When asked about his goals, MacArthur senior Steve Schneider didn’t hesitate.
New York State champion. High school national champion. NCAA champion.
On that last one, he and Binghamton University head coach Matt Dernlan are certainly on the same page. And that’s one of the reasons Schneider committed to the Bearcats a few days ago.
“Coach Dernlan sat across the table from me in my dining room with my parents and said that he would make me a national champion,” Schneider said. “To hear that in his voice, especially after all he did for Penn State, it gave me great vibes. He sees my potential and my dedication and my motivation to get things done even though on paper, I don’t have all the trophies.”
He may not have all the trophies, but he has racked up plenty of impressive wins. As a sophomore in 2011-12, he went 41-4 at 152 pounds and went into the Section 8 championships as the top seed. However, he was upset by Mepham’s Dan Tracy, a wrestler he had defeated earlier in the year, and took third. He waited patiently to see whether he would get the opportunity to compete at the Times Union Center.
“I had a heartbreaking loss in the semis, but I beat everyone in my weight class during the year,” he said. “My coaches thought I would get a wildcard to states, but it didn’t happen.”
Schneider still made the trip to Albany to cheer on some of his teammates, including 2012 state finalist Justin Cooksey.
“Even going just as a fan to support Cooksey let me get some nerves out,” Schneider said. “It’s important to go to big events like that because when you’re there for the first time it can affect you on the mat. Being there before was a big part of why I did so well this year.”
It may have played a role in Schneider’s stellar junior campaign, but so did all the offseason work.
“After I lost in the counties, I was so motivated to devastate the county and win it all the next year,” Schneider said. “I trained my butt off. I did a lot of wrestling — so many tournaments — and a lot of lifting. I got a lot bigger and stronger. I didn’t only want to win the county, I wanted to win the state tournament too.”
It was an objective that he reminded himself about constantly.
“Last year, I wrote ‘160-pound New York State champion’ in my book every day,” Schneider said.
And he did make it to the 2013 state finals bout after an impressive campaign, which featured a third place showing at the Eastern States Classic. At that event, Schneider topped several wrestlers who placed in Albany in 2013, including Nick Gallo, Mike Beckwith and Andrew Psomas.
That showing at SUNY Sullivan, his first Nassau County title, as well as his performance throughout the 47-4 season earned him the second seed at the Times Union Center. But he found himself in a battle in the opening round with Amsterdam’s James Marquez, a bout he won 3-1 in extra time. [Marquez then won five in a row to take third].
“My first match – the nerves were there,” he said. “You have to feel it to totally understand it. I felt like I had stone feet. It was more mental than physical. In overtime, I woke up and snapped right out of it. After that, I felt like I opened up more each match. I thought I was getting better and better and I was ready to take another shot at Grimaldi.”
Tyler Grimaldi of Half Hollow Hills West was a returning state runner up who had handed Schneider two of his three losses during the season. The two did indeed square off in the state title match this February, with Grimaldi (now a freshman at Harvard), grabbing a 9-3 victory.
“When you look up on that yellow mat in the finals and see all those faces – it’s just a different level of excitement,” Schneider said. “It was good to experience it already. So next year in the state finals, I’ll be ready to take it home.”
Taking home a state championship in wresting isn’t something Schneider was thinking about when he first began in the sport in elementary school. In fact, he said he got involved simply to “keep in shape for baseball.”
However, due largely to the efforts of youth coach Colin Curnuck, Schneider said he continued in wrestling and was hooked, especially when he began working out at Vougar’s Honors Wrestling in eighth grade.
“As soon as I walked into Vougar’s gym, he threw me in there with the big guys,” Schneider said. “I got pulled up to varsity as an eighth grader and started to really take it seriously. I also started training with Jamel Hudson when I was a freshman and I stopped playing baseball. I chose wrestling.”
And last week, he chose Binghamton as his future home after also considering Hofstra and North Carolina.
“The coaching staff seems great – I think they are a great combination together,” Schneider said. “It feels like a good fit for me athletically and academically. Not only am I going to Binghamton for wrestling, but I’m also going because it’s a great school and I know I’ll be able to achieve all of my academic goals while I’m there.”
Those academic goals include majoring in computer engineering.
Schneider, who said he will likely wrestle at 174 or 184 pounds for the Bearcats, mentioned that he is also excited about training with so many familiar faces.
“When I went for the unofficial visit, I felt like I knew almost everyone on the team already,” he said. “I feel like it will make me more comfortable there. I’ve won with a couple of these guys already – Rob Person in Section 8 and Nick Kelley on the national level in Florida [Disney Duals]. There’s already a bond. Also, Ryan Conrad was my drill partner in high school. I think it will make the experience even better.”
As for now, he’s looking for an ‘even better’ high school season as a senior. After the state tournament was over last season, he began writing ‘2014 New York State champion’ in his book every morning.
And whether he winds up going for the title at 170 or 182 pounds in 2013-14 (he said he isn’t sure yet), Schneider feels that he has benefited from nationally ranked competition at offseason events such as the Pop & Flo, Waterway and Disney Duals.
“The Disney Duals changes you – I came out a totally different person and wrestler,” he said. “Everybody that I lost to was top 10 in the country. The level of competition is insane. It’s the best thing that happened to me before my senior year because I learn more from my losses than my wins. I’ve gotten so much stronger since last year and I have so much motivation from the loss in the state finals. It’s not how you start; it’s how you finish. My sophomore year was ok, my junior year was better and in my senior year, I’m ready to take home the gold.”
Steve Schneider wanted to thank his youth coach, Colin Curnuck who kept him involved in wrestling. He also wanted to thank his parents for all their support and Vougar Oroudjov for “always making sure there is someone in the room for me to train with, keeping my wrestling and academic goals on my mind and always having confidence in me.”