We have been discussing some of the top wrestlers in New York over the past few weeks. We started with our #1 Junior High School grappler in the state, Penfield eighth grader Frankie Gissendanner (see link),then profiled top freshman Yianni Diakomihalis and discussed other ninth graders to watch. Then, we wrote about the wrestler at the top of the Class of 2016 rankings – Christian Dietrich and additional tenth graders to watch. Now, here’s more about the #1 junior in New York, Nick Piccininni.
It was the match that people were waiting to see. Even before the 2013-2013 season started, there was buzz about a possible clash of champions at 113 pounds at the state tournament. Fans were excited about the possibility of watching 2012 gold medalist Nick Piccininni against the last wrestler to beat him in New York (in 2011) – two-time NYS title winner Kyle Kelly of Chenango Forks.
The matchup came to fruition and both Piccininni and Kelly were unbeaten entering the 2013 state final. But the Ward Melville star said he wasn’t thinking about simply winning the bout. He was determined to make a statement.
“I definitely wanted to dominate and show everybody that I was on another level,” Piccininni said. “I was looking to come out and dominate right away.”
He did. The Suffolk County grappler took control from the start and didn’t stop until the final whistle. In the end it was a 14-4 major and a second state crown.
And that was just the start of a string of big victories for Piccininni. He followed up with a second place showing at the FloNationals, dropping a 2-1 bout in the championship contest to Nathan Boston. However, on his way to the title match, he defeated some quality foes, including Oklahoma’s Markus Simmons [ranked 11th in the nation] in a match he trailed 4-0 early on before storming back for an 8-5 decision.
“The competition was tough during that whole tournament,” Piccininni said. “I did pretty good up until the finals. Then I don’t know what happened. It was a tough match and I just slipped up a little.”
If he “slipped up”, he quickly rebounded. At the Disney Duals in Orlando, he earned “Gold” Status after sporting a perfect record against top-notch opposition. He and the New York Kong squad went all the way to the championship match of the prestigious event where they faced Young Guns, a team from Pennsylvania. While the Keystone State group captured the dual, Piccininni stood out, registering a 7-5 victory over Luke Pletcher. WIN Magazine called that victory the biggest win of the offseason at 113 pounds anywhere in the United States.
“I knew [Pletcher] was tough,” Piccininni said. “He was actually on my team the week before at the NHSCA National Duals, so we’re friends. We were joking around about having to wrestle each other. I knew going into the match that I was older and had more experience. I thought I had something over him in the match, even though he’s a national champ and I’m not yet.”
Piccininni continued to excel throughout the offseason with undefeated performances at the Waterway Duals and the Journeymen Classic. In fact, he took on another national champ, Florida’s Radley Gillis, for first place at the Journeymen event and cruised to a 10-2 major. He nabbed Outstanding Wrestler honors … and did it all at far less than 100 percent.
“It was tough because I actually strained my hamstring in my second match,” Piccininni said about his Journeymen Classic experience. “I wrestled uncomfortably in the rest of my matches. I won, but I actually wish I did a little bit better.”
It’s hard to see how much better he can do, but he’ll have a chance at the Iron Horse Invitational in New Jersey and then at the Super 32 Challenge in North Carolina. The latter is an event Piccininni has waited to get another chance at after missing the podium by one win a year ago despite defeating the nation’s #1 ranked wrestler at the time, Zahid Valencia of California. (The two met twice and split the bouts).
“My goal is to win Super 32 this year. That’s what I’m going there for,” he said. “I would like to face [the nation’s top ranked 120 pounder] Sean Russell again but I’m ready for anyone I’ll face there.” [Russell defeated Piccininni on the way to a runner up finish at the Super 32 last year].
Russell is one of many heralded grapplers registered for the Super 32. In fact, at least 10 of the top 20 120 pounders in the land are listed in the field, including, of course, #4 ranked Piccininni.
He relishes the competition, as do his favorite wrestlers – Matt McDonough, David Taylor, Tony Ramos, Logan Stieber, Kyle Dake and Jordan Burroughs. Piccininni also said he admires Derek Jeter, who he calls a hard worker and a respectable person.
All those athletes have something in common – spending significant time at the top. That’s something Piccininni is looking to accomplish on the national level after two consecutive undefeated state championship seasons in New York.
“I don’t think about the rankings much,” Piccininni said. “But no one wants to be #4 or #2 or anything but #1. I’m definitely working to get the #1 spot. I’m going to keep doing everything I’ve been doing since eighth and ninth grade. I’m keeping my work ethic up and I’m not stopping. I want to be an undefeated state champ again and an undefeated national champ.”