According to Cobra Wrestling Academy Executive Director Keith Maute, Sunday was a great day.
The fact that he got married was the obvious and most important reason for that sentiment.
But Maute admitted that he took glances at his phone at points during the day for another reason – to check on how his wrestlers were doing at the NYWAY State Championships in Elmira.
The Cobra grapplers gave him a wedding present as the Buffalo-area club captured the team title by a slim two-point margin over Journeymen a year after finishing second in a close race behind G2 World Wrestling Academy (third in 2013).
“I’m really excited that we won,” he said. “I’m really excited for the kids, our club and our section. Last year we lost by a point or two and this year we’re on the flip side of that. The fact that it was a tight team race makes it exciting for everyone. It’s really nice to have 20 kids in the finals and another bunch of All-State kids.”
Cobra was led by 10 champions and 10 second placers**, as well as another six bronze medalists. The champions were: Cooper Gronowski, JJ Lucinski, Justin McDougald, Tyler Bartolomei, Hector Colom, Jacob Brewer, Tito Colom, Jake Weber, Carson Alberti and Dane Heberlein. The last two, Alberti and Heberlein, won this event last year as well.
But taking the championship this season was a bit different than doing so in the inaugural NYWAY event in 2012. The tournament had over 930 participants this weekend as opposed to 640 a year ago and had representation from the all corners of New York this time, something that wasn’t quite the case before.
“We were extremely happy with the number of wrestlers we had and especially that we had a cross section from across the state,” said NYWAY President Clint Wattenberg. “We had at least 50 kids from each of the eight regions. Every region had some champions and it was really a unifying event across the state.”
Making Wattenberg equally excited was the quality of the competition. For example, a pair of state silver medalists – Vincent DePrez of G2/Hilton and Connor Lapresi of the Finger Lakes Wrestling Club/Lansing squared off in a match won by DePrez in sudden victory in the semifinals in the high school division. (It was a good weekend to be named DePrez as all four brothers – Vincent, Anthony, Louie and Sam – took first at the event).
In addition to DePrez and Lapresi, many others who competed at the Times Union Center in late February also took part. In fact, the 113-pound bracket in Division 6 included All-Staters Ryan Hetrick and Kelan McKenna as well as Eastern States champion Chris Cuccolo. And none of those accomplished wrestlers came out on top; instead it was 30-plus match winner Blake Abbey of Corning (who won this tournament at 103 pounds in 2012).
Similarly, the younger divisions featured wrestlers who have placed and won prestigious youth tournaments across the country. Some of those picked up their second straight NYWAY State championship, including (in Division 2) Waverly’s Bryce Bailey, G2’s Jayden Scott, the previously mentioned Carson Alberti and Lockport’s JR Leuer; in Division 3 Stevo Poulin of Journeymen and Myles Griffin of Mexico and in Division 4 Journeymen’s Michael Gonyea and Dillan Palaszewski as well as Orion Anderson and Benny Baker. (Repeat gold medalists in Divisions 5 and 6 were Dandre Norman of Edge, Andrew McFarland of Carthage and the previously discussed Dane Heberlein and Blake Abbey).
For the full list of placers from first to fourth in each division and weight, see here.
While this weekend’s action at the First Arena in Elmira represented the largest event on NYWAY’s calendar, Wattenberg stressed that the second-year organization is much more than just a state championship tournament.
“It was a great, but it’s only a small part of our mission,” Wattenberg said. “We’re dedicated to creating continuity and direction for New York wrestling. It’s all about the lifecycle of developmental wrestling and tying it all together at the youth, high school and college levels. We want to find out where we’re losing people and try to help fill those gaps. We think one of the critical pieces of the development puzzle in New York is in modified wrestling. That’s why having Division 5 (middle school and some freshmen) as our biggest division at this event was encouraging. New York continues to lose modified programs or have the mat time cut down significantly. We feel that this is a role we can fill in the state, helping develop wrestlers that aren’t getting what they need through modified programs.”
Of course, it’s no secret that wrestling is losing more than the modified level. The IOC’s decision to drop the sport from the 2020 Olympic Games is fresh on the minds of fans and Wattenberg said all $600 of total proceeds from the sales of programs will be donated to the ‘Keep Wrestling in the Olympics’ movement.
In addition, a portion of every online NYWAY transaction this season has been allocated to the President’s Fund, which is dedicated to strengthening and advancing college wrestling. According to Wattenberg, that money will be “spread around to not only strengthen current programs in New York but to encourage additional schools in the state to start new wrestling programs.”
The link with the college level of wrestling wasn’t hard to see over the weekend. On Saturday night, Cornell All-Americans Kyle Dake, Steve Bosak and Mike Nevinger attended the event, signing autographs and talking with participants and fans.
Meanwhile, some of their peers were on the mat – as referees.
“It’s core to our mission to reintegrate college wrestlers into youth wrestling to help the next generation,” Wattenberg said. “Having a group of officials being college age wrestlers, along with veterans as the head officials, helps keep that development cycle going and makes the wrestling community stronger. That’s the reason we like to stick to that format, but we are trying to integrate some other experienced officials as well. As a whole, the feedback on the structure and set up of the tournament was positive.”
And so the second NYWAY season came to a close with Cobra standing on the top step. While Maute kept tabs on the day’s events from his wedding, he expects to be in attendance in 2014 to help his club defend its crown.
“This tournament grew so much in just one year,” Maute said. “It’s awesome that there were almost 1000 kids there this year. Hopefully next year it will be 1300 wrestlers or even more.”
Wattenberg wished to thank the NYWAY Board of Directors, especially the state tournament committee (Kristine Maslin, Adam Burgos, Kevin Lucinski, Mel Cutrie) for their time and dedication and for making decisions with “best intentions to provide opportunities and create a level playing field.” He also wished to thank Eric Padelford for setting up the technology portion of the event, especially on short notice.
**Some of the Cobra wrestlers, according to Maute, weren’t listed under Cobra in the brackets