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)


Team NY Kong Moves to 5-0 at Disney Duals After Three Lopsided Wins on Sunday

On Saturday, Team New York Kong cruised through the competition on the way to two dominant dual victories. On Sunday things were even more lopsided in the squad’s three victories over Doughboy Blue, South Dakota Red and Team Ohio Mafia.  In fact, the Empire State grapplers shut their opponents out in the first two meets and overall captured 40 of the 42 individual matches during the trio of dual wins, according to John Passaro.

Day three of action on Monday will begin bright and early for the New Yorkers, as they start at 8 a.m. against Brawlers Fire. After that, it will be a match with Michigan Freeze in the early afternoon.

And then, the “playoff” portion of the event begins as a national championship team will be crowned. Stay tuned for further updates.

Team New York Kong

106 Kyle Quinn

106 Jesse Dellavecchia

113 Nick Piccininni

120 Travis Passaro

126 Alex Delacruz

132 Matt Leshinger

138 Nick Kelley

145 Brandon Lapi

145 Frank Garcia

145 Jakob Restrepo

152 Joe Mastro

160 Steven Schneider

170 Carlos Toribio

182 James Corbett

195 Nick Weber

220 Josh Bonneau

285 Mike Hughes

Bound for Brown: State Runner Up James Corbett Moving On to the Ivy League

It was all in a day’s work for James Corbett. Early morning weigh-in? Check. Take (and do well on) the all-important SATs (while wearing a singlet underneath clothes to save time). Check. Get back to the gym and win a number of matches for Wantagh. Check.

Days like that one, from Corbett’s junior season, are an illustration of what Warriors head coach Paul Gillespie identified as one of Corbett’s strengths – balancing his academics and wrestling.

“James has always managed his time so well,” Gillespie said. “His academics have always come first but he also made sure to get his lifting and working out in too. His time management skills are one of the many reasons I know he’ll do really well at the college level.”

Photo by BV

That college experience will take place in Providence, Rhode Island where Corbett, the 2013 New York State Division I runner up at 182 pounds, will begin his Ivy League education in the fall.

“I knew Brown was where I wanted to be,” Corbett said. “I liked how the curriculum worked, where you make your own schedule. They have a really good science program that I want to be involved in [as an environmental science major]. And I knew I wanted to go Division I in wrestling. I didn’t speak to a single other college. I thought the match was really good for me.”

With his commitment, Corbett joined the elite company of two of his teammates. Chris Araoz and Danny McDevitt previously announced their plans to attend Ivy institutions (Columbia and Penn, respectively).

“I think it’s almost expected of Wantagh seniors to go Division I and to strive for an Ivy school,” Corbett said. “Coach Gillespie knows how to get us there. McDevitt and Araoz are good friends of mine and they already had their plans figured out earlier on. They had colleges talking to them before the season and honestly, I didn’t have the credentials, so colleges weren’t talking to me.”

While Corbett didn’t yet have statewide recognition prior to the 2012-13 campaign, he had plenty of success in Nassau County. As a sophomore, he put together a campaign with over 35 wins that ended with a first round loss at the Section 8 tournament. In his junior season, he again piled up victories with a 32-6 mark, despite wrestling at a number of different weight classes in the lineup. A late-season move up to 182 yielded a fourth place finish at the County tournament that didn’t bring about an appearance in Albany, but did pay future dividends.

“As the season went on, I kept growing,” he said. “I had to cut more and more weight and Coach Gillespie told me to just go up to 182. He said my style would be fine there and since I would be wrestling there anyway as a senior, I might as well get ready.”

Corbett did several other things to prepare for his last campaign in Wantagh.

“James really worked hard in his weight training,” Gillespie said. “And I think working hard in the offseason with [former Hofstra All-American] PJ Gillespie and Danny McDevitt also really helped raise his level. His technique improved drastically.”

“Working with a college All-American like PJ and a high school All-American like Danny was so important for me,” Corbett added. “They were great drilling partners. I didn’t really do any big tournaments or events in the offseason but I went into the Wantagh room and drilled and focused on my technique. PJ got me so much better, really fast. I think it was the last part of the puzzle that helped my high school career.”

That improvement was obvious from the very beginning of the season. In the opening weekend, he posted a pair of first period pins and a 15-0 technical fall in his three bouts.

And two weeks later, in Wantagh’s next competition, he posted four victories – including three by fall. However, it was the only non-bonus point win, a 5-2 decision over returning All-State wrestler Gio Santiago of Sachem North, that was most significant.

“Coming in, I thought Santiago might be the best 182 pounder in the state,” Gillespie said. “When James beat him, I had a good indication of how much better he had become. It gave him a lot of confidence and at that point, I thought he could challenge for the state title.”

Corbett agreed that the victory gave him a boost, but he said he really started to believe that he could make a big splash at the Times Union Center after taking third at the challenging Eastern States Classic, where his only loss came to returning state champion Zack Zupan, a Division II grappler headed to Binghamton.

“I went into the Eastern States without looking at a bracket, just knowing that many of the best wrestlers in New York would be there,” he said. “I just wanted to wrestle well and when I placed high, I thought there wouldn’t be too many guys in the state who could beat me. It gave me a lot of confidence about what I could do the rest of the year.”

What he did for much of the rest of the year was simple – he dominated. He won 13 bouts in a row after the big tournament at SUNY Sullivan, with all but two victories coming with bonus points. One of those regular decisions was a 7-1 triumph over Plainedge’s Robert Ng to earn the Nassau crown and his first trip to the state championships.

He had a distinctive style that helped him along the way, according to Gillespie.

“James has a boxer’s mentality,” the coach said. “He’s a very physical guy, who lost a few points because of how physical he sometimes was. But it was good in a lot of ways since wrestling is basically a controlled fight.”

“I do like wrestling in a really physical way,” Corbett agreed. “I want to be on top of my opponents and let them know that I’m there and I’m not going anywhere. I guess the thing I learned this year was not to be that way in the practice room. But in matches, it’s a big part of how I compete.”

It worked well. He began his journey at the state tournament with a pin and a pair of decisions to punch his ticket to the Saturday night finals. But he made sure to treat the entire experience like any other event.

“[Being at the state tournament] wasn’t different for me, because I wouldn’t let myself see it that way,” he said. “I stayed in the locker room until it was time to wrestle and then I made sure I was looking down and not at the crowd when I was walking to the mat. Then, after my matches, I came back and found a quiet spot in the locker room until it was time to wrestle again. I think that’s why I wasn’t really impacted by my first trip to [the state tournament].”

Photo by BV

In the finals, Corbett and returning state finalist Shayne Brady of Carthage were deadlocked at 3 at the end of regulation. In sudden victory, Brady, who will wrestle at North Carolina State, got a takedown to earn the gold medal and send Corbett to the silver.

“I felt that I wrestled consistently the whole weekend, which is what I wanted,” Corbett said. “[Brady] got in and got the points he needed. That’s the sport. There were plenty of times this year when I needed a takedown to win or a rideout to win and I got it. I’m grateful for that. I’m grateful for the season I had.”

He also expressed gratitude for being part of the Wantagh program. After all, the squad did a lot of winning, including capturing New York’s biggest events in 2012-13 – the Union-Endicott Duals, the Eastern States and the New York States. Picking up all of those honors is something Corbett said he felt Wantagh was supposed to do.

“When I was in eighth grade, the team led by guys like Paul Ligouri and Johnny Greisheimer set the tone for what was expected,” he said. “They inspired us and made us feel like we should win all the time. But I think the coaching staff and the family feel are what really makes it special. Everyone’s close. Coach Gillespie might call you on a Sunday afternoon just to see how things are going – even in the offseason. There’s a great vibe in the room.”

That room has produced a number of current Division I wrestlers and that number will change again in the fall, including the addition of Corbett as a 184 or 197 pounder to the Brown roster.

Environmental science and Division I wrestling at one of the nation’s top universities? It’s all in a day’s work for James Corbett.


James Corbett wished to thank “anyone who ever coached me or gave me help in any way, shape or form, especially in the wrestling community.”