Another February, Another Title: Nassau's James Dekrone Wins National Championship at 141 Pounds

Every wrestler hopes to be in peak physical condition as the postseason approaches.

But for Nassau Community College’s James Dekrone, not feeling well contributed to his National Championship performance last weekend in Iowa.

The former John Glenn High School standout spent the majority of the year at 149 pounds, going 18-4 at that weight according to the NWCA Scorebook, with three of those setbacks against Division I wrestlers.

But as February rolled around, an illness changed the course of his year.

Photo by BV

“To be honest, I was planning on going 149 the whole season,” Dekrone said. “I told my coach I was staying at 149 and then I got sick and lost weight.  I had no appetite and the next thing I knew, I wasn’t that far from where I needed to be for 141.  I thought maybe I should take a shot at it.  Once I committed, it wasn’t bad to stay down.”

He wrestled three bouts in early February at the lower weight and won all three – two by technical fall.  He then entered the NJCAA National Championships ranked eighth nationally and not knowing what to expect.

“I really didn’t know too much about a lot of the other wrestlers because I wasn’t at that weight most of the season,” he said.  “I had seen rankings here and there.  I went in thinking I just needed to go and wrestle hard for seven minutes and see what happened.”

The unseeded tournament can be unpredictable.  But Dekrone began with a 10-3 decision over Tyler Lashbrook and followed that up with a with a 2-1 victory against Jarett Morrill.

The semifinals brought Steven Ruppert, the number two grappler in the country. It wasn’t really a contest, however, as the Nassau wrestler picked up a 12-5 win to punch his ticket to the title bout.

After a scoreless first period versus top-ranked Zach Loveless of Northwest College, Dekrone took a 5-0 lead in the second stanza with a takedown and near fall.  A few minutes later, he was a national champion after a 7-6 triumph.

“Even though the final score was close, I felt like I was in control for most of the match,” he said. “It was 7-3 halfway through the third and he had a late reversal and stall point.  I was pretty comfortable that I was going to win.”

He was the only victor for Nassau, but he wasn’t the only placer.  In fact, three other wrestlers – John Pellegrino (125), Chanse Menendez (174) and Yaseen Mudassar (285) finished as silver medalists and Kyle Wade (149) and Ian MacIneirghe (197) also made the podium.

Those showings put the squad in fourth place in the standings.

“In the beginning of the season, we didn’t know if we had that strong of a team,” he said. “That last month, everyone came together and turned it on at the right time.  We had 10 guys at nationals.  We wrestled well at the best time and exceeded expectations.”

As for Dekrone, he felt that he simply met expectations with his championship.

“This weekend was pretty surreal,” Dekrone said.  “It was similar to winning the [138-pound state] title last year.  It felt like there was a great weight off my shoulders. I was just happy that I reached my goals and got to where I wanted to be at the beginning of the season.”

Photo by BV

He believed that he had plenty of help to get there.

“I think ‘fine-tuned’ is a good way to describe what’s happened here this year,” Dekrone said.  “They’ve tweaked the little things to take me from being a good kid to a great kid on the mat.  I’ve definitely matured as an athlete and wrestler.   Physically, I’m in better shape than ever before.  I’m more explosive than I’ve ever been.  That comes from the great coaching I’ve had, which has helped me take the extra steps I needed.  It’s also because I have great training partners like Kyle Wade and Anthony Abidin.”

Abidin captured a national title in 2012 and is redshirting this campaign before heading off to Nebraska in the fall.  It’s a path that Dekrone would like to emulate.

“Next year I’ll be here wrestling but I’ll be redshirting,” he said. “Then, we’ll see.  I absolutely want to transfer, hopefully somewhere in Division I.  I’ll start looking around again.”

But for now, he’ll remain on Long Island with another line added to his resume.

“Nassau has been a great fit,” he said. “I’m happy I’m here.  It’s great to be around a lot of kids I know, wrestling with guys I’ve known for a long time.”

And it’s great to be a national champion.

 

Big 10 Bound: National Champion Anthony Abidin Talks About His Commitment to Wrestle for Nebraska

Anthony Abidin will face top-notch competition when he takes the mat in the Big 10 for Nebraska, at 133 or 141 pounds, beginning in 2013-14.  But it’s unlikely that he’ll be intimidated by the impressive credentials of his opponents.

Last year, while wrestling for Nassau Community College, he finished the season ranked 12th at 133 pounds, but defeated several higher-seeded foes to reach the NJCAA national championship bout against Brandon Wright of Iowa Central.   When it came time for the introductions, Abidin listened while the announcer seemingly went on and on about Wright’s achievements.

“I had a good laugh about that,” Abidin said. “My intro was pretty quick, a few tournament results and a New York state championship.  And then with Wright, it was all these national championships, multiple state championships, open tournament championships.  It was like, is this over yet?”

When it came down to it, resumes didn’t matter.  The match was knotted at 4 in the third period, but the Long Island native earned the key takedown and rideout to prevail 7-4.  He was a national champion.

“I am always in it to win,” Abidin said. “I wasn’t expected to place by most people, but I came into the tournament with a goal of at least being top three.  I promised myself that I worked harder than anyone else in the bracket and if I lost it simply wasn’t meant to be.  I was on my game that whole weekend and I didn’t give up an inch.  I surprised myself in the end.”

His impressive showing a year after completing his high school career atop the podium at the New York States at 125 pounds got the attention of several Division I programs.  In fact, he first was interested in attending nearby Hofstra.  However, after a trip to Cornhusker country this past weekend, he gave his commitment to Nebraska.

“I realized that I don’t want to stay home for college.  I want to get away and experience new places and new things,” he said.  “On my visit to Lincoln, I fell in love with the atmosphere right away.  It was a perfect fit for me.  The coaches were nice and straight shooters.  I got to see the football game, wrestling practice and spent time with the team.  I really like how the team was – everyone’s focus was on getting better and helping the rest of the guys get better.”

There have been several people who have helped Abidin get better over the years.  He mentioned Steve Hromada, who played an integral role in transforming him into a state champion at Half Hollow Hills East High.  And he said he has spent countless hours working with Vougar Oroudjov, both in high school and while at Nassau, improving all aspects of his wrestling.

“I can’t thank Steve Hromada enough for all he’s done for me,” Abidin said. “And I feel the same way about Vougar.  I think I’ve developed so much.  I finally picked up the college wrestling style – being aggressive but being smart and knowing how to wrestle well on top.  I’ve gotten better at all of those things.”

Abidin will redshirt this season at Nassau and have three years of eligibility left with the Huskers.  He will no doubt put the next year to good use, including spending time on an activity that was foreign to him until recently.

“I finally started to do something called lifting,” he said with a laugh.  “I never did it in high school.   I really just started lifting this summer.  I will put in another good year of hard work and will do everything I possibly can.”

He’s known for that.  In his semifinal match against Martin Gonzalez at the NJCAA National Championships, Abidin trailed 7-2 late in the second period.  He was frustrated by his opponent backing up and the fact that there was a 20 minute stop in the action as the referees and coaches tried to sort out a dispute.

“That match just about gave me a heart attack,” he said. “After the long break, I was really aggravated because I felt like my conditioning advantage was going away.  I was down by five and I knew I had a lot of work to do.  I kept attacking and even though I wasn’t scoring off my shots, I got three stalling points.  Finally, I hit a throw-by with one second left and scored two points to win it at the buzzer 8-7. It was amazing.”

Amazing.  Just like going from sixth in the county as a high school sophomore to a scholarship athlete in the Big 10 in just a few short years.