Section 8 Preview: Five State Finalists, Including Champions Hernandez and Quinn, Return for Nassau

Nassau County featured eight state finalists and New York’s top team a year ago (Wantagh).  2013-14 should be another strong campaign for Section 8 as five of those finalists return as do several others who are capable of making a big splash in the postseason.

Division I

Hernandez, Photo by BV

Let’s start with the New York champions who are back looking for two in a row.  Mepham’s Louis Hernandez capped off a 51-1 season by running the table in Albany.  He racked up more than 40 bonus point wins and his performance has been recognized nationally as well, as he is ranked sixth in the country at 152 pounds by FloWrestling.  His standing in the polls was recently bolstered by an impressive performance at the Super 32 Challenge, where he took bronze with a victory over Fox Baldwin of Florida, who was ranked third in the land at the time. Hernandez is also now listed among the top 50 senior recruits in the country by Intermat.

Hernandez was joined atop the podium last year by Wantagh’s Kyle Quinn, who captured the 106-pound title over Alex Tanzman after avenging his only two losses of the season (to New Rochelle’s Nick Barbaria) in the semifinals. Quinn added to his trophy collection in the spring, collecting All-America honors for the second consecutive year at the NHSCA Nationals in Virginia Beach (third at 106).

Two other Nassau Division I grapplers took part in the championship bouts in the state capital.  Syosset’s Vito Arujau had a stellar eighth grade season, racking up over 45 wins and just one loss – in the finals to Hilton’s Yianni Diakomihalis in the ultimate tiebreaker. Arujau followed up by going undefeated at the challenging Waterway Duals and taking third (including a victory over Quinn) at the Journeymen Classic.  He also won his bracket at the Iron Horse Invitational and came within one victory of placing at the Super 32. Look for big things from Arujau once again, this time as a freshman at 113.

Also winning his group at the Iron Horse was MacArthur’s Steve Schneider.  The Binghamton recruit stood out throughout his junior year, grabbing third at the Eastern States Classic before following up with a silver medal in Albany.  He went to the quarterfinals at the Super 32 before falling one win shy of the podium. He’ll be among the favorites in the state capital this time around, likely at 170.

Who are Some Other Seniors to Watch?

Hernandez and Schneider are two of the top members of the Class of 2014 in the Empire State.  The same could be said of Seaford’s James O’Hagan, a heavyweight who made a statement last year in Albany.  In the second round, he upset top-seeded El Shaddai Van Hoesen and then beat the Section II wrestler again in the third place bout.  His only losses during the campaign were to undefeated state champion Mike Hughes (now starting for Hofstra).  O’Hagan, who is headed to Buffalo to play football, sits in the #8 spot nationally at 285 according to FloWrestling.

While O’Hagan is certainly the favorite at the highest weight, there are some other quality heavyweights in the county. Last year’s Nassau runner up Bryan Tenny of Farmingdale and Massapequa’s Tim Gungor both racked up more than 30 victories and split a pair of matches against each other.

Also in the upperweights, Jaison White and Robert Ng are two wrestlers to track.  Plainedge’s Ng was 38-7 at 182 pounds a year ago with 28 bonus point wins, taking second in Nassau behind New York State silver medalist James Corbett. After a loss to Brandon Cassar of Island Trees in late December, Ng captured over 25 straight bouts, including a county semifinal victory over Cassar. At the Times Union Center, Ng went 2-2, coming within one victory of All-State status.

Jericho’s White may be a little under the radar for some fans, but he looks ready for a big year, possibly at 160.  White went 32-6 at 170 pounds as an 11th grader and notched bronze at the Section 8 championships. He also had a strong offseason, going undefeated at the Pop & Flo Duals in the spring as well as the Journeymen Classic in September.

And don’t forget about Justin Cooksey of MacArthur, who took second in the state in 2012 at 106 pounds. After moving up to 126 last year, he won more than 20 matches, but didn’t qualify for Albany.  The Buffalo-bound grappler will look for a return trip to the state capital in his final season with the Generals.

Who Else is Ready to Make a Run?

Arujau won the 99-pound class a year ago, but a number of other wrestlers from that weight have the ability to make noise this season (although most will be in a different weight class).  That includes MacArthur’s Travis Cooksey, a winner of more than 30 bouts, Nassau runner up David Yablans of Jericho, who racked up a 28-2 mark in 2012-13, and Wantagh’s Jonathan Loew, who had quality wins as a seventh grader and will be back at 99.

Peter Pappas of Plainview will be tough at 106 after earning bronze in Nassau in 2013 (and taking second at the Super 32 Middle School event last fall).  Speaking of 106 pounders, Chris Donnelly of Island Trees went to Albany at that weight last year after compiling close to 40 wins.  (He’ll be moving up in weight this year).

One of the wrestlers to beat Donnelly last season, Hector Guerrero of Plainedge comes off a 30-win campaign and is one to watch in the lightweights, as is the wrestler who topped him for third at the Nassau championships – Alan Teemer of Long Beach.   In fact, the Marines have a number of young wrestlers who were mentioned as possible breakout performers, including Matt Maquet, Jacori Teemer and Charlie Spada.  Spada, who will likely move to 120 or 126, lost in the all-county round last year and has had a great offseason, while Jacori Teemer was impressive at the Schoolboy Nationals in the spring, going 6-0 in Freestyle with five wins by pin or technical fall.  When asked about Jacori Teemer, Long Beach coach Ray Adams said “he’s definitely the real deal.”

Speaking of Long Beach, former standout Steve Sewkumar took third in the state last year as a senior.  He had a tough Section 8 title bout, winning by a point against Adam Smith of East Meadow.  Smith is back and one Nassau observer said he’s “a tough, physical kid who will have a great year.”

There was a lot of star power at the 2013 Section 8 championships, but the Outstanding Wrestler and Champion of Champions award went to a freshman – Hewlett’s Owen Bachelder, who had a tremendous run through the tournament.  On the way to the title, he defeated qualifier Michael Fera as well as NHSCA National titlewinner Chris Araoz of Wantagh.

Araoz is one of a number of studs who graduated from Wantagh in 2013.  But on that loaded Warriors team, Matt Langan and Joe Hill found a way to make significant contributions with close to 30 victories each.  Hill registered solid wins over state qualifiers Hunter Dusold and Hunter Richard.  Both will play integral roles for the Warriors this time around as will Nick Vines, who suffered an injury and missed a chunk of the season, but came back and earned bronze in Section 8.

In addition to Vines, other returning Nassau bronze medalists who are looking to climb the ladder include Nick Rondino of Syosset, Adrian Berry of Uniondale and Julius Diaz of Freeport. (They were at 113, 132 and 152, respectively, last year).  In addition, Naquan Warren of Farmingdale and Robert Oliver of Plainedge took fourth (at 120 and 220) in 2013 in the county and are the highest returning placers in their classes.

“I think Naquan Warren is a kid to keep an eye on,” Adams said. “He worked very hard in the offseason. I also think his teammate Dave Brown could do some great things.  He was tough last year and will be someone to watch.”

While Sam Goldman (Port Washington) and John Sherlock (Mepham) were in the fifth place matches in Section 8 last year, some feel they will be climbing much higher this time around. Goldman went 31-4 a year ago (entering the Nassau tournament).  He took fifth at 106 at the Section 8 qualifier, right behind a pair of wrestlers he had defeated earlier in the campaign according to the NWCA Scorebook – the previously mentioned Alan Teemer and Hector Guerrero – and has put in significant offseason work. Sherlock had over 20 victories at 120, including over state qualifier Tom Stobe and against NYS third placer Steven Sewkumar.

Who else could have a breakthrough year? Quite a few nominees were named. Tom and Jack Reina of Garden City provided solid production last year, going a combined 46-12, according to the NWCA Scorebook. (Their teammates Timmy Halaby and upperweight Tom Lane were also mentioned as ready to make a statement).   Hunter Sharf of North Shore was 35-3 prior to counties with a win over Bachelder during the year, while others discussed were Mepham’s Matt Assael, MacArthur’s Jeremy Hughes and Division’s Ricky Stamm (132/138) and Chris Ponce (99).

Team Race

Wantagh lost a lot of firepower with the graduation of wrestlers such as Chris Araoz, Danny McDevitt, James Corbett and Vinny Turano.  However, a strong base of returners, including the previously mentioned Kyle Quinn, Jonathan Loew, Joe Hill, Nick Vines and Matt Langan will lead a lineup that has solid contributors throughout. The Warriors won all the big events last year — the Union-Endicott duals, the Eastern States Classic, the Nassau Dual and Tournament titles and the New York State Division I championships.  Can they continue the tremendous streak?

“To me, Wantagh is still the team to beat,” Adams said. “Until someone beats them, they’re the champions.  They bring back a lot of talent and they work very hard all year long.”

Looking to challenge are a number of squads, including MacArthur, last season’s runner up in the Section. The Generals also boast some heavy hitters with Steve Schneider and the Cooksey brothers leading the way and will also receive contributions from wrestlers with significant match experience such as Sal Randazzo and Jeremy Hughes.

Plainedge will certainly be a threat, led by a number of standouts, including previously mentioned wrestlers such as 2013 Nassau runner up Robert Ng (2013 Nassau runner up) and a trio of returning fourth place Section 8 medalists – Hector Guerrero, Jake Lerner and Robert Oliver.

Like last year, Mepham has a chance to put several wrestlers on the county podium, led by returners Louis Hernandez, John Sherlock (sixth at 120) and Joel Zambrano (fourth at 99).  The Pirates were third in the Nassau tournament in 2013.

Adams also mentioned a few other teams he was looking forward to watch.

“I think Syosset’s tough. Mike Murtha does a really nice job,” the coach said. “Hewlett has come such a long way in a short time.  With Bachelder and Pincus leading the way, they’ll be good.”

Others, on the other hand, mentioned Adams’s team at Long Beach.

“They have so many quality young kids,” said Ascend Wrestling Club’s Craig Vitagliano. “They’re young now, but they have some guys who will win a lot of matches. Two years from now, they’ll be unbelievable.  Once the guys grow and spread out in weight, they’ll be extremely tough.”

 

Division II

Nine Division II section champions return – and seven are from Locust Valley.  It goes without saying that the Falcons will be a tough team to beat in 2013-14.  In fact, Vitagliano said he believes Locust Valley is the best team in Nassau in either Division.

We discussed state finalists Quinn, Arujau, Hernandez and Schneider above in the large school section, but we didn’t forget about Nick Casella who has been in the Division II championship match in Albany for two consecutive years (at 99 pounds in 2012 and at 113 in 2013), taking silver on both occasions.

After a 39-4 campaign as a sophomore, Casella kept his winning ways going in the offseason, placing at the NHSCA Nationals in Virginia Beach and at Fargo in Greco Roman.  He wrestled in numerous other high profile events and plans to compete at 120 pounds in 2013-14. Is this the year he wins it all in New York?

“Nick has continued to work extremely hard,” said Locust Valley head coach Joe Enea.  “He sought out the toughest competition and more than held his own.  He’s setting himself up to win a state championship. We’re hoping to see all our wrestlers take the next step and for Nick, that’s a state title.”

Also returning after an All-State finish (fifth at 132) is Sam Ward.  Like Casella, he has competed all over the country, notching All-America honors in Virginia Beach and placing second at the Journeymen Classic.  His coach said he could compete at 138 or 145.

“With the amount of time Sam put in during the offseason, he’ll be disappointed if he’s not in the state finals,” Enea said. “A lot always comes down to draw and seeding, but we figure him to be one of the top wrestlers in the state this year.”

Just missing the podium in 2013 was Hunter Dusold, who has already qualified twice for the state event and is only a freshman.  He picked up a pair of victories at the Times Union Center last year and is looking to get over the hump as a ninth grader for his first All-State showing. (Dusold made the medal stand at the Junior High Nationals in Virginia Beach this spring).

“Hunter has continued to wrestle throughout the year,” Enea said. “He is hoping to certify at 115 and having two years at the state tournament already separates him from a lot of other guys who might be up there for the first time.  That should be an advantage for him.”

“Hunter Dusold could be a state champion this year,” added Vitagliano.  “He’s that good.”

There were two ‘Dusolds’ in Albany a year ago and that’s the plan again for 2014.  Mike Dusold made his first appearance in the state capital and got his hand raised.

“He has his sights set on 145; we’ll see if he’ll be there or at 152,” Enea said. “He’s one of the tougher guys in the area and hopefully that will translate upstate.  He definitely has the ability to be an All-State wrestler, it’s whether he puts everything together at the right time.”

Additional middleweights that represented Locust Valley and Section 8 in Albany last season, Jordan Formicola (160) and Yamique Webb (170), will be back to try and do it all again.

“Jordan is a tremendous athlete and leader,” Enea said. “He’ll probably stay at 160.  It’s All-State or bust for him – it’s his senior year and it would be his third time in Albany.  I can’t wait to see him on the podium.”

Webb, like Formicola, also plays football for the Falcons.

“[Webb] started wrestling as an eighth grader and picked it up pretty quickly; had a great deal of success as a freshman,” Enea said.  “Last year, he came into his own and the experience he had will really help him.  He’s such a good athlete that anything’s possible.”

The last returning Nassau champion for Locust Valley is Bryan Coll, who won the 99 pound class in 2013.  Coll’s teammate Patrick Briody was third at the Section 8 qualifier.  According to Enea, we could see Coll or Briody at 106 later in the season. (Jon Gomez will man 99 for the Falcons, while Jack Ward will handle 106 in the earlygoing).

That’s a lot of high quality wrestlers from Locust Valley.  But there are several other grapplers to keep an eye on in Division II.  One is eighth grader John DeRidder of Carle Place, who just missed a state bid when he lost in overtime in the county finals to Coll.  (He took third at 85 pounds at the Junior High NHSCA Nationals in Virginia Beach this spring).

“John DeRidder is an outstanding wrestler,” Enea said. “He will be someone to watch out for.  If he gets to the states, he is definitely capable of making a run there.”

A few wrestlers have already gotten there and are looking to go back.  They include Clarke’s Tom Stobe, who piled up more than 30 wins a year ago at 120 pounds.

“Stobe was extremely tough,” Enea said. “He’s a tenacious, hard worker.  Clarke runs such a great program that I’m sure he’s only going to be better this year.”

Enea had similar sentiments about Cold Spring Harbor’s Robert Incorvaia, who went 26-6 with 14 pins as a junior at 220 pounds.

“He was a bit undersized last year,” Enea said. “Having him back only helps the Section 8 team because he’ll be better.”

Who are some other wrestlers to track?

Oyster Bay’s Cassidy Exum wrestled in the state tournament in 2012, however, an injury prevented him from finishing last season.  He will be one to watch as will his teammate Kevin Velasquez, who took second in the Section at 182 pounds as a freshman.

“[Velasquez] did very well,” Enea said. “He was a first year wrestler, but he showed some athletic ability and understanding of wrestling.  When you put those together in the upperweights, you could have something special.”

Erik Rodriguez of Wheatley looks to make something special out of his season as well.  He notched silver behind Sam Ward in Nassau a year ago, but Enea mentioned that he has the talent to compete upstate.

Team Race

Locust Valley may be among the best teams in the state this year, with the seven returning qualifiers and several other solid starters.

“With the team we have this year, we’re looking for continued growth,” Enea said. “We believe we can contend to be in the top three or four in the state. It comes down to a couple of tournaments a year that make the difference.  I expect our returning qualifiers to be in the running to go back, although our goal is to send 15 guys upstate.”

Cold Spring Harbor boasts a large group of returning Nassau placers and will look to challenge.

“Cold Spring Harbor definitely returns a lot of good guys,” Enea said. “They were young last year in a lot of spots.  They have the depth to make things interesting.  As much as it’s easy to say that we’re the favorites, we can’t take anyone lightly.  We won’t look past anyone.”

—————–

Thank you to all of the contributors to this article, including Irwin Loew, Craig Vitagliano, Ray Adams, Vougar Oroudjov and Joe Enea.

We will continue to post Section previews as the season approaches.  Here are some others already released:

Section 3

Section 6

Section 7

Section 10

PSAL

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