City Highlights: After a Banner Year, Who Will Stand Out for the PSAL in 2013-14? (Season Preview)

BY MATT DIANO

In addition to crowning the first ever NYS Champion from the PSAL when Adis Radoncic rallied from the #6 seed to win the 170-pound small school title, the boys from the five boroughs would enjoy a banner year in Division I, scoring an all-time high of 61 team points (up from 10 in 2011).  Those points came from the efforts of five All-State individuals, including 126-pound finalist Keanu Thompson (Grand Street Campus).  In DII, Radoncic would be joined on the podium by Brooklyn International’s Cheick Ndiaye (currently competing for the Finger Lakes Wrestling Club), who took 4th at 113 pounds.  With this collective effort, the seven young men (two more than in 2012) who wrestled their way into the top-6 of their respective divisions and weight classes would establish a new standard for the section that has long been hailed as the “Empire State’s richest untapped resource.”

Whether 2013-2014 will continue this trend of growth and progression remains a mystery as the PSAL truly is a section in transition this season.  Gone are the majority of the seasoned veterans who sat at the forefront of last year’s breakout campaign.  Four of the seven placewinners graduated and during the offseason, Radoncic made the decision to transfer to Poly Prep.

On the bright side, while only two All-State wrestlers return, an abundance of others will enter the season with experience at the Times Union Center.  As previous appearances helped provide the maturity the 2013 squad needed to flourish (six of the seven made at least their second trip to Albany last season), the 2014 group will need the returning qualifiers to build off and learn from having one NYS tournament under their proverbial belts. Also imperative will be to get large contributions from those wrestlers who just missed making the trip last season, and have been working toward realizing their own golden moments.

Division I: The Proven Commodities

Malik Grant (Curtis)—A first time City Champion as a sophomore in 2013 at the smallest weight class, Grant compiled an impressive 33-6 record, recording 30 pins.  He cruised to last year’s DI title, winning all of his matches by no fewer than five points, including a pair of falls.  In his debut in the state capital, he would take some lumps, going 0-2 with a 9-3 loss to Section VI’s Donny McCoy before being eliminated by eventual 5th place finisher, Vinny Vespa (Section IX). Grant was also the highest placewinner among DI competitors at the 2013 Mayor’s Cup, finishing 4th.  If the City is to have any chance of matching last season, Grant will need to break into the win column on the big stage.  Early speculation suggests that Grant will be attempting to make 99 pounds for the third straight season (finished 3rd in the PSAL as a freshman in 2012).  If he succeeds, it is hard to envision anyone knocking the returning champ off his throne.

Adam Gomez (Cardozo)—A major catalyst in helping his school rise from 21st in 2012 to 3rd last season in the team standings, Gomez became the first wrestler in the four-year history of the program to win an individual title when he scored bonus points (a fall, two major decisions, and a technical fall) in all four of his matches to claim the 106-pound hardware.  At the state tournament, the now-junior would show that he is going to be one to watch when he narrowly missed the medal stand, falling a single victory short when he was pinned in the blood round by the wrestler who later went on to take bronze, Section V’s Jon Haas. Gomez, who certainly did not show any signs of a sophomore jinx last year, is expected to be back at the same weight class this season and will be hungry to surpass what was an incredible 2013 season that witnessed him go 31-4.

Saidyokub Kahramonov (New Utrecht)—A senior leader, the stud from Brooklyn will look to make his third consecutive trip to Albany.  A city finalist in each of the past two seasons, Kahramonov would be unstoppable last season, punching his ticket to Albany by crushing his opponents with three pins and a technical fall to claim his first individual gold.  However, as nice as it must have been to be among the Kings of the City, this young man would just be getting started, going 3-3 (loses to the 3rd, 4th, and 5th place finishers) under the roof of the Times Union Center to earn a 6th place finish.  In doing so, he became the first wrestler in the history of the New Utrecht program to bring home an All-State medal.  And, with last season’s 132 pound bracket being senior heavy, the potential will be there for Kahramonov to make his swan song a memorable one.  If nothing else, history has taught us that the more experience he garners, the better he seems to perform.  In 2012, despite being a sectional runner-up, he would get the call to represent the PSAL when the champion was forced to scratch because of injury.  He would go 0-2, but seemingly grew from the opportunity.  With 2013 rival Sam Melikian (3rd in NYS last year) having moved on to the collegiate scene, Kahramonov will also head into the new year as a favorite to pick up the only NYC honor he has yet to earn, a Mayor’s Cup title.  He has placed 3rd and 2nd respectively in 2012 and 2013.  He completed his junior season with a record of 35-7 with all but one of the defeats coming to opponents who placed at the state tournament.

Konstantin Parfiryev (James Madison)—The only other returning state placewinner for the PSAL, the senior has that fine wine quality about him in that he simply gets better with age.  A 40-match winner (40-7) last season for coach Ned M. Campbell, Parfiryev would hit a home run in his first trip to Albany, kicking off his NYS tournament experience with a 7-5 upset over Section I champion, Joe Mastro, en route to taking home 6th place honors at 152 pounds. (Mastro wrestled back to finish 3rd; was a 2013 FloNationals All-American and currently competes for North Carolina State). Parfiryev will enter his final scholastic season with a chance for his fourth All-City performance.  In each of his first three seasons on the Madison varsity, he has improved his position on the medal stand, going from 4th in 2011 to the previously cited title last year.  Now that he is on top, it would take a Herculean effort to knock him off the perch.  While we never say never, as long as he stays healthy, he is about as big a favorite as anybody in the entire state to be heading back to the capital in 2014.  With two-thirds of the placewinners from the 152-pound NYS bracket back again this season, a run to the title would be challenging, but a repeat All-State showing seems like it is in the cards.

Camilo Gaitan (Brooklyn Tech)—One of the most improved wrestlers in the PSAL last season, Gaitan went from going 1-2 in the 2012 City Championships to winning the 160-pound title as a junior last season.  Getting his hand raised in 31 of the 40 bouts he wrestled in 2013, the Engineer senior would have a few close calls, winning a pair of 6-5 decisions in the quarter and semifinal rounds of the PSAL tournament.  But he would save his best for last, securing his spot on the bus to Albany with an 18-9 major decision over Long Island City’s Thomas Jones in a clash of the top-2 seeds.  Gaitan would struggle in his introduction to the NYS Tournament, going winless and getting pinned in his two matches.  Now a year older and one of the few qualifiers who is back from last year’s 160-pound bracket, Gaitan will be poised to make it three straight years that Brooklyn Tech has put at least one representative onto the podium at the DI tournament.

 

Division I: The Senior Heroes (seeking their first title in their final season)

Daniel “Omega” Amancio (MLK)—The 2013 PSAL runner-up at 120 pounds to NYS 6th place finisher, Santo Curatolo (Tottenville), Amancio darn near shocked the NYC wrestling world when he pushed the three-time defending champion to the brink before dropping a 4-3 decision in the title bout.  Still, even in defeat, the MLK captain proved that when he is at the top of his game, he is as dangerous as any wrestler.  A first time All-City honoree with his silver medal showing in 2013, the wrestler they call “Omega” has continued to progress every year.  Known to be a tireless worker who spends significant time working out at and wrestling on behalf of the Beat the Streets Wrestling Club, if Amancio is able to ascend to the top of the podium, he will become the first Knight wrestler to qualify for the NYS tournament.  When Curatolo moved up to 126 for the Mayor’s Cup, Amancio, who went 32-4 last season, seized the opportunity, going 5-0 with three first period falls to win the hardware.  Last month, he would continue to hone his craft, going 4-1 at the Columbus Day Duals.  In September, against a field consisting mostly of NYC wrestlers, he was the gold medalist at the Steeplechase Open.  He is expected to be back at 120 for his senior season.

Bertin Saimbeau (Wingate)—Like Amancio, Saimbeau found himself on the cusp of glory, only to be denied in the large school finals last season, 7-3 by Julian Alsbrooks of New Utrecht at 138 pounds.  He will be looking to erase those memories in his final crack at the mountaintop.  Already an All-City wrestler, the Wingate grappler has made noticeable strides throughout his career.  As a freshman, he went 1-2 at the City Championships, but has not failed to medal since, earning a 4th place finish in 2012 to complement his performance last season.  Depending on where Kahramonov elects to go this season, Saimbeau could either stay at 138 or move up to 145 where it is possible he will be challenged by Madison’s Marc D’Chiutiis (assuming he is able to make the weight for another season).

Marc D’Chiutiis (James Madison)—D’Chiutiis was a PSAL runner-up last season, losing in the 145-pound finals to Eagle Academy’s Nigel Williams.  With the rumors that Eagle Academy will be returning to the Division II scene after moving up and competing well in Division I for one year, the door has swung open for individuals at this weight class.  And, if there is one wrestler who deserves to go out on top, it would be the Madison wrestler who also played bridesmaid in 2012 at 126 pounds.  Adding to his resume, D’Chiutiis placed 3rd at the 2013 Mayor’s Cup.  A 30-plus match winner in his junior season (31-11), D’Chiutiis might just give coach Campbell one of the top 1-2 punches in all of the five boroughs.

Alex Palmer (MLK)—The three-year Knight captain would have a below average showing at last year’s City tournament, getting upset in the quarterfinal round and then choosing to not wrestle back. But we could not ignore his full resume, which includes his runner-up finish in 2012 and a 4th place finish as a freshman in 2011.  The mere fact that he has a career victory over Parfiryev (6-2 in the 2012 PSAL semifinals) shows that when he is at his best, he possesses the ability to make noise regardless of who lines up opposite him.  Where he needs to improve is in his level of consistency. With so much established talent in the middle weights this season, Palmer can’t be anything less than firing on all cylinders if he hopes to put that elusive cap on his varsity career by winning the City title.  He ended his junior year with a 27-8 record.

John PierreLouis (Springfield Gardens)—PierreLouis is a two-time PSAL bronze medalist who has not deviated much in weight, staying at 189/195 throughout his scholastic career.  In a word, he is a pinner.  In six of his eight career wins at the City tournament, he ended the bout via fall, including in his third place matches the past two years.  In 2012, he stuck 2013 Junior Greco-Roman All-American, Roland Zilberman (who finished as the PSAL runner-up @195 last season for Lincoln).  Last year, his victim was 2012 PSAL small school champion, Miguel Perez from Eagle Academy.  PierreLouis will also be seeking his third straight top-8 finish at the Mayor’s Cup, having claimed 5th place as a sophomore before defaulting to 8th in 2013.  In 2010, it was Springfield Gardens senior Francisco DeCristo taking 5th in NYS @170.  Might that magic be in the air this season for PierreLouis?  Only time will tell!

 

Division I: Team Race

1. Brooklyn Tech—Until someone finds a way to stop this runaway train, Brooklyn Tech has to be considered the early favorite to win a fourth consecutive team title.  Led by defending champion, Gaitan, the Engineers will feature a plethora of returning placers — Julian Polian (6th @106), James Rosado (4th @113), Devon Hoyte (3rd @120), William Hernandez (6th @126),  and Andy Huang (2nd @132).  The only question that remains is how well this deep group of wrestlers will adjust to competing under new head coach Steve Flanagan, who replaced the architect of Tech’s recent success, Todd Bloom. Flanagan has an excellent track record, having led Wingate to back-to-back top-3 finishes in 2011 and 2012. Among his many accomplishments as a coach, Flanagan mentored McZiggy Richards to a 3rd place finish at the 2012 NYS DI tournament.

2. Cardozo—Cardozo is a team that came out of nowhere last season.  When writing the 2013 preview, Chris Milani’s squad was not even on my radar.  However, they were so outstanding last season that not only are they deserving of my apologies, their performance commands that I give it. Still a relatively young program, this is a team that has improved leaps and bounds each year.  In 2011, the squad finished 33rd in the team standings with nine cumulative points and the following season moved up to 21st with 28.5. Then, last year would be the coming of age as the Judges not only took 3rd in the City Championships, but also finished as the dual meet runner-up.  With a strong nucleus returning, Milani and company have no intention of taking any steps backward in 2014.   Joining the previously mentioned Gomez as wrestlers to watch are returning All-City competitors: Jacob Delgado (2nd @99), Douglas Chau (5th @113), Steven Kim (5th @132), Tommy Qu (6th @145), and Taqee Burns (4th @152).

3. James Madison—Coach Campbell’s team earned 3rd in the Dual Meet Playoffs last season before finishing sixth in tournament action to conclude the 2013 campaign.  With a defending champion in Parfiryev, a two-time runner-up in D’Chiutiis, and two other returning All-City student-athletes (Askar Raimbek 4th @132; Mark Ifraimov 6th @285), the squad should be in position to compete yet again in 2014.

4. MLK—Right below Madison is the team they defeated in the Dual Playoff consolation match, the Knights of MLK.  Similar to Cardozo, the Tim Muscarella-coached program is still very much in its youth stage, having been in existence for less than a decade.  However, if recent trends hold up, 2014 may very well be the season that puts the program on the map for good.  Sitting at the head of the table will of course be returning and former City finalists, Amancio and Palmer.  Sophomore sensation Ramel McIntosh (6th @113) and senior Kevin Kabadi (6th @170) make the Knights four strong.  However, in speaking with assistant coach Eric Klein, what will make or break the season will be the efforts from guys who were role players in the past but are now being asked to take on more responsibility.  The perfect examples would be Jose PerezOhanugo Okorie, and Guillermo Rivas, who as #8, #5 and #7 seeds, all missed the medal stand last season by one victory at 138, 160, and 182 respectively.

5. Wingate—Even with the departure of Flanagan, the Wingate program didn’t skip a beat, rolling to a 6th place finish at the City Championships in 2013. With three top-4 wrestlers back to spearhead this year’s team, there is every reason to believe that Wingate will be strong at the end.  Saimbeau is the headliner, but Marcus King (3rd @160) and Maleke Cunningham (4th @182) are quite capable of giving a star performance any day of the week.  Seeded 4th, King came one point shy from being a potential champion last season, losing 6-5 to Gaitan.  Cunningham would wrestle his way into the semifinals, but defaulted his last two bouts, leaving him with a 4th place finish.  If a lightweight like Shamar Griffith, who was seeded 6th but came two wins short of placement, can put all the pieces together and provide Wingate with a fourth threat, it is very feasible to see them challenge for a top-3 spot.

 

Division II: The Incumbents (Former or Defending Champions)

Dolan McColgan (Petrides)—The small school champion the past two years at 99 pounds (finished 3rd as a freshman), McColgan will enter his senior season with a bit of a chip on his shoulder after having what some might deem a disappointing showing in Albany in 2013.   When McColgan defeated Fordham Prep’s Chris Martorello in the finals of the 2013 Mayor’s Cup, the general consensus was that the victory was the sign of good things to come and that he could challenge for a spot on the podium at the Times Union Center.  Unfortunately, the pieces would not fall into place and he would drop his only two bouts of the state tournament to give him an overall record of 1-4 in Albany.  After getting his hand raised in 35 matches last season (35-3), and with one more crack at the medal stand remaining in his scholastic career, we can expect to see a very determined McColgan in 2014.

Mohammed Guernah (RKA)—The departure of Radoncic to Poly Prep leaves this talented super sophomore as one of two defending champions for Robert Dicanio’s RKA squad.  Seeded 3rd (out of 4) in the 120-pound bracket, Guernah would be lights out in his first City Championship tournament, pinning second-seeded Sean Caffrey of Petrides in the second period, before earning a 14-9 decision over top-seeded Jean Marti of Baruch in the title bout. Guernah would receive a very unfavorable draw, getting eventual state bronze medalist, Kellen Devlin, in his opening bout.  The truth is that the Gotham City freshman would never quite get on track, getting stuck by Devlin at the :58 mark and then losing his consolation bout by fall to Section III’s Mike Boyle.  That one weekend aside, as the only freshman qualifier from the PSAL last season, Guernah knows that he still has plenty of time remaining in his career to make his mark.  He finished his frosh campaign with a record of 16-5 and will need to be just as good this season to make up for the loss of his heralded former teammate.

Daniel Padulo (Baruch)—After years of being overshadowed by his older brother, Anthony, a four-time DII City finalist/2012 Champion, Daniel Padulo would finally get his moment to shine. He would capitalize on this opportunity, winning his only match of the PSAL tournament via second period fall over now two-time City runner-up David Medina of RKA.  Padulo would encounter hardship when making the trip to Albany, getting pinned in his first round match by Nick Forget (finished 5th) and then eliminated one match later in the consolation bracket by Section XI’s Hunter Hulse.  If he hopes to conclude his high school career with a top-6 finish in February, Padulo is going to have to work hard to improve upon the 14-16 record that is attributed to him on the NWCA database.

Steven Cook (RKA)—The senior leader will have added pressure on his shoulders with the departure of Radoncic. A City titlist in his first appearance in the PSAL DII tournament, Cook would show that seeding is just a number when he pulled off the upset of top-ranked Nate Muse of Petrides to win the 132-pound crown.  Unfortunately, circumstance would prevent Cook from competing in Albany, robbing him of what would have been an excellent opportunity to see how he compares to the rest of the Empire State elite.

Nigel Williams (Eagle Academy)—Williams might be among the most battle tested wrestlers in the five boroughs, after attending blue chip events across the country.  A first-time champion in 2013 at 145 pounds after previously finishing as the runner-up in his freshman and sophomore seasons, the Eagle Academy senior will be seeking his first win in Albany after going 0-2 in both 2011 (injury replacement) and 2013.  To say that his 0-4 record is misleading would be an understatement.  Williams is a dangerous draw for any wrestler; he has excellent throws and can put opponents on their backs at the drop of a hat.  A winner of three matches at the Eastern States Classic, Williams has proven himself to be a jack of all trades by also winning a handful of bouts at both the Junior Duals and the Junior Nationals in the international styles.

Nathanael Rose (Eagle Academy)—Rose is on pace to become a four-time City Champion, having won the 182-pound weight class in back-to-back years, once in each division. He has continued to gain recognition across the state and his power and raw athleticism are drawing parallels to that of the previously mentioned McZiggy Richards. As a freshman in 2012, Rose demonstrated untapped potential, scoring bonus points in both of his City tournament matches before going 0-2 at the NYS DII tournament.  Last season, he just missed placing at the Eastern States by one victory, finished second at the Mayor’s Cup (to NYS placewinner Matthew Roberts of Monsignor Farrell), and then wrapped up his sophomore season by making the round-of-8 at the NYS Tournament. It is the immense development that he seems to make from year to year that has me thinking that all the stars are aligned for Rose to be 2014’s version of Radoncic for the PSAL.  I believe the Eagle Academy junior is going to be a NYS Champion before his career is over; the only unanswered question is whether he’ll be a multi-time titlewinner.

Miguel Perez (Eagle)—A PSAL DII Champion two years ago as a freshman, for a while, it looked like he was on the path to Titletown when he posted a respectable 1-2 record in his debut in Albany in 2012.  Last season, when his school made the decision to compete at the large school level, Perez would find himself in a deep bracket that featured eventual NYS placewinner Kevin Tynes (previously of Brooklyn Tech; now at Stanford) and the aforementioned Greco All-American, Zilberman. Now that Eagle will be returning to DII, Perez should be considered a heavy favorite to win the next two City titles.  With regards to upstate, with most of the top-8 finishers from last year’s NYS Tournament having graduated, it would not be premature to say that Perez could find himself in the mix to make the medal stand.  After all, if you can win one match as a freshman, winning three (which is what it takes to make All-State) is not unfathomable.  Perez went 32-10 last season.

Christian Gioia (Petrides)—A returning two-time City finalist, Gioia would win his first title in 2013, going 2-0 behind a pair of decisions over Banana Kelly’s Edward Bonner (8-5) and Baruch’s Kenshawn Anderson (5-1).  He would go winless in Albany. Gioia is one of the individuals who might get hurt the most from Eagle Academy’s return to the DII ranks.  If he and Perez are at the same weight class, Perez would need to be considered a heavy favorite because of their 2012 title bout which was won by the Eagle junior, 15-0.

Elvin Gervacio (Brooklyn International)—A three-time finalist as an upperweight wrestler, Gervacio won the PSAL title in 2012 at heavyweight and finished 2nd last season down at 220.  However, despite not being a champion in 2013, the big man would be summoned into action in Albany, taking the place of Anthony Hernandez (Petrides) who went unopposed at 285.  In two trips to the state tournament, Gervacio has gone winless, including 0-2 last season with losses to the wrestlers who finished 3rd and 6th.  On the bright side, with five of six placewinners having graduated, there is reason for optimism.  For the PSAL to match what they did last season, Gervacio is going to have to apply what he has learned the past two years and find a way onto the podium.

 

Division II: One More to Watch

Nate Muse (Petrides)—A wrestler who has experienced nothing other than the City title match thus far in the first three years of his varsity career, Muse is hoping that the fourth time will be the the charm after settling for silver in his previous three attempts.  The top seed at his weight class each of the last two years, if there is anyone in all of Staten Island that is going to be fired up for the postseason, it is Muse, who has unfinished business.  Muse would be called into duty, as an injury replacement in Albany.  He would lose both of his matches, but gained the kind of big match experience that he will need to get over the hump and finish his career with the City title.

 

Division II: Team Race

As has been the case much of the past decade, the team title will be a battle between Eagle Academy and Petrides.  A year removed from finishing second in the DI team standings, on paper, one would have to think that Eagle would have the edge.  The Bronx located school should receive huge point contributions from the trio of defending/former champions (Williams, Rose, and Perez), as well as a group of All-City wrestlers who will be in title contention in the smaller division.  This collection of talent includes, but is not limited to, the following: Jairo Pepin (6th @120), Rashid Powell (5th @126), Zimba Hamm (6th @152), Vance Cuffie (5th @160), Roshane Gray (5th @170), and Marc Diaz (3rd @220).

Petrides, who in the absence of Eagle went on to win the small school team title last season by a 44 point margin over Baruch, will be anchored by McColgan, Muse, and Gioia, and solidified by Caffrey (3rd @120), Jason Falloon (4th @120), Robert Welgoss (3rd @138), Tristan Ferrigno (2nd @145), and Tyler Saracena (2nd @182).

 

Returning Qualifiers from 2013 – Division I

Malik Grant, Curtis (99)

Adam Gomez, Cardozo (106)

Saidyokub Kahramonov, New Utrecht (132)—6th

Konstantin Parfiryev, James Madison (152)—6th

Camilo Gaitan, Brooklyn Tech (160)

Returning Qualifiers from 2013 – Division II

Dolan McColgan, Petrides (99)

Mohammed Guernah, RKA (120)

Daniel Padulo, Baruch (126)

Nate Muse, Petrides (132)—Injury replacement

Steven Cook, RKA (132)

Nigel Williams, Eagle Academy (145)

Nathanael Rose, Eagle Academy (182)

Christian Gioia, Petrides (195)

Elvin Gervacio, Brooklyn International (285)—replacement pick

For more on New York City wrestling, see Gotham City Wrestling.

 

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