2013-14 Season Preview: With State Champion Rich Sisti Leading the Way, CHSAA Wrestlers on a Quest for Glory

 

BY MATT DIANO

With 10 of the 15 Catholic State Champions from last season having moved on, 2014 marks a year where the opportunity will be there for some new names and faces to surge to the head of the pack and create reputations for themselves. 

However, as great as it is to always infuse new blood into the system to keep the scene fresh, with such inexperience also comes the added responsibility of those with prior NYS tournament appearances to step up and outperform their previous efforts.  While small in number, this group of five veterans is so special that on any given day, I could see any one of them making it all the way to the center mat under the roof of the Times Union Center.

St. Anthony’s 2013 large school State runner up, Johnny Vrasidas (seeded 8th) taught us all last season that it is important to always envision yourself going all the way, because you just never know when the stars are going to align and your ship is going to come in.  That same magic exists in the hearts, souls, and faiths of all five of these student-athletes.  While different in their styles and approaches, all of them are battle tested and prepared for anything that gets thrown their way. Headlining this group will be defending state champion Richard Sisti, the 220-pound Division I titlewinner, who enters his senior season nationally ranked by all major publications. 

 

The Kingdom Of Heaven (Returning CHSAA Champs)

Twomey

John Twomey (St. Anthony’s)—A two-time defending Catholic state champion for the Friars, it is hard to imagine that anything will stand in the way of Twomey earning a third trip to Albany in his senior season.   A winner of 36 matches in 2013 (36-5), the talented lightweight just missed earning his first All-State distinction as a junior by a single victory, falling 4-2 in the blood round to West Babylon’s Steven Lee.  While he would ultimately fall short of the podium, Twomey more than demonstrated the wealth of his abilities when he notched a first round win over eventual 3rd place finisher, Jonathan Haas of Spencerport in Section V. A 12-month a year competitor, what makes Twomey so good is that like several of his teammates, he is never hesitant to test himself against the best in the land.  Last summer, he would make the journey to Fargo and emerge with a 4-2 overall record in Junior Freestyle competition.  Certified as a 113 pounder, Twomey represents the start of a Friar murderer’s row that could very well send four straight kids to the state capital next February.

Ben Lamantia (St. Anthony’s)—An impact wrestler on the varsity level since the 8th grade when he won nearly 20 matches for Commack High School, the defending Catholic league state champion has not slowed down a bit in the two years he has spent competing under the guidance of Antoni Walters.  A 3rd place finisher at the CHSAA tournament as a freshman in 2012 in a loaded 106-pound bracket, Lamantia would secure his first trip to the big dance in impressive fashion last season.  He won the 113-pound CHSAA crown behind a 3-0 record that witnessed him score bonus points in his first two bouts before wrapping up the hardware with a decisive 6-1 decision in the finals over rival Christian Briody of Chaminade.   Like Twomey, Lamantia would put forth a strong showing under the roof of the Times Union Center, but would meet a similar fate as his teammate, advancing to the consolation round of eight before dropping a 7-5 decision to Pine Bush’s John Stramiello.  The loss closed out a sophomore campaign where Lamantia finished 36-5.  A true wrestling junkie, there would be no rest for the weary, as he followed up his strong high school season by earning All-American honors in Virginia Beach, placing 7th at the NHSCA Sophomore Nationals.  Next, he would turn his attention to freestyle, where he would post a 4-2 record in Fargo on the Cadet level.  Most recently, the preseason favorite to win the 120-pound Catholic title would mirror his Fargo finish, going 4-2 at the Super 32 in October.

Joseph Russ (St. Anthony’s)—The last of what I often call the first family of New York State Catholic wrestling, Russ became the third sibling from his family to win an individual CHSAA title when he took home the top prize at 120 pounds last season.  His run to the gold, which saw him go pretty much untested (his closest match being a 14-0 major decision in the finals over Monsignor Farrell’s Austin Addis), erased the memories of having served as a bridesmaid during his freshman and sophomore seasons (both times, the person who beat him went on to make All-State). Should Russ repeat in 2014 (he is the favorite at 126), he would join older brother and decorated U.S. Marine, Stephen (three-time champion; 2005-2007) as a multiple time titlist. Their middle brother, Derick, was the 103-pound champ in 2003, with the oldest of the quartet, William, being a runner-up in 2002. More pressing than the idea of winning a second straight Catholic crown, the youngest of the Russ boys has his sights set on joining Stephen (placed 6th, 4th, and 3rd) as the second member of the clan to earn a spot on the podium in Albany.  In 2013, Joey would go 1-2 in his Times Union debut, losing a heartbreaker in sudden victory to eventual 4th place finisher, John Muldoon of Pearl River in the first round of the tournament. He would rebound with an 11-4 decision over Section IX’s PJ Smoot of Monroe-Woodbury, before being eliminated by the smallest of margins, 1-0 by Tottenville’s Santo Curatolo (PSAL) in a bout where he pushed the pace but was unable to finish from his feet and could not escape from bottom.  His 37 (37-4) wins were tied for the team lead last season with 2013 NYS runner up Vrasidas (currently competing for Sacred Heart University). The Vougar Honors Wrestling Club member will be every bit as good in his swan song following an active offseason where he went 2-2 at both the NHSCA Junior Nationals and the Super 32 Classic.

Freddie Dunau (St. Anthony’s)—The anchor of this year’s Friar squad, when you consider the accolades of the wrestlers listed above, it is a scary thought for the rest of the Empire State that Dunau is actually the best of the bunch.  A two-time NYS placewinner who finished 5th in 2011 (@96) and 2013 (@126), the future University of Pennsylvania student-athlete will be a heavy favorite to win his fourth Catholic state title this season.  Should he succeed (and realistically, only an injury can derail his chances), he would become the league’s first four-timer since 2000 NYS Champion/3x finalist Lucas Magnani accomplished the feat from 1999-2003 for St. Anthony’s.   In addition to joining the CHSAA 4xer club, Dunau enters this season with an even grander goal, to become just the fourth Friar wrestler to hoist the hardware in the state capital (current Hofstra 133-pound starter, Jamel Hudson, being the last to do it when he went all the way in 2012).  St. Anthony’s has put at least one wrestler into the NYS finals every year since 2010. With Dunau being the highest returning placewinner from a deep 126-pound weight class, if there was a best bet to continue with this tradition, he would be it. Known for his highly unorthodox style, the Ascend Wrestling Club/Craig Vitagliano protégé went 24-3 last season with all his losses coming at the hands of elite opponents (2012 NYS Champion Dylan Realbuto, 2013 State Champion TJ Fabian, and 2013 National Prep runner-up, Judson Preskitt).  In similar fashion to his teammates, Dunau is another in that breed of wrestler that is looking to always measure himself against the best in the land.  Last summer, he would represent New York at the USAW Junior Duals and in Fargo.  While his 4-12 record would leave something to be desired, it should be noted that the utilization of his background in acrobatics/gymnastics has always been better suited for folkstyle than it is for either international style.  Dunau is the kind of opponent who is dangerous for every one of the 360 seconds of the match.  More times than I can count on my fingers, I have seen him hit a move out of left field that left the opposition in a danger position.  He is the kind of foe that if you do not have a comprehensive scouting report ahead of time, will make you look silly in quick order.

Rich Sisti (Monsignor Farrell)—Nicknamed the “manchild” for good reason, the very sight of Sisti is enough to induce anxiety and fear in the hearts and minds of those who line up opposite him.  The lone returning NYS Champion from the Catholic League, Sisti became the first wrestler in Lion program history to win a NYS title when he went 4-0 in Albany at 220 pounds.  He finished his junior campaign at an unblemished 29-0 with 20 pins.  Armed with an unstoppable power-double and a wicked bar series, Sisti has clear NCAA DI potential if he is interested in competing at the next level.  A phenom since his youth days when he won the 2010 NYS schoolboy title, many inside the Farrell program were predicting a state crown for Sisti years in advance of it actually happening.  They would speak of the subject in a matter of fact manner that suggested that it was a question of “when” and not “if.”  Now that he is the king of the mountain, it will take a Herculean effort to dethrone him because pound-for-pound (and all 200+ pounds of him are chiseled granite) he may be one of the most dominant wrestlers in all of the “evil Empire” this season.  Ranked 15th in the nation per Flo, Sisti already put the rest of the field on notice when he cruised to his second straight Journeymen Classic title at the end of September. Putting the wins aside for a second, what makes Sisti stand out in my opinion is the fact that regardless of what he has done in the past, he refuses to allow himself to become complacent.  He is an individual who is driven to actually be the best version of himself.  An example of this is that rumor has it that when he discovered that he no longer was getting challenged in the room by any of his teammates or coaches, Sisti decided to start training one-on-one with the #1 wrestler in the Country (@182), two-time  New Jersey state champion, Johnny Sebastian, who he works out with routinely at the Apex Wrestling Club. As much of a lock to win yet another CHSAA title as Dunau, it is not a question of if Sisti will pin his way through the tournament, as much as it is a question of whether or not anyone can make it out of the first period against him.  Last season, he pinned all three of his Catholic opponents in an average of just over 48 seconds.  In 2012, he was on track to do it, but needed 3:15 in the finals.

 

At The Pearly Gates Looking In (Non-Champs who may break through in 2014)

Brian Kelly (St. Anthony’s)—A diaper dandy who is quickly drawing the praise of the Friar coaching staff and his teammates, Kelly comes to St. Anthony’s with quite the list of credentials as a youth competitor.  A 2012 NYS Schoolboy state champion, who also took 3rd in 2011 and was a Novice level state runner-up in 2010, if you needed any more convincing that this is a kid who is destined for great things, you need look no further than his performance at the 2013 Pop & Flo Mini Men Nationals where he was the 90-pound Intermediate level champion.  Kelly was also the Battle in the Coral Middle School Champion in March (91 pounds) as well as a 2013 NYS Cadet freestyle gold medalist at 94 pounds in May of this year. Most recently, he took home the top prize at the Wantagh Fall Brawl (three-way tie).  The only thing that may hinder this fab frosh could be his weight.  Certifying at 97 pounds, he will likely be giving away some size to his foes.

Stefan Lindbolm (Fordham Prep)—The only returning Catholic state placewinner (5th) from the 99-pound weight class in 2013, Lindbolm actually owns a head-to-head victory over Kelly, beating him 5-4 in the round-robin of the Wantagh Fall Brawl…As a freshman, the Ram won close to 20 matches, rotating between 99 and 106 to accommodate his teammate, 2013 CHSAA runner-up, Chris Martorello, who was at the same weight class last season.  With the experience factor working in his favor, Lindbolm could prove to be a difference maker for Coach Kernochan as he looks to replace the points that were scored last season by three-time Catholic Champion/2013 NYS bronze medalist, Sam Melikian.

Christian Briody (Chaminade)—The wrestler that likely poses the biggest threat to Russ at 126 pounds. Briody is a seasoned veteran who has been competing on the varsity level since 2010 (7th grader at Locust Valley) and more than possesses the experience and polish to pull the upset.  Injured during his freshman year at the Mineola based school in 2012, Briody would make up for lost time last season, pinning his first two opponents at the Catholic state tournament to advance to the final, where he dropped the previously cited decision to Lamantia.  Now, with a different Friar standing between him and a trip to Albany, Briody will need to elevate his game if he hopes to improve upon last season’s runner up finish.  Victorious in 33 matches (33-7) with 13 falls to his name, Briody trains at Ascend Wrestling Club and is active on the offseason circuit, joining most of the elite Catholic wrestlers in making the rounds at the various regional and national events.  A double Cadet NYS runner-up in the international disciplines in 2013, Briody competed in Virginia Beach (2-2 at NHSCA Sophomore Nationals) Fargo (going 1-4 combined), and Greensboro (2-2 at the Super 32) among his many road trips in a pursuit of wrestling excellence.  During his sophomore campaign, the Lattingtown resident would also just miss placement at the Eastern States Classic, which demonstrates that when at his best, Briody can not only win the Catholic gold, he can also threaten for a spot on the podium at the NYS Tournament.

Ralph Maio (Monsignor Farrell)—A two-time Catholic state placewinner who is on track to be an Ironman Award recipient (given to those wrestlers who place all four years at the CHSAA tournament), Maio continues to make huge leaps from one year to the next.  In 2012, he finished 4th at 113, losing to St. Anthony’s Nick Ronan by major decision.  By the end of last season, not only did Maio raise his game to the tune of a runner up finish, he did so by beating Ronan in the semifinals.  In speaking to the Farrell coaching staff, the consensus is that if there is going to be a breakout star for them during this season, it very well could be Maio.  The talent is certainly there for him to make his way to titletown in 2014 if the Farrell coaches are able to get him at a weight class that allows him to avoid the logjam that seems to exist at 132/138.  Depending on where some of the other budding stars end up, it is very feasible to see Maio making a run at anywhere from 138 all the way up to 152.  A winner of 20+ matches in 2013, Maio’s success this season will very much impact the team race.  He is one of the horses that coaches Phil Squatrito and Rob Pavis will need to score beaucoup points in order to keep pace with the firepower being brought by St. Anthony’s.  During the offseason, Maio took the trip to Pennsylvania to participate in Flo Nationals, picking up a win.

Danny Jones (Chaminade)/Kevin Jackson (St. Anthony’s)—The reason these two talented studs are being packaged together is that early talk suggests that their individual fates will be intertwined again for the second consecutive season.  Whether it be at 138 or 145, one of these two Long Islanders will likely be bound for the state capital in 2014.  Last season, it was Jackson getting the better of the head-to-head match-up, beating Jones in the Nassau/Suffolk League finals by a score of 3-0.  However, as it pertains to bullet points, Jones, who had a one year head start, is the only one of the two that has made the Catholic State finals, which he has done in each of the last two years, losing both times in the title match.  Jackson on the other hand has had to settle for a pair of fourth place outcomes in his two years on the Friar varsity. Jones, who not so long ago announced that he had committed to wrestle for Davidson University in North Carolina, posted a 34-8 record last season versus the 23-14 record of compiled by Jackson (against a more challenging non-league schedule).  In terms of offseason activity, Jackson had a runner up finish at the Journeymen Classic (in the “C” bracket), and also took the trip down South where he went 1-2 at the Super 32.  Both participated in their respective NHSCA National tournaments, with Jones picking up a win all the way up at 152 pounds in the Junior division, whereas Jackson remained at his seasonal weight, going 3-2 in sophomore competition. Having both trained at Ascend during their scholastic careers, these two combatants know each other so well that, on any given day, the outcome could shift with the tiniest of adjustments.

Jones, Photo by SJCI Wrestling Club

Richie Jones (St. Joseph’s Collegiate Institute)—Speaking of gems named Jones, there may not be a student-athlete that I am pulling more for in 2014 than this junior Marauder.  A two-time CHSAA placewinner for the school from the Buffalo region, Jones took 5th as a freshman at 145 pounds and appeared to be well on his way to picking up his first crown when he led Chaminade senior, Declan Gray, late in the 152-pound championship bout last season.  Unfortunately, the honor of hoisting the hardware would not be in the cards for Jones as Gray (currently wrestling for Hunter College) would rally in the last half minute to emerge with the “W”.  When you consider that Gray would later go on to just miss All-State recognition, it puts into perspective how good Jones is. With returning Catholic state gold medalist Garrett Baugher (champ at 99 in 2013) believed to be stepping away from the mat to focus on a promising future on the baseball diamond, Jones instantly became coach Pete Kennedy’s best bet to have an individual titlist in 2014.  Now an upperclassman, the pressure will be on him to lead by setting the example of what it takes to get into the winner’s circle.  Approaching the 40-win plateau as a sophomore (39-10), Jones certified at the 160 pound weight class but most of his recent activity has been up at much higher weights (competed at 182 for the Journeymen Classic).  Given his pedigree that includes an All-American showing (6th @160) at the 2013 NHSCA Sophomore Nationals, Jones would have to be considered a strong candidate to win at 160-182.

Jacob Braunscheidel (Saint Francis High School)— Braunscheidel perhaps gets overlooked by many Catholic wrestling enthusiasts because they do not get to see much of him with St. Francis competing in Buffalo.   Last year, in only his sophomore season, Braunscheidel really put himself on the CHSAA map when he wrestled his way into the 170-pound semifinals before eventually taking home third place honors.  Just missing the opportunity to compete again at this weight class (certified at 175), if Jones elects to drop down to 170 for the postseason, his fellow upstater could definitely reap the benefits by sliding into the #1 spot at 182.  Braunscheidel won 25 matches last season versus only seven losses.  A multiple-sport athlete, Braunscheidel also excelled on the defensive side of the ball for the Red Raider football team.

Connor Watson (Chaminade)—Another wrestler whose lot in life (or at least on the mat) would be greatly enhanced if Richie Jones moves down to 170 would be returning 182-pound Catholic runner up, Connor Watson of the defending team champion Flyers. A two-time placer who in addition to his silver medal effort last season also took home 5th as a sophomore at 170, Watson is said to have really turned up his intensity in the practice room over the course of the last few months.  While I have not seen him with my own two eyes, reports coming out of the Ascend Wrestling Club is that he is much improved and is ready to make a serious run at a title in his final season of scholastic eligibility. The senior from Wantagh went 33-5, losing in last year’s finals to eventual NYS 6th place finisher, Matthew Roberts (formerly of Monsignor Farrell).  As a follow up to a solid junior campaign, Watson would compete at the NHSCA Junior Nationals, where he went 1-2.  This past October, he would take the top honors at the Wantagh Fall Brawl.

Photo by Phillip Rufo

Mazen Hassan (Monsignor Farrell)—In only his third year as a wrestler, the Lion big man is one to watch simply because most other programs cannot put out an opponent that can match his size and strength.  A lineman on the Farrell football team, you know you are one big dude when you actually have to cut in order to make the 285-pound maximum.  Per MSG Varsity’s CHSAA football rosters, the two-time Catholic State placewinner (3rd in 2012; runner-up in 2013) tipped the scales at an even 300 pounds.  Hassan has already successfully made the cut and is off to a fast start, dominating all of his matches in the recently concluded PSAL/BTS Holiday Dual Tournament.  With arch-nemesis, Chris Alianakian (last year’s Catholic Champ from Kellenberg) having now graduated, the heavyweight title is finally Hassan’s for the taking.  The owner of a 22-12 record last season, Hassan pinned his way into the finals before dropping a hard fought 2-0 decision to his Firebird foe.  While he remains raw in many ways and will take the occasional head-scratching loss, when this gentleman is on his “A game”, he is a bad draw for anyone.  This was very evident when in the finals of last year’s Mayor’s Cup, Hassan came very close to pinning 2013 Eastern States placewinner/PSAL Champion, Shaq Williams.  However, his inexperience would cost him and he would get reversed to his back.  Now that he has more time under his belt, it is an error that he will not make in 2014.

 

Not Cain, but Able (Younger Brothers who Could do Big things in 2014)

Nico Francolino (St. Joseph’s by the Sea)—The younger brother of Ironman Award winner (5th, 3rd, 2nd, 1st)/2011 Catholic State Champion, Joe, this 99-pound freshman started earlier in the sport and is expected to exceed the accomplishments of his older brother by the time his scholastic career comes to an end.  Considering what his sibling did for Monsignor Farrell from 2008-2011, Nico will have his hands full trying to live up to the family name.  Perhaps helping to take some of that pressure off his shoulders is the fact that little bro will have the freedom to carve out his own legacy at a different school.  Rather than competing for the perennial NYC Catholic powerhouse, the younger Francolino will be cultivated under the watchful eye of Jeff Vetrano at St. Joseph’s by the Sea. A 2012 NYS Schoolboy runner up at 70 pounds, Francolino also finished 6th as a Novice in 2011.  Certifying at only 82 pounds, to a much greater extent, Francolino may very well run into the same size problems that could affect Kelly.  Because of this disadvantage, Francolino may still be a year away from being the impact performer that we know he can be.  But alas, we believe in his potential to such a degree that we wanted to get his name out there as soon as possible so the rest of the CHSAA aficionados can track his progression.

Steven Roberts (Monsignor Farrell)—Just when the rest of the Catholic League thought they had rid themselves of the Roberts name, Steven came into the picture.  Similar to his brother Matthew, a two-time CHSAA champ/2013 NYS placewinner (6th @182), Steven is known for his endless gas tank and will often take control of matches in the third period when he has his opponents fatigued.  A freshman in a 132 or 138 weight class that will include many upperclassmen, Roberts may not make it three titles in a row for the family, but he will most definitely be in the equation when it comes to making the medal stand in 2014.  A product of the Lions’ Club that has developed all of the Farrell greats over the course of the past decade, former Lion assistant coach, Jason Bross, is already predicting that Steven will have a better career than Matt.  Roberts picked up a win (1-2) in the Schoolboy division of the 2013 NYS Youth Tournament, but we are putting him on this list because of the adulation he has received from his coaches.

Alex Melikian (Kennedy Catholic)—Alex will be following in the footsteps of his three-time CHSAA crown winning/2013 NYS placewinning brother, Sam.  He very likely would have been among the newcomers to watch in the CHSAA last season if not for a season ending injury that he suffered prior to the start of 2012/2013. Like Francolino, Melikian will have luxury of not having to walk in the shadow of an incredibly successful older brother.  After starting his career at Fordham Prep and watching from the seats as Sam wrapped up his legendary (for CHSAA standards) career, Alex made the decision during the offseason to follow his Iowa Style Wrestling Club coach, John Degl, to Kennedy Catholic, which will be celebrating its inaugural season in 2013-2014. A 2012 NYS Schoolboy 4th place finisher at 152 pounds, Melikian has been a known commodity in CHSAA circles for years.  Now that he is healthy and ready to go, we look forward to seeing him make noise.  Posting a 4-1 record at the Columbus Day Duals for ISW, Alex could very well be the one who quickly puts Kennedy Catholic on the map.  As someone who is bigger than your traditional high school sophomore, he will likely have to tangle with many upperclassmen, but his internal drive and desire to get his hand raised with make him a bad draw for anyone in the Catholic League and beyond.

Michael Newman (Monsignor Farrell)—A wrestler whose stock is on the rise after crushing the competition while winning titles at the Steeplechase and Lions’ Club Opens (predominantly consisting of wrestlers from the five boroughs), the 2013 170-pound CHSAA 4th place finisher has enjoyed a nice growth spurt and is being looked at as a potential title threat at 195 pounds. The sibling of 2008 Catholic state champion, John, one Farrell insider gone on the record to say that Michael has made such progress from the end of last season to the beginning of this one that he may have already surpassed his older brother in terms of overall talent level.  Referred to as an “Ox” by Bross, Newman has such pure horsepower that he can often dictate terms to his opponents by throwing them all over the mat.  Last season, he finished his sophomore season with a record of 19-8, including an 8-4 decision over 160-pound CHSAA runner up, Chris DelGatto (Chaminade) at the CHSAA Duals.  With the way momentum is moving in his favor, it would come as a surprise to no one if Newman ended up making his family the first in program history to have siblings each go all the way.

Peter Corbett (St. Anthony’s)—The younger, but bigger brother of 2013 NYS 182-pound runner-up, James (competed for Wantagh High School in Section VIII), Corbett has placed in the top-4 at the Catholic state tournament in each of his two years competing for the Friars.  A bronze medalist as a freshman, Corbett would take a small step backwards, finishing 4th last season.  A starting defensive lineman on the 2013 NYSCHSFL Champions, Corbett has never been misleading in stating that the gridiron is his preferred place of work.  However, while his heart may belong to football, one cannot overlook the fact that he has more than held his own on the mat.  After being a little non-committal about whether he intended to compete last season, Corbett seems more intent on continuing as a multiple sport star.  If this new attitude is accompanied by an unrelenting will to win, the rest of the league should watch out.  Projected at 195 pounds, one would have to think that Corbett would join Newman as the co-favorites to represent the Catholic league in the state capital at this weight class.

 

Team Race

1. St. Anthony’s—Led by that quartet of defending champions, not only will St. Anthony’s be hungry to regain the CHSAA team title, the squad will also be excited at the possibility of making a run at the NYS title.  With the possibility of sending upwards of six or seven guys to Albany this year, the numbers alone will make the Catholic power a team to watch.  While Twomey, Lamantia, Russ, and Dunau are the ones that get the most press, the reality is that this Friar squad has talent all throughout the lineup.  In fact, in some cases, the reserves could be quality starters for other CHSAA teams.  With 10 total All-Catholic wrestlers back from 2013, what I feel will ultimately enable them to be the crème de la crème of CHSAA programs in 2014 are the guys who are going to quietly sneak up on you and put up points.  In other words, it is the contributions of Brian Flynn (4th @99), Rich Antonacci (3rd @120), Marshall Winston (3rd @126), and Andrew Pryor (2nd @145), as well as Kelly, Jackson, and Corbett that put this team over the top.

2. Monsignor Farrell—Fresh off of an impressive victory over Brooklyn Tech in the finals of the PSAL/BTS Holiday Dual Tournament, the Lions are riding a high.  While their victory in the World’s Most Famous Arena was not surprising, the margin of the win did not go unnoticed.  To be able to go in and post a 20-point win over another solid team in the B’Tech Engineers means that this might be a Farrell squad that is prepared to do whatever it takes to overachieve.  On paper, the potential is there for the Staten Island school to match the firepower of the Friars.  Sisti is pretty much a sure thing to three-peat as a champion and if Maio, Newman, and Hassan also ascend to the top spot, it would go a long way towards keeping Farrell neck-and-neck with the Long Island rivals.  Complementing this group of front runners will be the likes of Austin Addis (2nd @120), Karl Weisner (6th @138), Brian Morales (3rd @152), and lightweight extraordinaire, Matt Seitz, who was considered a likely top-4 placewinner as a freshman last season before the injury bug sidelined him just prior to the start of the postseason.  Will this be enough to outpoint St.Anthony’s? I honestly do not know, but I can promise that however things turn out, it will be war where every win and bonus point will be worth their weight in gold.

3. Chaminade—The defending Catholic School champions find themselves in something of a transition year.  After 40 years at the helm of the Marianist school, Hall of Fame head coach George Dlugolonski has stepped away and left the program in the hands of longtime assistant, Scott Cole.  In addition to the change at the top, there will also be some fresh faces on the bench in the assistant roles as 2012 NCAA All-American Justin Accordino and his former Hofstra teammate Daniel Manley will join 2012 EIWA champion Dave Foxen (Brown University) in making up one of the deepest benches in CHSAA history.  Adding to the period of adjustment will be the fact that the Flyers graduated both of their 2013 CHSAA champions, with the previously mentioned Gray being at Hunter and 195-pound champ, Danny Fowler, trading in the headgear for a lacrosse stick at Duke University. Still, just going by the talent that returns from last year’s team, there should be more than enough big guns to keep Chaminade as a top three program in 2014.  Led by Briody, Jones, and Watson, the Flyers are counting on solid efforts from Sean Watson (2013 league champion at 99 pounds; did not place at CHSAA States), Andrew Hotton (6th @99), Sean Richards (3rd @160), and Charles Pederson (4th @220).  Unfortunately, the season has not even commenced yet for the Flyers and they already have suffered a major loss when it was revealed that 2013 CHSAA 3rd place finisher, Joseph Boccardo (106) will be out for the year with an eye injury.  Another potential Catholic finalist for Chaminade, this is the second time in three years that Boccardo has been shelved with an injury.  As a freshman, he looked to be well on his way to challenging Twomey for the 99-pound title, only to go down a week before the postseason.

4. Fordham Prep—The 7th place finisher in the 2013 standings, Fordham Prep finds itself in a top-5 position by virtue of returning five All-Catholic wrestlers from last season.  As noted above, the graduation of Sam Melikian certainly leaves the Rams without a marquee superstar, but short of that, they are a complete team that will possesses many under the radar guys who are capable of rising to the occasion and pulling off significant victories.   Just last weekend, they gave us a preview of how tough they can be when they finished 3rd at the PSAL/BTS Holiday Tournament, despite being seeded lower.  Serving as the catalysts for the team this year will be Martorello (2nd @99), sophomore sensation Adam Santoro (the 2013 runner up at 126 to Dunau who if not for all of the talent in the middleweights would have been a featured student-athlete in this preview), Gabriel Papadatos (3rd @182), and Conor O’Brien (6th @152).  Lindbolm is likely the best bet for a champ in 2014, but the collection of talent in this paragraph shows that he will have plenty of support.

5. St. Francis—The team that took 4th place honors last season when all was said and done, like Fordham Prep, the Red Raiders bring back five All-Catholic wrestlers in 2014.  Sitting at the head of the table for Mike Messore’s team will be Braunscheidel who will be in pursuit of the program’s first individual title since Jim Widger won the 119-pound class in his own gym back in 2009.  Joining Braunscheidel in making up the nucleus of Buffalo’s top Catholic school will be Travis Bittner (5th @113),  Matt Muffoletto (5th @120), Mike Miller (6th @126), and Jim Canterbury (4th @160)

 

Returning NYS Tournament Qualifiers from 2013:

John Twomey (St. Anthony’s): 2-2 @106 pounds

Ben Lamantia (St. Anthony’s): 2-2 @113 pounds

Joseph Russ (St. Anthony’s): 1-2 @120 pounds

Freddie Dunau (St. Anthony’s): 5th @126; 5th @96 in 2011

Richard Sisti (Monsignor Farrell): State Champion @220 pounds

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St. Anthony's "Renaissance Man" Freddie Dunau, a Two-Time State Placer, Chooses Penn

Freddie Dunau is a national champion.

In 2011, he and his cousin captured a title at the Hershey Nationals – in hip hop dancing.

That’s the just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to extra curricular activities for the St. Anthony’s senior, a student with a weighted average over 100 and a 2220 SAT score.  He coaches a breakdancing team and a gymnastics squad.  (Dunau is a gymnast as well).  He rides unicycles.  And, of course, he’s an accomplished wrestler.

“He’s a very special kid,” said his club coach, Craig Vitagliano of Ascend. “He’s a Renaissance man.”

Indeed he is.  A number of elite schools noticed his impressive resume during the recruiting process.  However, he’s now off the market as he announced recently that he will attend the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania after considering colleges such as Columbia, Harvard and NYU.

Photo courtesy of Freddie Dunau

“After my visit to Penn, I felt like I knew where I wanted to be,” the future Division I 149-pounder said. “Everyone was very welcoming and it seemed like a really good environment for me. It’s nice to know where I’m going.  Now I have a lot of pressure off for the rest of the year.”

Dunau will be joining another CHSAA alum, Andrew Lenzi (Fordham Prep), in Philadelphia. Lenzi was a New York State champion, an accomplishment that Dunau hopes to repeat.  But first, he has another goal in mind.

“I want to be a four-time Catholic [CHSAA] state champion this year,” Dunau said. “A few people placed four times, but not many have won it all four years.  I would be part of a select group to accomplish that.”

He’ll be the favorite to do so, likely at 138 pounds.  He won his first CHSAA title as a freshman 96 pounder and then went on to make an impact at the state tournament.

“I knew I wanted to wrestle in Albany,” he said of his ninth grade campaign. “Getting there was awesome.  When I first got there, I was a little bit nervous, but once I was on the mat, I blocked everything out and it was just like any other match.  I didn’t pay attention to the crowd.”

It’s no surprise that a loud arena didn’t faze Dunau. After all, he performed in front of larger audiences at Madison Square Garden as a four-year member of the Knicks City Kids.

“I was on the dance team that performed at Knicks home games until I was 13,” he said. “We’d do hip hop routines, flips and all kinds of tricks.”

No tricks were needed by Dunau in that first appearance in the state capital in 2011 as he took fifth place at 96 pounds as a freshman with three wins, including a major and a pin.

He expected to achieve more as a sophomore at 106 pounds.  However, Dunau’s return trip to Albany didn’t quite go as planned.

“I thought I had a really good shot to win the state championship that year,” he said. “I wasn’t feeling well and when it came time to weigh in, I had 102 fever.  It was extremely challenging to make weight.”

He did, and actually pinned his first opponent.  However, he lost his next two bouts and went home without a second medal.

“One of the things I always pride myself on is good endurance,” he said. “I don’t think up to that point I had ever lost a match because I got tired. But I felt like I had no energy whatsoever.  When I watch the videos of myself, it was like I was crawling to the center of the mat.  It was disappointing. It made me angry that I didn’t wrestle the way I knew I could. It definitely motivated me.”

That motivation paid off in a 24-3 record as a junior in 2012-13 at 126 pounds.

When the brackets were released for the New York championships, Dunau saw that he was set to face former NYS champion and fourth seed Mark West of Hauppauge in round one.  West was one of the favorites after capturing the Suffolk County crown in a loaded bracket in which eventual state champion TJ Fabian (now at Sacred Heart) took third.

“At first, I was a little bit nervous, but then I figured if I was going to wrestle [West] at some point, it might as well be first,” Dunau said. “I found that my style works well against his because he did a lot of moves that I have counters for. It worked out well.”

It did, as Dunau came out on top by a 7-3 score.  He continued on with a 1-0 victory over Mike Raccioppi of Minisink Valley before losing in the semifinals to Fabian.  Dunau then split a pair of bouts in the consolations to earn fifth place for the second time in his career.

But despite the podium finish, that contest against Fabian remains fresh in his mind.  Especially since he estimates that he’s viewed it at least 60 times.

“I watched that match over and over and over again and I know what mistakes I made,” he said. “I’ve been working hard to correct them and hopefully that leads me to win it this year.”

Adding a state title to the resume?  It would just be another achievement for a “Renaissance Man” heading to the Ivy League.

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Freddie Dunau wanted to thank the members of his family.  He said “they take me everywhere I need to go, support me at all my matches, whether they’re in Ohio or Long Island, and are just great people.”

New York Wrestlers Ready to Make Their Mark at the Super 32 Challenge

Last year, Jamel Hudson and Maverick Passaro kicked off their state championship seasons by making the podium at one of the nation’s toughest tournaments, the Super 32 Challenge in Greensboro, North Carolina. Both showed their skills in fields loaded with All-Americans and top 100 recruits, with Hudson (now a Hofstra freshman), grabbing fourth at 132 pounds while Passaro (Rutgers) earned eighth in the 126-pound bracket.

This year, over 60 New York wrestlers are entered in the high school division and an additional 19 in the middle school competition.  Action begins on Saturday and runs through Sunday.

Sean Peacock, Photo by Boris V

So, who from the Empire State will earn a spot on the podium this weekend? Here are some of the many candidates:

A pair of 2012 state champions will be taking the mat as Ward Melville’s Nick Piccininni and Sean Peacock of Midlakes are registered at 113 and 120 pounds, respectively.  In addition, 2012 state silver medalists Justin Cooksey (126), Vincent Deprez (138), Drew Hull (152) and Shayne Brady (182) are entered, as is bronze winner Isaiah Riccio, who will be at 145.

The parade of All-State wrestlers continues as New Rochelle’s Nick Barbaria, Locust Valley’s Nick Casella and Holley’s Andrew Flanagan are set to go at 106 while Shoreham Wading River’s TJ Fabian, General Brown’s Ryan Snow and 2011 NYS placer Freddie Dunau will be at 126.  In addition, Oxford’s Joe Nelson (113) and Bellmore JFK’s Robert Person (120) will take the mat, as will NHSCA Junior National champion Chris Araoz (at 132).

But the previous New York medalists aren’t the only threats to excel.  In 2011, John Keck (now a freshman at Navy) took third at the Super 32 without having earned All-State honors in his career to that point.  Many other New Yorkers look to follow that path.

Several of the top young wrestlers in New York are set to compete in the Middle School event.  One interesting matchup could take place at 100 pounds where  Intermat‘s #5 ranked Junior High wrestler in the nation, Yianni Diakomihalis of Hilton, could collide with Syosset’s Vitali Arujau.  They were both victorious in different brackets at the Journeymen Classic near Albany a few weeks ago.

The full list of Empire State participants at the Super 32 is below:

 

High School

106 Pounds:

Nick Barbaria (New Rochelle)

Christian Briody (Chaminade)

Ryan Burns (Clarence)

Nick Casella (Locust Valley)

Tito Colom (Scorpion/Cobra)

Jon Errico (Byram Hills)

Brandon Fay (Fox Lane)

Andrew Flanagan (Holley)

Andrew North (Pine Bush)

Jack Scurti (Half Hollow Hills East)

113 Pounds:

Timothy Johnson (Harborfields)

Ben Lamantia (St. Anthony’s)

Joe Nelson (Oxford)

Nick Piccininni (Ward Melville)

120 Pounds:

Travis Alexander (Long Island Lutheran)

Steven Bulzomi (Connetquot)

Anthony Calvano (Nanuet)

Mike D’Angelo (Commack)

Jeffrey Gould (Pittsford Mendon)

Sean Peacock (Midlakes)

Robert Person (Bellmore JFK)

Joe Russ (St. Anthony’s)

Adam Santoro (Fordham Prep)

126 Pounds:

Justin Cooksey (MacArthur)

Freddie Dunau (St. Anthony’s)

TJ Fabian (Shoreham Wading River)

Travis Passaro (Eastport South Manor)

Blaise Rufo (Monsignor Farrell)

Ryan Snow (General Brown)

132 Pounds:

Chris Araoz (Wantagh)

Sam Melikian (Fordham Prep)

Conor O’Hara (Sachem East)

Jon Silveri (Arlington)

138 Pounds:

Vincent Deprez (Hilton)

Kevin Jackson (St. Anthony’s)

Jakob Restrepo (Sachem East)

Sam Ward (Locust Valley)

145 Pounds:

Nick Alessandrini (St. Anthony’s)

Anthony Deprez (Hilton)

John Doherty (Monticello)

Matthew Haenel (Half Hollow Hills East)

Isaiah Riccio (Beaver River)

John Vouzonis (Herricks)

152 Pounds:

Mike Dusold (Locust Valley)

Declan Gray (Chaminade)

Drew Hull (Royalton Hartland)

Joseph Koshakow (Scarsdale)

Connor Lawrence (Duanesburg)

Rowdy Prior (Phoenix)

Matthew Russo (Horace Mann)

Paul Schoenberg (Baruch)

160 Pounds

Joe Mastro (Yorktown)

Andrew Psomas (Monsignor Farrell)

Jun Yoo (Jericho)

170 Pounds:

Johnny Vrasidas (St. Anthony’s)

Austin Weigel (Onteora)

182 Pounds:

Shayne Brady (Carthage)

Matt Roberts (Monsignor Farrell)

Kevin Rodriguez (Patchogue-Medford)

Dan Smith (South Jefferson)

195 Pounds:

Chris Chambers (East Islip)

Collin Pittman (Spencerport)

220 Pounds:

Roman Accetta (Poly Prep)

Nelson Wymbs (Horace Greeley)

 

Middle School

70 Pounds:

Michael Gonyea (East Greenbush)

Drew Schafer (Marion)

75 Pounds:

Adam Busiello (Eastport South Manor)

Salvatore Jones (Lindenhurst)

Dylan Ryder (Candlewood)

80 Pounds:

Joseph Russo (Wantagh)

85 Pounds:

John DeRidder (Carle Place)

Tony Negron (631 Elite)

90 Pounds:

AJ Burkhart (Waverly)

Peter Pappas (POB)

Jack Ward (Locust Valley)

95 Pounds:

Hector Colom (Scorpion/Cobra)

Zachery Lawrence (Duanesburg)

100 Pounds:

Vitali Arujau (Syosset)

Yianni Diakomihalis (Hilton)

105 Pounds:

Zachary Ancewicz (John Glenn)

112 Pounds:

Hunter Dusold (Locust Valley)

120 Pounds:

Louis Deprez (Hilton)

157 Pounds:

Michael Spallina (Hilton)

 

In Search of 'Jamel Hudson': CHSAA Looks to 2013 for the Birth of its Next Superstar (CHSAA Preview)

 

 

By Matt Diano

Returning Placewinners (2012 Weight):

106 Pounds: Freddie Dunau, St. Anthonys – placed fifth at 96 pounds in 2011; Went 1-2 in 2012 @106 pounds despite wrestling with a 100+ degree fever the day of the state tournament

Other Returning State Qualifiers (2012 Weight):

99 Pounds: John Twomey, St. Anthony’s

120 Pounds: Blaise Rufo Monsignor Farrell

126 Pounds: Sam Melikian Fordham Prep

160 Pounds: John Vrasidas St. Anthony’s

182 Pounds: Matt Roberts Monsignor Farrell

195 Pounds: Rich Sisti Monsignor Farrell

 

Breaking Down the Top Dogs

John Twomey – Expected to be at a loaded 106-pound weight class this season, it is hardly a foregone conclusion that the Friar upperclassman will make it back to Albany in 2013.  After having a very quiet freshman year in 2011 where he was not officially listed on the St. Anthony’s roster, Twomey had a breakout year last season, winning just under 30 matches and pretty much cruising to the Catholic state crown, going unscored upon in three matches to pitch the 32-0 shutout at the championship tournament.  In Albany, Twomey, who is also an accomplished submission grappler (having won or placed high at multiple NAGA tournaments) went 0-2, having the misfortune of running into the eventual fourth (Joe Calderone) and fifth (Bryan Lantry) placewinners in back-to-back matches.

Freddie Dunau, courtesy of St. Anthony's Facebook

Freddie Dunau – While there never is a sure thing in the sport of wrestling, Friar junior Freddie Dunau may be the closest thing the CHSAA has to it.  A two-time CHSAA champion/NYS qualifier entering his junior year, Dunau has gone untested in two years in the Catholic league, routinely winning all of his matches by bonus points.  Known for his unorthodox style that combines his passion for wrestling with his other athletic interest, gymnastics, Dunau has an uncanny ability to put you on your back in the blink of an eye.  His combination of arm throws and other common freestyle-like scoring maneuvers has drawn comparisons to former U.S. standout, T.J. Hill, who spent some time on the St. Anthony’s coaching staff a few years ago. A NYS placewinner as a freshman in 2011, Dunau was expected to be on the podium last season before the flu bug bit him at the wrong time, causing him to perhaps wrestle over-aggressively to account for a compromised gas tank. When at his best, Dunau is as dangerous as any wrestler in the Empire State.  While there is still some discussion as to whether he will go 120 or 126 in 2013, the consensus is that he will be a heavy favorite regardless.  Note: Competing in the international styles, Dunau is a two-time Double Cadet state champion, having won the gold in both FS and GR the past two years.  He is also a 2010 NYS Schoolboy Folkstyle state champion.

Blaise Rufo, Photo by Philip Rufo

Blaise Rufo – Winning his first CHSAA state title last season after posting previous finishes of second at 96 (2010) and fifth at 103 (2011), the Lion coaching staff has always been high on Rufo.  The younger brother of Gunnar Rufo, who was a two-time CHSAA state placewinner from 2008-2011, the Farrell staff always knew that Blaise was going to be the better of the brothers, dating back to his time as a wrestler at the Lions Club (Farrell’s youth program). Known for his deadly headlocks, when Rufo strikes, it usually means good night for his opponents. Making his first trip to Albany last season, the 2013 Farrell captain garnered a lot of experience, going 1-2, with one of the losses coming at the hands of eventual NYS runner-up, Brady Baron of Section 5. Now, the only real question is whether or not he will get the chance to utilize this experience, as a genuine concern is that he could be destined to run headfirst into Dunau in the CHSAA finals.

Sam Melikian

Sam Melikian- Joining Dunau as a two-time CHSAA champion, Melikian is like a fine wine, getting better with age.  As a sophomore, he was not the favorite on paper to advance to Albany.  However, apparently no one told him that as one by one, he notched the necessary three victories to punch his own ticket. He beat the Nassau/Suffolk league champion in the semis, before wrapping up his tournament by avenging a loss from a few weeks earlier in the NYC league finals by pinning his opponent (4x CHSAA state placewinner, Paul Schianodicola) in the title match.  As a junior, the word “unstoppable” best described the Ram student-athlete, as he rolled through the CHSAA state tournament, dismantling the competition to the tune of a second period pin and a 25-7 tally in two lopsided semifinal and finals bouts. A regular at John Degl’s Iowa Style Wrestling Club in Section 1, Melikian brings every ounce of that Hawkeye mentality with him to the mat, attacking every second of the match and gradually wearing down his foes.  Last year in Albany, this approach witnessed him just barely miss the podium, as he came a single victory short of finishing in the top-6, going 2-2 with his defeats coming to the wrestlers who went on to finish third and fourth, respectively. Now approaching his swan song, Melikian, who is being actively recruited by several top notch academic institutions (including an official visit to the Brown University campus a few weeks ago), seems intent on ending his scholastic career on a high note, hitting every tournament under the sun in an attempt to make himself all the more prepared for one final run at the NYS crown.  Thus far this off-season, Melikian has won the Summer Heat Tournament on Long Island, finished first in his pool at the Journeymen Challenge (beating a pair of 2012 Cadet GR All-Americans), and finished second at the Iron Horse Invitational in NJ.  Melikian will be favored at either 132 or 138 pounds this season.

John Vrasidas (pronounced Ver-Side-is) – The last of the 2x defending CHSAA champions, Vrasidas seems to save his best wrestling for when it matters most.  Considered a contender, but hardly the favorite the past two years (he entered the 2012 Catholic State tournament as the #4 seed despite being a returning champion), the Friar captain just finds a way to get the job done on center stage.  Now a senior and the consensus the favorite to win the 170-pound title, he goes from the role of the hunter to the hunted. Going a combined 3-4 in his two journeys to the state capital (1-2 as a sophomore at 152), Vrasidas would have likely found himself on the podium in 2012 if not for the fact that he had the misfortune of drawing 2011 State Champion/current Columbia University freshman Connor Sutton, in the placement round.  However, despite common knowledge that he enters 2013 as a sizeable favorite to yet again ascend to the top step, Vrasidas is showing no signs of resting on his laurels.  Much like his fellow two-timer, Melikian, Vrasidas is staying active during the offseason, winning his bracket at the Journeymen Classic two weekends ago.

Matt Roberts, Photo by Philip Rufo

Matt Roberts – If NYS titles were given out for guts, Matt Roberts would be Troy Nickerson.  A kid who wills himself to win, the Farrell senior fought off his back in the 2012 CHSAA state finals, rallying from an early 5-0 deficit to gradually fatigue his opponent and emerge with the come from behind victory.  It is this ‘never say die’ attitude that makes Roberts dangerous in any match.  Like any great upset story, when you watch a Roberts match,  you cannot help but think to yourself that if the opposition allows him to stay close, it’s going to be trouble.  Roberts is that thorn in your side that you never see coming.  Because his success relies a lot on his ability to push the pace and tire his opponents, it is not unusual to see Roberts lose to a particular opponent during the regular season (while in the midst of building his cardio to full capacity), only to see him control that same foe in February.  In a way, he reminds me of a younger, albeit larger, version of former 3x Conference Champion, Jon Bonilla-Bowman (Virginia Tech/Hofstra), in that unless you come prepared, he will seize victory from you in the third period. Roberts, who took fourth as a sophomore in the Catholic League, will defend his 182-pound title in 2013.  He will look to improve upon the 1-2 record he posted last season at the NYS tournament, losing to eventual state champion, Nick Bellanza in the first round, before being officially eliminated by the wrestler who went on to take fifth in the state.

Rich Sisti, Photo by Philip Rufo

Rich Sisti – Known by Farrell insiders as the Man Child, Rich Sisti was a legend in Staten Island before he ever even stepped foot inside the school.  This young man (only a junior) is so blessed physically that rumor has it that when he was in eighth grade, he and his family were having dinner at a fine dining restaurant and the server gave Sisti a wine list because she assumed he was over the age of 21. To say that this kid is shredded would be an insult to him. A better way to phrase it must to be to tell the truth, in the decade plus that I have been involved in the sport of wrestling, I sincerely cannot recall a high school junior being this defined. Oh, and by the way, aside from his Adonis-like appearance, the kid can also do work on the mat, a revelation easily seen when Sisti pinned his way through the 2010 NYS Schoolboy state tournament.  Placing third in the Catholic league as a freshman (former 2x Catholic State Champion/current Franklin & Marshall wrestler Paul Alessandrini was in his bracket), there was no sophomore jinx for Sisti in 2012 as he streamrolled the competition, replicating his performance from 2010 by sticking all three of his opponents (all before the third period) to secure his first birth to the NYS DI tournament.  Much like his teammates Rufo and Roberts, Sisti finished 1-2 in Albany, losing to the third and fifth place wrestlers.  However, rather than sulk over what might be considered a disappointing showing in his DI tournament debut, Sisti got back to work and the results paid off as he came a single victory away from making All-American at the 2012 FloNationals.  He followed up this strong effort by winning the NYS Cadet FS title up a full weight class at 220.  In fact, he was so dominant against his peers in Binghamton that rather than wrestle the Cadet GR tournament, he opted instead to enter the Junior Freestyle competition, where he finished fourth (forfeiting his medal match) with a decision victory over Jon Babson, the #4 seed at 220 pounds at the 2012 NYS tournament.  Two weeks ago, Sisti added top honors at the Journeymen Classic to his mantel. While able to make the cut to 195 pounds if need be, the belief at this point of the offseason is that Sisti, who figures into the equation at either weight class on the state level, will ultimately remain at 220 in 2013.

Who Will Break out And Make Their Debuts in Albany (lightest to heaviest)?

Christian Briody (Chaminade) – Briody is a student-athlete who many consider the co-best Flyer prospect since 2x Catholic State Champion/2010 NYS placewinner, Troy Sampson.  Before coming to Chaminade, Briody spent seventh and eighth grade wrestling for Locust Valley, qualifying for the DI sectional tournament twice, but failing to place as an undersized junior high student.  A pupil of former World FS Champion, Vougar Oroudjov at VHW, Briody entered 2012 as the potential favorite to win the 99-pound weight class.  Unfortunately, injury ended the fab frosh’s season before it even got started.  However, since returning to the mat this offseason, the now sensational sophomore is lending credence to why those in the CHSAA wrestling community were so high on him.  A winner of the 2012 Summer Heat tournament, Briody also notched a title at the Steeplechase Open and finished third at the Super-32 regional qualifier in Shippensburg, PA.  It was at these latter two events that Briody notched perhaps the biggest wins of his career to date, as he knocked off 2012 NYS DII state runner up Nick Casella by slim margins at both the Super 32 qualifier and the Steeplechase.  Adding a bit of humor to this situation is the fact that Casella is also from Locust Valley and actually defeated Christian’s brother, Patrick, in the 2012 Nassau County DII finals. Career note: Briody took fourth at the 2011 Schoolboy state tournament.

Ben Lamantia (St. Anthony’s) – Speaking of super sophomores, one that immediately comes to mind is Ben Lamantia.  A varsity competitor at Commack as an eighth-grader, before even starting high school Lamantia proved his worth, winning close to 20 matches.  That same year, he went on to win the 2011 NYS Schoolboy crown (in the same weight class as Briody). As a freshman, Lamantia placed third at 106 pounds, finishing behind Dunau and former 2x Catholic state runner-up, Jimmy Gill, who is currently wrestling for the College of New Jersey.  The tragedy of this bronze medal showing is that in almost any other year, Lamantia likely would have won the Catholic title.  However, just like Sisti in 2012, Lamantia now finds himself in the position to taste the glory of victory if he holds serve and wrestles up to his potential.  In fact, while it isn’t anyone’s intention to put unnecessary pressure on him, it would be accurate to say that not only is a CHSAA title expected in 2013, but so is placement in Albany.  With 113 shaping up to be one of the fiercest fields in the state, Lamantia will need to bring his “A” game to achieve the objective put before him.

Joe Russ, Photo by PhotoTrens

Joey Russ (St. Anthony’s)—The sentimental favorite of the entire Catholic league as a whole, I do not think words can accurately describe the love the CHSAA has for the Russ family.  In fact, on more than one occasion, I have referred to the Russes as the heart, soul, and backbone of the league.  The fourth of four brothers to compete in the CHSAA (all four making the CHSAA state finals at least once in their scholastic careers), Joey will be looking to become the third member of his family to hoist the hardware, joining Derrick (champion in 2003 at 103 pounds for Chaminade) and 3x Catholic champ/3x NYS placewinner, Stephen, who competed for St. Anthony’s from 2004-2007).  A sectional finalist the past two years, it is far from misleading to say that the youngest Russ could easily be a 2x champion at this point of his career if not for the fact that year after year, he runs into juggernauts.  As a freshman, he played second fiddle to his teammate Dunau, losing in the 96-pound finals.  Then, last season, his luck would be just as bad as he found himself in the same 113-pound bracket as 2x Catholic state champion/2x NYS placewinner, Pat Skinner of Kellenberg, who is now wrestling on the NCAA DI level at Rider. Given past history, the question on the minds of the masses is will 2013 be the year that Joe finally gets to make the journey to Albany?  To give a condensed answer, it all depends on what Dunau does.  With talk that Dunau may elect to stay at 126, the 120 pound weight class would be Russ’s for taking.  However, should his two-time defending champion teammate reconsider and make the cut, for the third straight year, Russ may find himself playing the role of bridesmaid.

Danny Jones (Chaminade) – The runner up as a sophomore in 2012 to Rufo, before there was Briody, there was Jones (a reference to the earlier mention of there being co-top prospects walking the hallowed halls in Mineola).  Jones, whose brother Mike was a multiple-time CHSAA placewinner despite battling injuries during most of his career, came to Chaminade with a well established reputation, having placed in fourth in Nassau County as a 103-pound eighth grader for Garden City High School.  But alas, just like his sibling, staying healthy has been a major issue for Jones, who missed the majority of his freshman year because of injury and then had to compete for the better half of 2012 with a facemask after suffering a broken nose.  Despite the fact that he is a returning CHSAA finalist, it is very feasible that we have not even come close to seeing the best that this young man has to offer.   Having spent the last few years working out at Ascend (with Craig Vitagliano) and VHW, if healthy, the world, and for that matter, the Catholic wrestling scene, may prove to be Jones’s oyster.  In speaking to a person with knowledge of the situation, the strategy being discussed would call for Jones to go at whatever weight (132 or 138) Melikian doesn’t.

Declan Gray

Declan Gray (Chaminade) – Once referred to by a former member of the Flyer coaching staff as “a true student of the sport whose depth of knowledge knows no bottom,” Gray heads into his final season at Chaminade looking to win the title that has escaped him thus far.  A fifth place finisher in 2011 at 140 pounds, Gray was on the cusp of a Catholic league title last season, tied at 2-2 with defending CHSAA champion Matt Szilagyi (formerly of St. Anthony’s; currently wrestling for West Virginia) and riding tough, inching closer and closer to backpoints.  And then, in an instant, it all fell apart as Szilagyi reversed Gray to his back for the fall. When you consider that a few weeks later, Szilagyi would go on to finish one victory short of the medal stand, this close defeat demonstrates that Gray is every bit in the mix for a top-6 finish in 2013.  A runner-up at the Summer Heat Tournament to returning Nassau champion/2012 NYS qualifier, Louis Hernandez, Gray will join Dunau, Briody, and Lamantia at the Super-32 tournament later this month.

Andrew Psomas, Photo by Philip Rufo

Andrew Psomas (Monsignor Farrell) – Joining Joey Russ on the all-sentiments team, if there is one person the NYC CHSAA wrestling contingent wants to see go all the way this season, it is the 160-pound senior, Psomas. In yet another example of “all in the family”, in 2009 Psomas’s brother Christian would enter the Catholic state tournament as a heavy favorite to win the 171-pound title and go to the state tournament.  But, as a testament to the phrase “matches are not won on paper”, the elder Psomas was upset in the finals.  Now Andrew, who was a 2011 CHSAA finalist before settling for third last season (lost to Vrasidas both years) finds himself in the same scenario as his big brother; one year left to get it done.  And, perhaps in what can be called a display of God’s sense of humor, the Psomas family is going to have a strong reminder of the 2009 heartbreaking loss as the Catholic finals will be contested this year in the same gymnasium (St. Francis of Buffalo). Will there be deja vu, or will four years of cruel memories be erased once and for all? The truth is that without a shadow of a doubt, Psomas is the most talented person in the weight class.  If he does what he is capable of doing, he will be a champion.  Unfortunately, herein lies the problem; if there is one weakness to polished game of Psomas, it is that he has shown a tendency to let nerves get the best of him, turning matches he’d normally win going away into headshaking, heart wrenching losses. On the bright side, after knocking off 2012 NYS DII qualifier, Austin Weigel (Section IX) in the finals of the Hudson Valley Challenge last weekend, the hope is that Andrew Psomas is now a new man who will deliver a new result come postseason.

Danny Fowler (Chaminade) – To be fair, his return to the mat is still very much in the rumor phrase.  In fact, none of the Flyer coaches have even mentioned him as being in the projected 2013 lineup.  However, a person from within has said that in the past few weeks, Fowler, a 2010 CHSAA placewinner as a freshman at 189-pounds, has recently dropped hints at a return after electing to forego his sophomore and junior seasons to focus on football and lacrosse (he is also an elite goalie who has committed to perennial powerhouse, Duke University).  A Schoolboy champion in 2009, it was the opinion of the populace that Danny had a much bigger upside than his older brother, Brendan (a former two-time CHSAA state champion who was the recipient of the Chaminade Student-Athlete of the Year Award as a senior), who came only one win short of placing in Albany at 215 pounds in 2010. A tailback/fullback on the Flyer varsity football team since sophomore year, Fowler is that rare specimen that is successful in everything he attempts; he is a great student, immensely gifted on the gridiron and a dominant force in the cage.  It is only because of this pattern of achievement that I would even consider a guy fresh off a two year absence a contender to win it all.  Aiding Fowler in his quest to add one more honor to his resume is the fact that with Sisti (who would be favored over Fowler) talking of a move up to 220 pounds, and 2012 195-pound Catholic bronze medalist, Peter Corbett (St. Anthony’s) considering sitting the 2013 season out to focus on other athletic pursuits, the weight class is not expected to be particularly deep, making it ripe for the picking. Of course, this all hinges on the rumors of a comeback being true.

Chris Alianakian (Kellenberg) – A much more natural 220-pounder last season, with 2x CHSAA champion, Andrew Auriemma (formerly of St. Anthony’s) commanding the weight class, the Firebird made the decision to roll the dice and take his chances as an undersized heavyweight.  The gamble would come close to paying off as he navigated his way into the finals behind a pair of pins.  Unfortunately, he would be unable to conquer that final challenge, falling in the finals. Originally, the conjecture was that the senior big man would likely drop down to 220 for his final year of scholastic eligibility.  But, now that Sisti is likely going to make the move up, Alianakian’s intentions may change as he would stand a much better chance of getting to Albany by remaining at 285 in 2013.  A football player (like most high school heavyweight wrestlers), MSG Varsity lists the returning finalist as 235 on the KMHS roster.  When you consider that the biggest obstacle in his path to a title is 2012 285 third place finisher, Mazen Hassan, who if possible has actually gotten larger in the past year (currently listed at 280), one has to wonder whether or not giving away so much size will prove detrimental to lone returning finalist for the Uniondale-based school. Last season, Alianakian did pin Hassan in both of their meetings (including the CHSAA state semifinals).

Impact Newcomers

Garrett Baugher (St. Joseph’s Collegiate)—A 30+ match winner last season wrestling as an eighth grader for Royalton-Hartland, Baugher took third in the Section VI DII sectional tournament in 2012.  Now a Marauder, the gifted lightweight just might be the guy who breaks the curse of five straight years without a CHSAA champion (last accomplished by a Taylor Golba at 96 pounds).  The key to making it happen will be for Baugher to effectively cut down to 99 pounds where his past credentials would make him if not the obvious favorite, at least a very heavily slanted contender.  Should his body not cooperate and force him to go 106, his title hopes will take a major hit, but on raw talent alone, he would be a high placewinner at the higher weight.

Matt Seitz (Monsignor Farrell) – A 2012 Schoolboy state bronze medalist, Seitz has had the Farrell coaching staff excited for the past several years.  A work out warrior, the fantastic frosh routinely makes the trip across the bridge to NJ to hone his skills at the famed Apex Wrestling Club.  In addition, so committed to winning are he and his family that a little over a year ago, arrangements were made to have former Penn State wrestler/2008 NCAA All-American Mark McKnight spend time working as a private coach for the talented youngster.  An almost surefire lock to have placed at the 2012 CHSAA tournament if rules allowed for junior high students to compete for their neighborhood private school, Seitz will bring to the Lions a certain lightweight firepower that they have not had in their lineup since 2010 when both Rufo and Schianodicola were Catholic finalists at 96 and 103 pounds, respectively.  Recently, he proved he was ready to make an immediate impact when he went toe-to-toe with Casella at the Steeplechase Open, dropping a very narrow decision to the returning DII state finalist.   While 106 is hailed as a very deep weight class (Twomey and Briody leading the way), Seitz possesses the skills to make serious noise.  He is a definite top-4 guy at his weight class, and If he gets on a hot streak at the right time, could feasibly ride the wave all the way to Albany.

Laine Cammarata (Monsignor Farrell) – A fellow Schoolboy medalist, taking fourth at 112 pounds, Cammarata will be called upon to score as many points as possible at 113 pounds this season.  While coaches feel he may still be a year away from hitting his stride and becoming the monster that they think he can be, for the time being, they will be content with a solid performance, comparable to the effort they have always been able to get out of their youngsters.  A Lions Club member for a number of years, what will assist Cammarata in making the transition from youth wrestling to the scholastic level is that he has been around the program for as long as he can remember. He knows the system and has seen those that came before him go on to great things.  There is no replacement for the confidence of knowing that you are in a top program that has proven year upon year that it knows how to properly cultivate talent and turns projects into titlewinners.

Team Race:

1. St. Anthony’s – Until someone knocks the three-time defending team champions off the throne, St. Anthony’s has to be considered the team to beat heading into every new season.  A caveat to this is the knowledge that the team was hit hard by graduation in 2012, seeing the likes of NYS champion Jamel Hudson (now at Hofstra) and aforementioned fellow 2012 Catholic champs, Szilagyi and Auriemma, also move on to bigger and better things.  A fourth significant loss comes in the person of 2012 126-pound bronze medalist, Sam Ward, who after having a solid freshman campaign, elected to return to his home district of Locust Valley to finish out his scholastic career.  What the graduations and defections have resulted in is a team that has a bit of a bipolar identity with a mixture of superstars at some stops and holes at others.  Depth wise, with 11 returning All-Catholic wrestlers (not including Corbett who may or may not compete in 2013) from 99-170, the Tony Walters-led Friars look solid, anchored by Will Gutekunst (second at 99 in 2012), Twomey,  Lamantia,  Russ,  Dunau, Nick Ronan (2x CHSAA third place finisher), Kevin Jackson (former NYS Schoolboy state runner-up, who placed fourth last season at 138 pounds), and Nick Alessandrini (brother of Paul, was a 2009 NYS DII qualifier as an eighth grader for Southampton and finished fourth in 2012 at 145).   From 182-285, there is much mystery as the coaching staff will attempt to fill out the heavier weights (220 & 285) with football players.

2. Monsignor Farrell – 2013 brings with it the beginning of a new era for the Staten Island-based school as after years of quality service, head coach Louis DeStefano stepped away to focus on family and career.  Assuming the reins of the NYC Dynasty will be Rob Pavis and Phil Squatrito, who despite being assistants in name up to this point have had a hand in every iota of the success the past decade. With a trio of returning Catholic state champions to counteract that of the rival Friars, what makes Farrell so dangerous is that the team is steady, if not spectacular, at almost every weight.  It’s not always the champions or finalists that bite you, instead the squad kills you in tournament play by finding a way to put someone on the podium at all 15 weights.  This season should be no different as Rufo, Roberts, and Sisti will be complemented by presence of Ralph Maio (fourth last season at 113 pounds), 2012 132-pound runner up, Will Wilson, the previously mentioned Psomas at 160, the Big Daddy Hassan at the backend, as well as a wealth of other veterans who have either not yet made the podium, or who are expected to improve upon low finishes in 2012.  Seitz and Cammarata will headline the surge of young blood.

3. Chaminade – After an unmatched run of six straight Catholic team titles (2003-2008), the past five years have seen a bit of the changing of the guard as the Flyers, led by Hall-of-Famer George Dlugolonski, have not finished higher than third in the team standings the past five years, falling as far as sixth (2011) before rebounding a bit with a fourth place showing last year. Might 2013 be the year that the mighty return to the top?  The answer is that it all depends on how well the team fares in its attempt to remain injury free.  With its strongest group of upperclassmen in quite some time, Chaminade has every reason to believe that with a few breaks and clutch performances, it will be in contention at the end.  Setting the table for the Marianist religious order-affiliated school will be Jones and Gray, who both saw an opportunity to go to Albany slip through their fingers last season.  Joining them among those to watch will be 2x CHSAA placewinner/fourth in 2012 at 106 pounds, Matt Maffucci, as well as returning Catholic placewinners, Connor Watson (fifth at 170), and Charles Pederson (third at 220).  Factor in the return of Briody and the possible relaunch of Fowler 2.0, and all of a sudden you have a team that could crown upwards of four individual champions.  Joseph Boccardo, a title contender at 99 points in 2012, who missed the postseason after suffering an injury late in the regular season, will also be in the equation to do damage, having beaten Seitz at the Steeplechase Open.

4. Kellenberg – Another school hit hard by graduation, the Chris Alfalla-led Firebirds will have to adjust to life without Pat Skinner, as the program’s most decorated athlete has taken his talents to the college ranks.  If Skinner had been the only prominent departure, KMHS would be in solid shape.  Unfortunately, Kellenberg also lost the services of fellow 2012 champion, Matt Matouzzi (145), as well as a quartet of Catholic finalists — Chris Federlin (126), Evan Lenci (160), Matt McDaniels (182), and Dan Centeno (195). With a plethora of experience having left the stable, the onus will fall on the four returning All-Catholic wrestlers that do return, spotlighted by the lone finalist, Alianakian, and reinforced by Joe Crowley  (third at 145), Will Hallett (fifth at 138), and Tim Davison (fifth at 152).

5. St. Joe’s Collegiate – After stepping aside for a short time, ring leader Pete Kennedy is back at the helm and he is bringing with him a team that might lack the overall ammunition to win the team title, but will have the heavy guns to do damage and play a significant role in which of the teams above does claim the top spot. The landing of impact freshman Baugher does give the Marauders a serious title threat and, where there is a title, there is an abundance of points.  Adding to the spark that the rookie will bring to the lineup will be a trio of returning placewinners, Travis Berube (sixth at 126), sophomore extraordinaire Richie Jones (fifth at 145; just missed All-America honors at the 2012 NHSCA National tournament), and Mike Weilgas, who took home a solid fourth place finish at 220 in 2012. With the majority of the guys who finished ahead of them at their respective weights having graduated, there is reason to be optimistic about Baugher having some company among the potential finalists.

More Season Previews:

Section 1 Preview

Section 3 Preview

Section 7 Preview

Section 9 Preview

 

Season Preview Feature (more to come):

Section 1 Feature:  Aslanian and Realbuto, All-State Wrestlers and Workout Partners, Seek to End Their Careers on Top of the Podium

Section 5 Feature: The “Miracle” Continues: The Return of Aaron Paddock