Making it to the state tournament. That was the main goal of Greece’s Ian James going into his junior season in November of 2012.
That objective was within his reach as he took the mat in the 285-pound SuperSectionals title bout last February. The task wouldn’t be easy, however, as he was set to face a familiar foe – Spencerport’s Austin Coleman.
The two heavyweights had already met three times during the season. In the first match, James came out on top 3-1, however, Coleman had captured the last two. To ensure a spot in Albany – and achieve his goal – James knew he had to even the score.
“By the fourth time wrestling him, I was confident,” James said. “I stuck to what I did the first time and was able to win the match.”
Indeed, he was, earning the Section 5 title and a ticket to the Times Union Center with a 4-1 triumph.
“It was a really big step for me,” he said. “It felt great to accomplish that – I knew I worked hard enough to get it done.”
But there were still more achievements on the way in Albany, although James didn’t have the start he was looking for in the state capital.
“Going into my first match was nerve-wracking,” he said. “It felt like my first time ever wrestling. The nerves stuck with me the whole match. I felt flat; not on top of my game at all.”
That opening bout with Anthony Puca of Huntington was a battle that went three overtimes before the Suffolk County grappler came out on top, 3-2.
But after focusing all year on getting to the state tournament, James wasn’t going to make it a short, two-bout experience.
“I felt like after my first match, all the jitters were gone,” he said. “I just got into my zone where I wanted to be and focused on what I wanted to do. After being down, I pushed myself to do better. Those were the hardest matches of the year with everyone going for the same goals. My wins were probably the best wrestling I did all year.”
He captured three contests in a row, beginning with an overtime victory over Chris Alianakian. He then won 5-1 against Andrew Brinser of Union-Endicott and 7-5 versus Terrence Cheeks of Newburgh to clinch All-State status. He finished with one-point losses to bronze medalist James O’Hagan of Seaford and Mike Manni of Tappan Zee to nab sixth place in the state.
Afterwards, he continued to pick up quality wins, including at the Section 5 vs. Finger Lakes Wrestling Club dual meet that was part of the Long Island vs. Upstate Challenge in March.
In that competition, James pinned Connor Calkins of Alfred-Almond, a Division II state placer who had some impressive offseason results, including crowns at the Journeymen Classic and the Freak Show.
“It felt good to be selected to be in that kind of event,” James said. “It was the best kids in the Section doing what they love to do most. I felt honored and kind of nervous to be in that environment – at Cornell, with great high school and college wrestlers around.”
He soon will be a college wrestler himself, as he committed to the University at Buffalo.
“I decided on Buffalo for a lot of reasons,” James said. “It’s close to home and it’s a program on the rise. I like where the program is going and I want to be a part of it. It’s also good that there will be a lot of Section 5 kids there.”
Speaking of Section 5 kids, James keeps thinking about his rival last year, Austin Coleman, who went on to the state finals after James defeated him at the state qualifier.
“It’s something that drives me, that I beat someone who took second in the state,” James said. “The way I’m working in the practice room, I feel like I can win states this year. That’s my goal. I was pretty excited to place last year. It got me ready for this year, where I plan to come back and win it all. Last year was just a stepping stone.”
A stepping stone to potential state glory. And a stepping stone to college wrestling at Buffalo.
Ian James wanted to thank all of the coaches who helped him through the years, since he started wrestling in seventh grade.