Conor O’Hara won 152 matches during his Sachem East career, more than anyone in school history. But when asked about what matches really stood out to him, he didn’t choose any of the 152.
“I would definitely say the county tournament in tenth grade, the only time I didn’t place, stands out,” he said. “The year before as a freshman, I was second at 96 [pounds] and made it to states. I was a really big and strong 96 and the flaws in my technique were never really exposed. When I didn’t place, it was big for me mentally. It made me realize what I needed to do to beat the best guys. I realized there were things I needed to fix and it made me train harder.”
He has been praised by his coaches for the way he trained throughout his high school years. That work ethic will certainly come in handy as he takes the next step in his academic and wrestling careers at a place where hard work is essential – the Air Force Academy.
In fact, there won’t be a break for O’Hara. Just a few days after graduating high school, he’ll be off to Colorado Springs for Basic Cadet Training, a six-week program labeled “rigorous” and “serious” by the institution’s website.
So although he won’t be on the beach or relaxing the summer before college like some of his peers, O’Hara wouldn’t have it any other way. He’s been excited about going to a military environment for some time.
“When I started looking at colleges, I was attracted to the service academies,” he said. “There are so many opportunities to do cool things you can’t do anywhere else.”
He thought about the Naval and the Merchant Marine Academies as well, but a few factors drove him to the Air Force, especially after he thoroughly enjoyed his recent visit to the campus.
“I might be interested in civil engineering, but I’m still undecided,” he said. “So I really liked that there are more majors at Air Force to choose from. I thought it gave me more options.”
And the wrestling component was key as well.
“I felt that [head] Coach Joel Sharratt and the whole coaching staff really believed in my potential,” he said. “I’m thankful to Coach Sharratt for giving me the opporuntity to continue my career.”
It was a career that included record breaking moments, one of which was passing Sean O’Malley on the all-time Sachem list for victories.
“I knew before the season that I wasn’t too many wins away,” he said. “I knew it was within reach and that I could do it pretty early in the season. Having that record was a nice milestone along the way, but it wasn’t my focus. My goal was to be a champion.”
O’Hara began the campaign at 138 pounds and racked up a 14-3 record at that weight before moving down to 132 in January, where he said he “felt really good and got into the swing of things.”
It sure looked that way. He won his first 23 bouts at the lighter class, with all but two of the victories by bonus points.
“In the beginning of the year, I was struggling on my feet with motion and taking good shots,” he said. “I did a lot of work with Isaac Ramaswamy getting my shots better, getting the first takedown. That’s a big part of scoring bonus points for me. If I can get the first takedown, I have a lot more time to work on top, where I was wrestling really well.”
O’Hara came into the county tournament at 132 looking to get an elusive Suffolk title. In addition to his runner up finish in Section 11 as a ninth grader, he was fourth as a junior. He began by winning his first two matches, but dropped a decision to Hauppauge’s Chris Mauriello in the semifinals, his first setback in 2013.
A second trip to the state tournament seemed in jeopardy.
“The night I lost in the semis, I actually didn’t think I had a good chance of getting a wildcard to states,” he said. “But once I looked into it a little more and figured out the points, I started to feel pretty confident.”
To get to the Times Union Center he needed to take third – and he fought back to do just that. He wasn’t the only one from Sachem East. Five of his teammates (Jakob Restrepo, Michael Pistone, Mark Tracy, Cristian Nunez and John Vigh) also made it to the bronze medal match. So despite having only one finalist (Jackson Mordente), the Flaming Arrows captured the Suffolk tournament title for the first time since 1992 by 18 points over East Islip.
“I think after the end of last season, we all had our minds set on winning a county title,” he said of the Sachem East squad. “We worked through the spring and summer to get ready. We had a goal in mind as a team. We also wanted to be unofficial New York dual champions [the team finished second at the Union-Endicott event to Wantagh]. The way we won the County showed our heart. No one packed it in after the semis. We were disappointed, but we came back and wrestled even better the second day when we needed every win in a close team race. My goal was to be a county champ individually. That was the goal of other guys on the team too, but it winning as a team made it feel better.”
It felt even better when he was officially informed that he had a bid to Albany for the state tournament. O’Hara won his opening match by major decision before dropping a tight 7-5 contest to a familiar foe – Sayville’s Matt Leshinger – the eventual New York champion. He was later eliminated in a one-point bout in the consolations to complete his high school career as a five-time all-league and three-time all-county competitor.
There’s no doubt that the future 141-pounder left his mark on Sachem East wrestling. And he’s now ready to tackle some new goals, on and off the mat, for the Falcons.
“It definitely meant a lot to me to have one more shot at my goal of being a state champion,” he said. “I didn’t get there, but I’ll definitely use it as motivation going to the next level of college wrestling. I am really thankful and excited for the opportunity.”
Conor O’Hara wished to thank his uncle (and Sachem East head coach) Sean O’Hara, coach Isaac Ramaswamy, and his dad Dennis O’Hara for all the things they’ve done for him over the years. He also wished to thank Air Force head coach Joel Sharratt.