrell.
Starting a trend that would see his school take the titles at three of the next four weight classes was Long Branch’s Nick Menkin. A winner of just under 30 matches as a sophomore, the wrestler who missed out on the chance to compete at the New Jersey State tournament when he finished 4th at the regional qualifier, was not in a generous mood on Saturday and Sunday. 4-0 on the weekend, Menkin did not have a match closer than six points (his 9-3 win in the finals over Farrell’s Karl Weisner), pinning one of his opponents, teching another, and major decisioning the third (15-4) en route to the title bout and the eventual hardware. Complementing the efforts of their teammate were a pair of Georges (cousins). Striking first in the battle for ultimate family bragging rights would be 145-pounder, Nick, who after hanging on for a 6-4 decision in the semifinals over two-time PSAL runner-up, Nigel Williams of Eagle Academy, really poured it on in the finals, controlling all of the action and scoring the only takedowns of the match, defeating Columbia High School’s (Section II) Jim Devine 8-2 in the championship bout. Not to be outdone, at 160, it was Jake, whose older brother, William is a wrestler at Cornell University, making it an even 2-for-2 for the family when he made it back-to-back victories over foes from Columbia (their third consecutive finalist), outlasting Chris Morrissey, 7-5 in overtime. 220-pounder, Vincent Roselli, would also win in overtime, 5-3 over Paul Okeke of Clarkstown South, to account for the fourth and final individual gold for the eventual team champs from across the bridge.
Preventing Columbia from dropping three straight championship matches was Angelo Kress at 152 pounds. A state qualifier at this weight last season as a sophomore, Kress finished 6th (in the adjusted placements that do not include CHSAA or PSAL representatives). If he wrestles in Albany the way he did in the Big Apple, it is almost a surefire guarantee that the defending Section II champion will move up a few rungs on the proverbial ladder. Pinning his first two opponents in an average time of 2:22, Kress must have had big plans on Sunday afternoon as he wasted no time at all coming, seeing, and conquering. Pitted against 2012 PSAL Large School bronze medalist, Konstantin Parfiryev, from James Madison, Kress would put leave no doubt as to who the best of the best was, pinning his finals opponent in 54 seconds, the quickest fall of the championship round. One of two champs on the day for Columbia (the other coming in the last bout of the tournament), Kress would lead his team to a runner-up finish in the final polls.
Having gone four straight weight classes without some local flavor taking home a title, junior Adis Radoncic of RKA, would nip the issue in the bud, snapping the streak with 10-4 decision over Long Branch’s Nick Pappayliou at 170 pounds. Already a two-time PSAL Small School champion (on pace to be a four-time NYS DII qualifier), Radoncic just missed placing at the Times Union Center in 2012, falling one victory short of the podium. A lethal thrower, next to Ndiaye, Radoncic is considered the best medal threat for the PSAL in the Division II ranks. Pappayliou, who transferred to the Garden State perennial powerhouse for his senior season after competing for Ocean Township the first three years of his scholastic career, finished 4th in the district tournament in 2012.
Winning a war of returning NYS qualifiers was Monsignor Farrell’s Matt Roberts at 182. Trailing 2-0 early on in his title match against Eagle Academy’s Nathanael Rose, the 2012 CHSAA State Champion, Roberts, did what he does best, utilizing his deep gas tank to claw his way back into the match. Pushing the pace against Rose, who won the PSAL DII title as a freshman last season, Roberts would ascend to the top step of the podium following an 8-5 victory. The senior leader would be the lone champion for the Staten Island program who for the first time in history (after dominating the Mayor’s Cup since its inception) finished behind a fellow five borough school (Brooklyn Tech) in a major city wide tournament.
Speaking of B’Tech, the Todd Bloom led program would not be shutout this weekend, getting on the scoreboard at 195 with senior Kevin Tynes. A PSAL runner-up last last season to McZiggy Richards (the wrestler who finished 3rd in NYS and is currently attending St. Benedicts Prep), Tynes may be one of the hungriest wrestlers in the city this season after seeing the success of the man who beat him in last year’s Large School finals. Cruising in his first three matches (pin, 16-1 TF, 10-1 MD), Tynes would get his first test of the tournament in the finals when he faced the twin brother of the 170 pound runner-up, Chris Pappayliou. A 3rd place finisher at the district tournament, the Long Branch transfer would make his NYC counterpart work for every point, leading to perhaps the most entertaining and competitive title bout. In the end, the home court advantage would be too much for the Jersey boy to overcome as he dropped the bout 7-6 to Tynes.
Closing the show in emphatic fashion would Columbia’s other champion, returning NYS DI runner-up, El Shaddai VanHoesen. A full sized heavyweight who makes his impact felt every bit as much on the football field as he does on the wrestling mat, VanHoesen has every reason in the world to want to end his grappling career on top. Having suffered an injury early in the football playoffs, the big man had the misfortune of having to watch as his team was eliminated, powerless to do anything about it. A student-athlete with championship dreams, with one door having been closed, you can bet he will not let anything stop him from going all the way on the mat. He seemed every bit the proverbial man on a mission, notching four straight pins (including two in under 1:00) to stream roll his way to the last title of the afternoon. While not sure if it would be considered a benefit or a curse, the wrestler who found himself in the position of being the final notch on the belt of the VanHoesen locomotion was Tynes’s teamamte, Shaq Williams. The top-ranked 285 pounder per the GCW rankings, Williams will be looking for revenge when the calendar hits February.
Turning our attention to the fairer sex, leading the group of 10 champions for the young ladies was All-American Rosemary Flores of Curtis. A double freestyle champion in Fargo two summers ago, you name it and Flores has seemingly won it at some point in her career. An ASICS 1st Team honoree last year, Flores had little trouble adding another trophy to her growing collection, spending a combined 90 seconds on the mat in pinning two opponents to earn the the 132 pound crown. While she is by far the most well known, Flores is not the only elite philly in the Curtis stable as he was joined on the top step of the medal stand by teammates Leslie Schoberl (120) and Shannon Henry (138). In similar fashion to Flores, Shoberl and Henry would never see the third period as the three blue chippers combined for seven falls in seven matches. Curtis was the only program on the ladies side to have three gold medalists. Other champions in the women’s tournament included the following: 99- Kim Cardenas (Petrides), 106- Ana Salazar/160- Karina Lozano of Grover Cleveland, 113- Jennifer Juarez (Robert Wagner), 126- Sarah Andresen (Hunter), 145- Idalis Graciano (Springfield), and Wingate’s Destane Garrik at 170 pounds.
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