This story covers recent NYWAY trips to both California and Nevada. To read only about the Las Vegas trip, please skip down to Section 2 of the article.
When Michael LaPorte, the leader of the NYWAY trip to California last weekend followed up with the families of some of the team members over the past few days, the word ‘Alcatraz’ kept coming up.
“I called several of the parents to make sure everyone was doing okay,” LaPorte said. “The parents who weren’t on the trip all said their kids couldn’t stop talking about how cool the trip to Alcatraz was and how they wanted to go back. But they all said the wrestling was good too.”
Indeed, it was. For the second straight year a group of middle school/junior high New York wrestlers traveled to the Golden State through the NYWAY organization to meet some of the best in the West in both a dual meet event and an individual tournament (the Junior Mid Cals).
The squad began the journey by going 1-3 in the dual meets after forfeiting two weights due to injuries. However, day two was a different story, according to LaPorte.
“On the first day, I think there was a little bit of an adjustment and we were getting used to each other as coaches and wrestlers since a lot of us hadn’t worked together before,” he said. “On the second day, everyone really turned it up and wrestled great. I was extremely happy with how everyone competed.”
In fact, the squad came away with a third place finish at the Junior Mid Cals.
Courtesy of Michael LaPorte
Leading the way with 26 team points was a grappler who was very familiar with the tournament. Alexander’s Dane Heberlein was named the Most Outstanding Wrestler at the event last year and his return visit was successful as well as he took second place at 90 pounds after winning three of his four bouts.
“Dane was undefeated overall on both days going into the finals,” LaPorte said. “He had a couple of really good matches on the first day but came out on top every time. He was winning in the finals pretty handily after the first period but seemed to run out of gas and the kid caught him and pinned him. I think Dane was the better wrestler in the finals, but I guess it wasn’t meant to be.”
Also earning the silver medal for New York was 160-pounder Antonio Cutrie.
“Antonio did a great job throughout,” LaPorte said. “He went up against a really tough kid in the finals who was a Middle School National champion in Greco Roman. But he knew he wrestled well and he got us a lot of team points.”
When it came to team points, only Heberlein scored more than 85-pounder Dillan Palaszewski, who notched multiple pins on his way to third place.
“Dillan was like that silent killer. His demeanor is so quiet, but he just goes on the mat and does his thing,” LaPorte said. “He’s a very methodical, patient wrestler who is very gifted. He was 9-2 on the weekend and the two losses were to the same kid (who won the tournament). On the first day, he took a bit of a beating from the kid and on the second day it was a close match. He’s fun to coach and watch for sure.”
Joining Palaszewski in third were returning champion Orion Anderson (4-1 at 80 pounds) and Grant Cuomo (95 pounds).
“Orion lost a really, really tough one in the semis to the eventual champion,” LaPorte said. “He was up by two going into the third and got caught in a move and got put on his back. He wound up losing by a point. It was a heartbreaker. The first day he had a tough go of it, losing a few times, but he showed great resilience in coming back and wrestling great on the second day. Other teams definitely did their homework on him. He was heavily watched throughout – a lot of people were asking about him because they knew how good he is.”
Meanwhile, Cuomo tallied a 3-1 mark on the way to his bronze.
“Grant’s father gave me a little cheat sheet on him which helped me a lot in coaching him,” LaPorte said. “He was a little tentative on the first day, but totally different on day two. He let himself go and was relaxed on the mat and looked tough.”
Making the podium in fourth position was Anthony Cirillo at 100 pounds, who earned a technical fall and pin along the way. Also competing at that weight was Steven Kapuscinski, who picked up a victory.
“Cirillo wrestled really well. He had a lot of matches on the second day,” LaPorte said. “He wrestled tough, even toward the end where he was getting a little worn down. And Steven Kapucsinski – he’s a fighter. Conditioning wise, he was definitely one of the best on the team. It was amazing – he was as fresh in the third period as he was in the first every time.”
A pair of New Yorkers grabbed fifth, with Isaiah Bailey (105 pounds) and Zachary Kornberg (115) notching identical 3-2 marks in their respective brackets.
“Isaiah is one of the more mature wrestlers I’ve been around,” LaPorte said. “He’s traveled quite a bit and he’s a super respectful kid. He’s a really talented athlete and he showed maturity in how he handled his losses. He’s very cerebral in the sport.”
As for Kornberg, LaPorte was impressed with how he dealt with adversity.
“Zach had a great time. He was the one kid on our team from Long Island and so much was going on there with the hurricane,” LaPorte said. “I think the tournament was a good distraction for him. On the mat, he has a totally different style than most of the kids, but it was obviously effective. He had a lot of energy and heart.”
The same could be said for Connor Fredericks, who wrestled at 120 pounds.
“Connor went up against tough kids, never complained and was ready to go every time,” LaPorte said. “He fought hard and enjoyed everything. That’s all I could ask for.”
In his second trip to the Northern California event, Matthew LaPorte went 2-2 at 70 pounds while Michael Gonyea did the same at 75. The two often wrestle against each other in events in the Empire State and the tournament was an opportunity for them to be teammates, instead of opponents.
“Matthew and Michael were in two of the largest and toughest brackets, with multiple state and national champions,” LaPorte said. “They have a very unique situation and they are very competitive with each other, so the fact that they bonded on this trip meant a lot to me. They both stepped up and were in every match against excellent competition.”
Their efforts didn’t go unnoticed. In fact, Matthew LaPorte earned the tournament’s Coaches Award.
Matthew LaPorte with his award
“That meant a lot to me,” Michael LaPorte said. “I had no idea it was coming. The award was for showing respect and good stewardship for the sport and for wrestling tough. I was very proud. If any of the kids on our team got that award, it would have been the highlight of the trip for me, but I was of course super excited that my son won. It fit with what I kept hearing from people there. They kept saying our kids were animals on the mat but polite and respectful off the mat to boot.”
Of course, there was another trophy – the third place team award, which LaPorte attributed to not only the team members, but the parents who came along.
“We were hoping to have a better showing than last year and I believe we did, especially with the team trophy,” LaPorte said. “The parents who were there deserve so much credit and recognition for taking time out of their schedules and helping so much. Thank you to Anthony Cirillo, Jason Hoffman, Mary Palaszewski, Jeff Gonyea and Jerry and Julie Kapuscinski. Without them, we couldn’t have done what we did in wrestling and outside of it.”
Although they didn’t have too much time outside of wrestling, they certainly took advantage, spending time at the Fisherman’s Wharf, Lombard Street, Muir Woods, as well as other parts of San Francisco and, of course, Alcatraz.
“I think the kids got so much out of the sightseeing,” LaPorte said. “They really enjoyed that experience. The kids made new friends and that alone was worth the trip. I think the thing that stands out was that people said we left a really positive impression and that we represented New York State well. It was a blast.”
On November 1, another group of young wrestlers flew to Nevada as part of a separate NYWAY trip to compete at the NUWAY Southwest Kickoff. Included was a pair of New York wrestlers who were looking for great competition from the West Coast . . . and wound up facing each other in the finals.
In the 55-pound bracket (7/8 year old division), Carson Alberti and Carter Schubert met for the title. The two Empire State residents aren’t strangers. They’ve wrestled a number of times, with Alberti coming out on top several times in the spring. However, this time, Schubert earned the 2-0 victory and the championship after dominating his first several matches.
He began the tournament with a pin and then outscored his opponents 12-2 the rest of the way.
“When Carson and Carter wrestle, it’s always a tough match. It usually comes down to one takedown,” said Kevin Lucinski, who led the trip. “I think that’s the first time Carter has beaten him, but it was another great match between them.”
Also making the finals for Team New York was Michael Gonyea at 70 pounds in the 11/12 year old division. Gonyea began the event with two first period pins and then recorded an 8-1 decision before dropping the title bout to take second place.
“Mike wrestled really well,” Lucinski said. “He got caught in a pancake and that one move decided the match. I think he learned something from that match and he showed that he’s a really good wrestler.”
Andy Lucinski won a pair of decisions on the way to a fourth place finish in the 9/10 year old competition at 61 pounds while Justin Hoffman was eighth at 100-110 pounds in the same age group. Another Lucinski – Jakob – took the mat in the 5/6 year old competition at 37-40 pounds.
“Andy beat a NUWAY National Champion from Colorado in his first match and wrestled really tough, especially early on,” Kevin Lucinski said. “As for Justin, he was expecting to wrestle at 100 pounds but it became a 100-110 bracket, which was a little bit of a tough break. But he wrestled really hard. Jakob’s a first year wrestler who might have been the lightest kid in the tournament at about 35 pounds. I liked the way he went out and battled.”
Meanwhile, Caiden Mondore earned a 9-0 major decision in his opening contest at 80 pounds (11/12 year old). Also competing at the 11/12 year old age group was Josh Gill at 70 pounds and in the 7/8 group Garrett Skeens took the mat and earned a major at 52 pounds.
In the 13/15 year old group, AJ Burkhart and Mitch Seaver both wrestled at 89 pounds, with Burkhart picking up a victory in his first match before dropping two close decisions. Jason Hoffman, who wrestled for the varsity at Hadley Luzerne-Lake George as a seventh grader, lost his initial bout at 145 pounds but rallied to win four of his final five matches, including three pins, on his way to fifth.
“Jason battled all the way back,” Lucinski said. “It wasn’t easy – his bracket was loaded. Actually, the 13/15 division was insane; just stacked top to bottom with absolute monsters. At 89 pounds, both AJ and Mitch wrestled really well. They were beaten by very good kids – they only lost to placers. In AJ’s first loss, he battled hard against one of the top kids in the country, Zander Silva, and was in good position the whole time. It was 1-0 late in the match.”
There was a point at which the trip seemed to be in doubt. With the impact of Hurricane Sandy, it wasn’t clear that the wrestlers would get to Nevada in time.
“We didn’t know what to expect, but we really didn’t have any issues,” Lucinski said. “Half the kids flew from Buffalo to Washington and we were worried the flights would be cancelled. But ours was one of the first flights they let out, so we were lucky.”
Once in Sin City, the group did more than just wrestle. They had a great time visiting the aquarium, Mandalay Bay and walking around with some of the parents. The M&M store was also a big hit.
“We had a great time. The wrestling was great and so was everything else,” Lucinski said. “I would definitely want to do it again.”