Every wrestler hopes to be in peak physical condition as the postseason approaches.
But for Nassau Community College’s James Dekrone, not feeling well contributed to his National Championship performance last weekend in Iowa.
The former John Glenn High School standout spent the majority of the year at 149 pounds, going 18-4 at that weight according to the NWCA Scorebook, with three of those setbacks against Division I wrestlers.
But as February rolled around, an illness changed the course of his year.
“To be honest, I was planning on going 149 the whole season,” Dekrone said. “I told my coach I was staying at 149 and then I got sick and lost weight. I had no appetite and the next thing I knew, I wasn’t that far from where I needed to be for 141. I thought maybe I should take a shot at it. Once I committed, it wasn’t bad to stay down.”
He wrestled three bouts in early February at the lower weight and won all three – two by technical fall. He then entered the NJCAA National Championships ranked eighth nationally and not knowing what to expect.
“I really didn’t know too much about a lot of the other wrestlers because I wasn’t at that weight most of the season,” he said. “I had seen rankings here and there. I went in thinking I just needed to go and wrestle hard for seven minutes and see what happened.”
The unseeded tournament can be unpredictable. But Dekrone began with a 10-3 decision over Tyler Lashbrook and followed that up with a with a 2-1 victory against Jarett Morrill.
The semifinals brought Steven Ruppert, the number two grappler in the country. It wasn’t really a contest, however, as the Nassau wrestler picked up a 12-5 win to punch his ticket to the title bout.
After a scoreless first period versus top-ranked Zach Loveless of Northwest College, Dekrone took a 5-0 lead in the second stanza with a takedown and near fall. A few minutes later, he was a national champion after a 7-6 triumph.
“Even though the final score was close, I felt like I was in control for most of the match,” he said. “It was 7-3 halfway through the third and he had a late reversal and stall point. I was pretty comfortable that I was going to win.”
He was the only victor for Nassau, but he wasn’t the only placer. In fact, three other wrestlers – John Pellegrino (125), Chanse Menendez (174) and Yaseen Mudassar (285) finished as silver medalists and Kyle Wade (149) and Ian MacIneirghe (197) also made the podium.
Those showings put the squad in fourth place in the standings.
“In the beginning of the season, we didn’t know if we had that strong of a team,” he said. “That last month, everyone came together and turned it on at the right time. We had 10 guys at nationals. We wrestled well at the best time and exceeded expectations.”
As for Dekrone, he felt that he simply met expectations with his championship.
“This weekend was pretty surreal,” Dekrone said. “It was similar to winning the [138-pound state] title last year. It felt like there was a great weight off my shoulders. I was just happy that I reached my goals and got to where I wanted to be at the beginning of the season.”
He believed that he had plenty of help to get there.
“I think ‘fine-tuned’ is a good way to describe what’s happened here this year,” Dekrone said. “They’ve tweaked the little things to take me from being a good kid to a great kid on the mat. I’ve definitely matured as an athlete and wrestler. Physically, I’m in better shape than ever before. I’m more explosive than I’ve ever been. That comes from the great coaching I’ve had, which has helped me take the extra steps I needed. It’s also because I have great training partners like Kyle Wade and Anthony Abidin.”
Abidin captured a national title in 2012 and is redshirting this campaign before heading off to Nebraska in the fall. It’s a path that Dekrone would like to emulate.
“Next year I’ll be here wrestling but I’ll be redshirting,” he said. “Then, we’ll see. I absolutely want to transfer, hopefully somewhere in Division I. I’ll start looking around again.”
But for now, he’ll remain on Long Island with another line added to his resume.
“Nassau has been a great fit,” he said. “I’m happy I’m here. It’s great to be around a lot of kids I know, wrestling with guys I’ve known for a long time.”
And it’s great to be a national champion.