As he looked back at his high school career, Johnny Vrasidas said what was most memorable was the leap he made from his freshman to sophomore seasons for St. Anthony’s.
“I went from being a backup and sitting all season to winning my first Catholic State title,” he said. “That was huge – making so much progress. I got to go to the state tournament for the first time and winning a match there was a building block for me.”
On Thursday, Vrasidas said he was ready to become part of another building process. The standout senior committed to Sacred Heart University, a wrestling team that is looking to make a jump in its second year under head coach Andy Lausier.
“Sacred Heart is almost like a new program, really getting a new start,” he said. “Coach Lausier talked to me about what he’s trying to build and I want to be part of it. I had a great visit there and I’m happy to spend the next four years there with a really good group of recruits.”
The class assembled by Lausier has a strong New York presence. In fact, according to Intermat’s recruiting list, seven of the 11 wrestlers heading to the Connecticut school next fall are from the Empire State. That list includes several grapplers Vrasidas already knows, including his current teammate Nick Allesandrini and Shoreham Wading River’s Zak Mullen and TJ Fabian.
“Having those wrestlers going was definitely a factor for me,” Vrasidas said, noting that he was also strongly considering Hofstra and American. “Knowing someone like TJ [Fabian, the NHSCA Senior Nationals champion at 126 pounds] will be in the room will be a huge motivation.”
Motivation wasn’t a problem for Vrasidas coming into his senior campaign. After finishing one win short of All-State status in 2012, he was determined to end his career with a spot on the podium.
“When I lost my last match at the state tournament as a junior, I knew I was so close,” he said. “I literally started training right away. I went to all the clubs on Long Island and wrestled some of the best kids in the state. I did some freestyle. I started lifting weights. I realized what I had to do to get to that next level. It was two or three practices a day – going to school, going to school practice, then club practice and then to the gym to lift. Some nights I didn’t get home until 11, but that’s what you have to do to become a champion.”
He was favored to win his third straight CHSAA championship – and he did that. But after a 22-14 record as an 11th grader, Vrasidas brought a 34-1 mark into Albany and although he was the eighth seed at 170 pounds, he fully expected to do far better than that.
“My expectations were that I would be a state champion,” he said. “I wrestled at clubs with some of the top guys at that weight and I knew I could compete with them. I lost in the Summer Heat tournament to Carlos Toribio in a pretty close match where I felt I made some stupid mistakes. I expected to win the whole thing.”
He started off with a 7-6 decision over Kyle McGuire of Newburgh and then was set to meet another familiar face – top seeded Danny McDevitt of Wantagh. Vrasidas said they practiced together in the offseason.
“I went into the match really focused,” he said of wrestling McDevitt. “I thought if I could just get past him, I could win it all. He was the favorite but I went in there and wrestled my match.”
He certainly did that, taking an 8-2 decision in the process of handing McDevitt his only loss of the campaign. After a pin in the semifinals over Monroe Woodbury’s AJ Voelker, Vrasidas squared off with Toribio in the title bout.
The Brentwood senior came away with a 4-3 triumph, sending Vrasidas to a state silver medal.
“I wasn’t happy, but it’s something I have to accept,” Vrasidas said. “I wish I came out on top but I didn’t wrestle the match I wanted to.”
However, the performance did put him on the medal stand for the first time in New York. And a few weeks later, he picked up another honor – on the national level.
At the NHSCA Senior Nationals in Virginia Beach, Vrasidas took eighth place at 170 pounds.
“Last year at that tournament, I was one win away from being an All-American,” he said. “So I definitely went in wanting to be an All-American this time. I was really proud to do it because I’m only the second person ever in my school to accomplish that as a senior.”
Now it’s on to a new set of goals. One is to graduate with a degree in criminal justice from Sacred Heart. But before that, he’s looking to make an impact on the mat in the EIWA, something he hopes to do at 165 or 174 pounds.
“Coach Lausier said I should be looking to wrestle right away,” he said. “Going out there as a freshman should be a great experience.”
Johnny Vrasidas wished to thank his parents for everything they’ve done for him, including all the hours of driving and traveling. He said he “wouldn’t be where I am right now if not for them.”.