The morning that the NHSCA Sophomore Nationals were set to begin in Virginia Beach back in 2011, Great Neck South’s Chris Koo asked Craig Vitagliano, his coach at Ascend Wrestling Club, about a technique he was interested in learning.
“When he was warming up, he wanted me to show him a move – it was a Russian tie to an ankle pick,” Vitagliano said. “It wasn’t like he really practiced it very much – it was like 10 minutes of working on it. Then he went out and hit it in pretty much every match.”
Armed with a new technique in his arsenal, Koo went all the way to the semifinals of the prestigious event, sealing his first All-American honors before finishing in sixth place at 145 pounds.
“He’s a sponge,” Vitagliano said. “Whatever I show him, he can do – even really advanced techniques. He picks everything up on the spot. There aren’t many kids I’ve seen be able to do that, but he can.”
That ability is one the many strengths Vitagliano believes will serve Koo well at his next stop – Oklahoma State.
The Nassau County senior said that before the season, going to the tradition-rich Big 12 program “seemed like a fantasy.” As did his recruiting visit, during which he was in constant contact with some of the greats in the sport.
“When I was there, Coleman Scott was training with Eric Guerrero. Also Chris Perry and Tyler Caldwell were working out and John Smith and Zack Esposito were there. It was crazy. It was a room full of All-Americans, national champions and Olympians. It was pretty cool to just watch and then have everyone come over to talk to me.”
Soon, it will be more than just talking. Koo mentioned how lucky he’s been to have great training partners like New York state titlewinner Louis Hernandez, Penn-bound Dan McDevitt, Jaison White and Dan Tracy over the past few years at Ascend. But it will be a whole new ballgame when he begins in Stillwater.
“Chris doesn’t just want to wrestle in college,” Vitagliano said. “He wants to do really well there. His goal is to be a national champ and what better place to do that than Oklahoma State? He’ll be able to work out right away with [2013 NCAA bronze medalists] Alex Dieringer and Tyler Caldwell. [NCAA champion] Chris Perry too. It’s a great situation for him. I’ve had a number of coaches tell me how perfect his style is for Oklahoma State and that he has the potential to be really special in college.”
Koo has fairly quietly already accomplished plenty over the past few years. With the previously discussed sixth place medal at Virginia Beach in 2011, he became Great Neck South’s first-ever All-American. He followed up with two more podium finishes at the NHSCA Nationals, grabbing seventh as a junior and senior.
However, on his way to the seventh place showing as an 11th grader, Koo tore both MCLs, forcing him to spend the summer rehabilitating rather than training the way he wanted to and leaving him unable to compete in Fargo.
The time off the mat also gave him more of an opportunity to think about the disappointing loss he endured at the Nassau County championships to MacArthur’s Joe Cataldo, a setback that prevented him from qualifying for the state tournament.
“I knew I had to do something different and put in a lot more work,” Koo said. “That loss killed me. I was so disappointed to take third and felt like I was starting from square one. I started to stay after practice and watch a lot of film with Craig. He takes everything apart and breaks it all down. I learned a lot of new technique and was ready to excel in my wrestling.”
He did, putting together an outstanding senior campaign in which he won his first 41 bouts (34 by bonus points) to earn his first Section 8 crown. His streak also led him all the way to the 152-pound state title bout, where he lost by fall to Longwood’s Corey Rasheed, currently ranked third in the nation at that weight by Flowrestling.
“A lot of people didn’t know who Chris was, but I was really confident that he would at least get to the finals,” Vitagliano said. “He was a little nervous and was really devastated after the match, especially because he had been dominating his matches most of the season.”
“I was happy with almost all of my senior year – except the state finals,” Koo added. “That was the first time I wrestled Rasheed and I would definitely want another chance. I didn’t get to be a state champ, but I have new goals for college. The only way to get better is to wrestle with the best guys.”
The future 165 or 174 pounder will have that opportunity when he travels to Oklahoma this summer to take a few classes and train with the team prior to beginning school in the fall.
“I can’t wait,” Koo said. “I know there’s a big gap from high school to college and I want to get started. It’ll be so exciting to be in that room, working in that environment.”
Vitagliano believes that the environment will vault him to the next level.
“I think he’s only scratched the surface of what he can do. I’ve talked to a number of coaches who agree with me that Oklahoma State is going to be pleasantly surprised because the kid is special,” Vitagliano said. “I think he’ll peak in college. With the coaches and workout partners there, I really believe the sky’s the limit.”
Chris Koo wished to thank Craig Vitagliano and Ryan Pingitore, his coach at Great Neck South.