Disney Duals Recap: New York Kong Captures Second at the Prestigious Event With an Impressive 10-1 Record

 
 
40 teams began the competition in the All-Star bracket at the AAU National Duals (Disney Duals) in Orlando on Saturday.

When the competition ended at the prestigious event on Tuesday evening, New York Kong captured second place after compiling a 10-1 record with victories over squads from places like Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Florida and South Dakota.

“It was just a great tournament,” said John Passaro, who made the trip and whose son Travis competed at 120 pounds. “The facilities were great, the experience was great. Taking second shows the direction New York wrestling is going. The team had some amazing wins.”

Indeed, after capturing eighth at this event in 2012, the group made it all the way to the finals, shown live on ESPN3.com. To get to that championship bout, the squad picked up a meaningful semifinal victory over Diesel, a Pennsylvania team that defeated the New Yorkers a year ago at this tournament.

“We wrestled lights out overall and especially in the semifinals against Diesel,” said Steve Hromada, who coached the team along with Anthony Ciolino. “Everyone was amped up and excited for that one, especially since they beat us pretty badly last year.  Getting payback was nice, but it wasn’t just that match.  The kids came together more and more as time went on – the more matches we wrestled, the hungrier and better they looked.”

That semifinal win was a hard fought one, with a 30-12 final score. The Ohio Hawks also provided a challenge in a 30-18 contest in the quarters.

However, the outcome in most of the earlier meets was never in doubt. In fact, the team won at least 12 of the 14 matches in each of the first seven duals, including shutouts.  The dominance wasn’t surprising considering the team featured state finalists at 10 weights and every spot in the lineup was filled by a top five NYS finisher (see roster below).

The first place tilt was a different story, however as the powerful Young Guns squad from the Keystone State came out on top convincingly.

“You never know how good you can be until you see a certain level,” Hromada said. “It was a humbling experience. We have very accomplished wrestlers who were fantastic, but the finals showed that you can always get better. Our state champs want to be more than that – they want to be national champs too.”

One national champion, Spencer Lee of Young Guns (ranked #2 in the country by FloWrestling at 106), began with a major decision for the Pennsylvania squad in the championship dual.

However, Ward Melville’s Nick Piccininni, who was a perfect 11-0 at Disney, responded with a decision over another highly-regarded foe, Luke Pletcher, at 113. (Pletcher sits fourth in the national rankings).

At that point, Young Guns led 4-3 on the scoreboard, but they took over from there, collecting several bonus point wins.

Gaining bonus points of his own was Hofstra-bound Mike Hughes of Smithtown West who ended the dual with a 9-1 major decision over Luke Fleck at heavyweight to complete an undefeated tournament. In addition to Piccininni and Hughes, 152-pounder Joe Mastro, who will attend North Carolina State, also notched an unblemished 11-0 mark on the trip.

“[Piccininni] is a true warrior and he has the attitude and tools needed to be an elite wrestler. It showed when he beat the competition he faced,” Hromada said. “Having Hughes as the anchor of your team is the best feeling. You know that you’re always in a good position at the end of the match and that you’ll end on a positive note. And Joe Mastro is a diamond in the rough. He has great technical skills, endurance and toughness.”

In addition to the unbeaten wrestlers, a number of others picked up “silver status” at the event with a single loss. According to Hromada, those included Eastport South Manor’s Travis Passaro (120), Columbia-bound Matt Leshinger (132) and future Binghamton Bearcat Nick Kelley (138). Despite an injury, Minisink Valley graduate Josh Bonneau (220) also racked up wins.

While the squad was looking for one more victory, the journey was seen as an undeniable success.

“We took out some great teams,” Hromada said. “We showcased ourselves and it was an eye-opening experience for some people. We had a bunch of people walk up and say they didn’t know New York could be that tough. It was a nice feeling.”

Leading the charge were coaches Ciolino and Hromada, who put together the very formidable crew to represent the Empire State.

“Anthony Ciolino and Steve Hromada assembled a great team,” John Passaro said. “There is so much that goes into assembling a team of accomplished wrestlers like this. There were no egos — all the kids, who are competitors with each other back home, were teammates this week. It’s very hard to coordinate schedules, meals and travel for 17 wrestlers and also wrestle at such a high level. The coaches did a wonderful job.”

The same could be said for the New York Kong wrestlers. They went from eighth in 2012 to second in 2013 at the Disney Duals. And they’ll be back for more in 2014.

“We’re working to perfect the system,” Hromada said. “We learned from last year and did things better this year and we’ll be even better prepared for next time. It was an absolute pleasure to be able to coach the elite athletes in New York this week and we’ll up the ante and go back looking to win it all next year.”

New York Kong – 2nd Place Disney Duals

106 Kyle Quinn, Wantagh (2013 State Champion)

106 Jesse Dellavecchia, East Islip (2013 State 4th)

113 Nick Piccininni, Ward Melville (2013 State Champion)

120 Travis Passaro, Eastport South Manor (2013 State 3rd)

126 Alex Delacruz, Ossining (2013 State Champion)

132 Matt Leshinger, Sayville (2013 State Champion)

138 Nick Kelley, Shenendehowa (2013 State Champion)

145 Brandon Lapi, Amsterdam (2013 State 2nd)

145 Frank Garcia, Norwich (2013 State 2nd)

145 Jakob Restrepo, Sachem East

152 Joe Mastro,Yorktown (2013 State 3rd)

160 Steven Schneider, MacArthur (2013 State 2nd)

170 Carlos Toribio, Brentwood (2013 State Champion)

182 James Corbett, Wantagh (2013 State 2nd)

195 Nick Weber, Kings Park (2013 State 5th)

220 Josh Bonneau, Minisink Valley (2013 State 4th)

285 Mike Hughes, Smithtown West (2013 State Champion)

Overcoming Forfeits and Wrangling Snakes: NY Kong Represents the Empire State at Disney Duals

 

Team NY Kong, Photo courtesy of Steve Hromada/Anthony Ciolino


There were some twists and turns along the way, but the Empire State’s debut in the All-Star division at the AAU Scholastic Duals (aka Disney Duals) was a success, as Team New York Kong took eighth place in Orlando in a competition that featured teams from all over the country.

“I’m so proud of these kids,” said coach Anthony Ciolino.  “What they did was awesome. To go to a national tournament, one of the toughest I’ve been to, and get to the All-American round is unbelievable, especially when you’re giving up as many points as we had to.”

According to Ciolino, who hadn’t participated in an AAU event before, the rules of the organization in New York limited the number of scoring team members by region of the state.  When he arrived in Florida, Ciolino was informed that some of the grapplers who had made the trip would not be allowed to figure into the scoring and therefore, every dual meet essentially began with a 12-0 deficit.

“We brought a great team – every one of the guys was an All-State wrestler,” Ciolino said. “I couldn’t believe we had to tell wrestlers like [state second placer finishers] Jacob Berkowitz, El Shaddai Van Hoesen and Nicky Hall that they could wrestle but their matches would be scored as forfeits for the other team.  Those guys wrestled very well, but every dual, 182 and 285 didn’t count.”

Early on, that didn’t matter.  The squad opened with four blowout victories over opponents from Ohio, Michigan and Delaware and went 6-1 overall in pool action, with the one setback against Pennsylvania’s Team Diesel, which was the eventual runner up.

The team then won its next two meets against teams from Missouri and Georgia before dropping its final two contests to Keystone Elite (PA) and Michigan’s MYWA Blue, bouts both Ciolino and Cornell-recruit Dylan Palacio felt would have gone differently with a full strength side.

“Looking at it, I think we were the third-best team there,” Palacio said.  “Diesel beat us, no question.  They were just really, really good.  But the other duals we could have won.  At that level, with nationally ranked kids everywhere, giving up 12 points in a dual [and 18 against Michigan with one team member having to leave], there’s no way to come back.  We took the challenge with a grain of salt and made the top eight.”

In the process of making the top eight, many individuals stood out.  Among them was a pair of undefeated wrestlers – Palacio and Frewsburg’s Nick Mitchell.

Palacio topped multiple nationally-ranked foes, including Pennsylvania state champion Garrett Peppelman, in his only close bout.  In fact, Peppelman took an early 5-0 lead, but Palacio chipped away at the deficit, eventually notching back points very late in the third period to get the victory.

“I wasn’t happy with how I wrestled in that match,” Palacio said. “I had to claw my way back.  There was a point in the match where I had to ask myself if I believed I could win.  But there was no going back. I wasn’t tired. I believed I should win every time I wrestled and I got it done.”

Nick Mitchell, Photo by Boris Veysman

Mitchell, who will attend Edinboro in the fall, got the job done as well.

“Nick Mitchell is one of the slickest kids in New York State.  He was really, really good,” Palacio said. “People like to talk about who’s better, D1 or D2 [Division 1 or 2] in New York.  After this weekend, I know that D2 kids are for real.  I might have been skeptical, but they shut me up really quickly.”

According to Ciolino, several other wrestlers registered seven or more victories for NY Kong during the event in addition to Mitchell and Palacio, including Marathon’s Lucas Malmberg, Lansing’s William Koll, Wayne’s Alec Dierna, Shenendehowa’s Nick Kelley, Williamsville East’s Dylan Cohen, Longwood’s Corey Rasheed, Medina’s Tristan Hamner and Niagara Wheatfield’s Max Antone.

“Hamner really battled and beat some very good kids,” Palacio said. “Antone surprised me. He was so athletic, doing flips and cartwheels.  I was in a state of shock.”

A similar state of shock may have been felt by a crowd at the team’s hotel as they saw a large snake on the premises. According to Ciolino, there was Palacio, standing near the lizard, speaking in an Australian accent, instructing people and trying to keep them calm.

“I was acting like the snake wrangler,” he said. “Everyone was listening to me.  That was a funny time, and there were so many others.  There was stuff like that all week. Everyone was funny and laid back.  We became really close – it was like wrestling with my friends and wrestling with family and there’s nothing better than that.”

“I couldn’t believe how the team jelled,” Ciolino agreed. “It didn’t feel like I brought a team from every corner of the state, even though that’s what I did.  It felt like the team was a bunch of guys who went to high school together.  They had a great time at the pool, at Disney World, playing jokes on each other. It was unbelievable.”

Despite some of the initial issues, it’s an experience Ciolino is hoping to repeat again in 2013.

“A lot of the juniors already told me they want to come back,” he said.  “It’s not a hard sell.  It’s a great place to be and you know the kind of competition you’ll see here.  The national exposure is great.  I had college coaches asking me about some of the guys. Now I know the rules and we want to do it again.”

That was a sentiment echoed by Palacio, although he’s headed to college.

“I went with a North Carolina team last year but this was way better,” he said. “I would love to do it all over again.  We took the good with the bad but in the end, I think we showed everyone that New York is for real.”

 

[Ciolino wished to thank Steve Hromada and Kim McClaugherty for all their work during the trip].

Team Members:

Lucas Malmberg, Marathon

Justin Cooksey, MacArthur

Jimmy Overhiser, Corning

William Koll, Lansing

Alec Dierna, Wayne

Nick Kelley, Shenendehowa

Dylan Cohen, Williamsville East

Corey Rasheed, Longwood

Tristan Hamner, Medina

Nicky Hall, Longwood

Dylan Palacio, Long Beach

Nick Mitchell, Frewsburg

Jacob Berkowitz, Scarsdale

Austyn Hayes, Phoenix

Max Antone, Niagara Wheatfield

El Shaddai Van Hoesen, Columbia