Back on Top: South Jefferson and Johnson City Capture Dual Meet Titles in Sections 3 and 4

 
 

It had been three years for South Jefferson and a decade for Johnson City, but the wait is over for both. The squads captured the Section 3 and 4 Dual Meet titles, respectively, after living up to their number one seeds.

For South Jefferson, the run had a lot of similarities to the one in 2010.  In that year, the Spartans came into the Section 3 dual tournament undefeated and left as champions.

But the path wasn’t all the same, according to head coach Pat Conners.

“This was a new role for our program,” Conners said. “Instead of being the underdog this year, we were the favorite.  That definitely wasn’t how it was three years ago.  No one believed then that we could beat Fulton in the dual meet finals.  I had people tell me if we even made the finals, it would be great for us.  Then we knocked off Fulton to win it.  There were people who felt that was an ‘on any given day’ kind of thing where the better team doesn’t always win.  This weekend was different because I think our team proved that we are the best in Section 3 this year.”

It certainly looked that way.  Prior to the tournament, (last Thursday) South Jefferson faced off with General Brown in a battle of teams ranked in the latest New York State dual meet poll.  The lower-ranked Spartans came out on top, 40-25.

“Having that huge dual and knocking off General Brown only a few days before actually made me a little nervous,” Conners said. “We were confident going into the weekend, but sometimes it’s tough to get everyone refocused and ready so soon after a big win. But our team has a good mix of veterans and young kids and our six seniors did a nice job of leading.”

Things started off a little slow, according to Conners, in the first meet against Cicero-North Syracuse but the Spartans emerged with a 51-23 victory and followed that up with a 58-22 win over Cazenovia.

The next round brought Baldwinsville.  The Bees took a 10-3 lead after three bouts, but South Jefferson responded, recording falls in four of the next five matches to take a commanding advantage.  Registering pins were Trevor Cowles (160), Daniel Smith (170), Logan LaFlamme (182) and Ryan Charlebois (up a weight at 220). Despite forfeiting the last bout, the Spartans punched their ticket to the finals with a 43-31 result.

“In that case, the 160 to 195 pounders did the job,” Conners said. “They are all good wrestlers and when we get there, we count on bonus points.  We’ve had solid balance all the way through the lineup this year, though. Our 99 and 106 pounders (Jared Carroll and Caleb Beach) are a combined 62-4. [132 pounder] Jon Crast has made a nice comeback from surgery. Many other guys have wrestled very well. What’s been really great to see as a coach this year is that the bigger our matches have been, the better the kids have wrestled.  Our top wrestlers have won with bonus points and the kids who aren’t our top wrestlers have wrestled hard and given up only three points.”

That was true as South Jefferson topped squads such as Northern Adirondack, Victor and Cortland earlier in the campaign.  And it held true in the finals when the Spartans met General Brown for the second time of the week.

In the championship dual, the Lions won five of the first eight matches.  However, all five victories were by decision and with South Jefferson’s two pins and a decision, the score was knotted at 15.  That was the last time it was close.

“Losing five matches but all of them only three point losses was big,” Conners said. “When you wrestle the other team’s top kids and keep it close, it’s as important as a big win on your side.  We were tied and in good shape. And then we got on a roll and poured on points after that.  We only lost one match the rest of the day.”

So a 15-15 tie turned into a 45-19 rout.

“Each week, we’ve been challenging the kids and they’ve stepped up stronger and stronger,” Conners said.  “It’s rare to have a team wrestle well every weekend without real letdowns but this group did that.  It was a total team effort and our depth played a big role.  We had some guys stepping on the mat for the first time in the semis or finals while other teams were exhausted.”

That was one of the reasons Conners cited for the lopsided scores in the event.

“Our goal was to win the duals,” the coach said. “But I never, ever thought we would be as dominant as we were because of the caliber of teams in Section 3.  I was not surprised that we won but very pleasantly surprised that our kids were as dominant as they were.”

Dominant enough to stand atop Section 3.  But will that translate to the top of New York State?

Conners said he might reach out to Midlakes coach Steve Howcroft to see if a dual between the unbeaten Division II powerhouses could be arranged.  (Midlakes is ranked first among small school teams). But whether that happens or not, it’s been a great ride for the Spartans as they demonstrated that they are among the Empire State’s elite.

Johnson City’s Return to the Top

Being among the elite is something Johnson City head coach Jordan Glenn can relate to very well.  When he was a competitor for the Wildcats, he remembers his team being among New York’s best every season.

“In our heyday, from the early 90s to mid 2000s, there was a stretch where we didn’t lose to a Section 4 team for 10 years,” Glenn said.  “I don’t think we finished outside the top 5 at the state tournament very often.  Winning this weekend is absolutely a big deal for us because this is the first event we’ve won as a team in recent years.  The last time we won Section 4 Duals was in 2003.  This builds a good foundation for us and with a team full of juniors and younger wrestlers, we think we can raise the bar for next year and continue to excel.”

They excelled this weekend, beginning with a dominant 50-24 victory over Sidney in the first round of the event. The Wildcats got out to a 31-6 advantage and never looked back.  The second dual was similar, in a 42-27 triumph over Vestal.

“In those first two matches, we were in control most of the way,” Glenn said. “We never take anything lightly because with duals it can come down to matchups and a coin flip. We knew those teams had potential to match up with us, but we were solid all the way through. Our depth also was important. We had a couple of guys injured and we were fortunate to have some other guys fill in and do very well.”

That was the case in the finals match against Union-Endicott.  With the loss of state qualifier Greg Kleinsmith to injury, Johnson City bumped a number of wrestlers up a weight and adjusted the lineup.

One of the wrestlers stepping in was one of the squad’s few seniors, Ben Fay. With his team trailing 6-0 (Johnson City forfeited at 132), he took the mat for his first action of the tournament against  Xavian Hughes, the top-ranked wrestler in the Section.  He held the Tiger wrestler to a decision.

“Ben hasn’t necessarily been one of the guys competing for individual championships, but he had a solid performance. He filled a void and allowed maneuverability that we otherwise wouldn’t have had,” Glenn said. “He preserved points when we needed him to.”

Facing a 9-0 deficit, Johnson City took over, capturing the next six bouts.  It started with a decision by Nick Bidwell at 145 and was followed by another three points for Joseph Hamdan at 152.

“Joe Hamdan was out of the lineup for the better part of a month with injury,” Glenn said. “This was his first competition back and he came through with three wins.  The first two were by pin. In the finals, it was tougher.  The lack of mat time got to him a little. But he found a way to win a close match in overtime. That turned out to be huge.”

Photo by BV

Also huge were the flurry of bonus points the Wildcats racked up next with pins by Zach Colgan (160), Dominic Taylor (182) and Reggie Williams (195).  Added into the mix was a technical fall by Conner Halladay at 170.

“When you have anchors you can count on like Zach Colgan and Reggie Williams, it sets the tone,” Glenn said. “We have a very strong core from 138 to 195 and those guys really came through for us.”

After Williams stuck his opponent at 195, Johnson City had a 29-9 lead.

Union-Endicott mounted a comeback, with Lucas Depofi and Andrew Brinser coming out on top at 220 and 285 to cut the team score to 29-18.

But lightweights Tyler Brazinski (99 pounds) and Isaiah Colgan (106) picked up victories by technical fall and pin, respectively, to put their team up 40-18 and clinch the championship.

“Tyler has had a really good week,” Glenn said. “He was bumped out of lineup last year and didn’t place in the section.  But he came back ready this year and this past week alone he’s beaten three of the four top ranked kids in the Section. He didn’t get scored on by any of them. And Isaiah Colgan has been really solid all year. He won three matches at Eastern States and is certainly on a level where he can compete for a Section championship, as he did last year.”

Union-Endicott finished strong as Mikey Carr, Anthony Noce and Zack Bendick recorded falls in the final three matches of the dual to make the final score 40-36.

“We had the dual meet clinched, but their 113, 120 and 126 wrestled really well with three pins in a row,” Glenn said. “We did our jobs to have the lead that we did. We were talking [Saturday] night that we’re starting to develop a little bit of a rivalry with U-E after they beat us in the semis last year at this tournament. We know they are getting better and developing; you can see the progression with their wrestlers.  As for us, we set lofty goals this year and even though we didn’t do as well as we hoped at U-E Duals [in early January], we are excited to be back as the top Dual Meet team in Section 4 this year.”

Back at the top.  South Jefferson and Johnson City earned it after their performances this weekend.

 

Looking for "Number Nine": Reggie Williams Aims to Make History at Johnson City

At first, it was about the trophies.

Reggie Williams missed basketball tryouts and he was looking for something to take the place of hoops in his schedule.

“In sixth grade, I didn’t have a sport to play in the winter,” Williams said.  “One of my friends always rubbed in my face that he had all these wrestling trophies.  I got only trophy per season in baseball, basketball and football, but in wrestling there were more.”

So, he decided to give wrestling a shot. And he took to it right away.

When seventh grade rolled around, Williams began on the modified team like most of his classmates, especially those at the higher weights.  But that didn’t last too long.

“I think I was on modified for a week,” Williams said with a laugh. “I pretty much destroyed everyone.”

So the next stop was the junior varsity, where his stay was longer than a week, but still pretty brief.  About halfway into the season, Williams moved up to the varsity squad only about a year after picking up the sport.

He didn’t waste any time finding success, placing fifth at the Section 4 tournament.

“It was pretty cool that I took fifth,” he said. “Coach [Peter] Capone did a great job teaching me some basics – a double leg, a breakdown, a stand up.  But I still didn’t know what I was doing a lot of the time on the mat.”

Photo by Boris V

He asked Capone what he needed to do to get to the next level and then he got to work.  He began lifting, learning more technique and training with a variety of partners.  A wide variety.

There were, of course, partners like the many he works with in the Johnson City room now, such as fellow state qualifiers Greg Kleinsmith, who Johnson City head coach Jordan Glenn said is exceptional on his feet and Zach Colgan, who is excellent in the top position.   But Williams worked with several others as well.

“I honestly believe anyone can wrestle anyone,” he said. “I was beaten up in the room by a guy who weighed 140 pounds.  I mean, brutally destroyed.  Good technique can do anything.  I wrestle with everyone.  I find myself wrestling the little guys more than the big guys.  I love training with the lightweights, so I can change up the pace of my matches.  After my practices, I also love to go wrestle with the pee wees.  They gang up and all attack me at the same time.  It’s fun to see the smiles on their faces and I try to teach them the basic things, because the basics can take you far.”

They took Williams pretty far as an eighth grader.  In the semifinals of the Sectionals, he pinned an opponent who had placed higher than him in a tournament earlier in the year.  He was headed to the Section 4 title bout and he said he was overcome with emotion.

“I looked at my coach and I started crying,” he said.  “My whole family came for the finals and the crowd was packed.  I wrestled my heart out and ended up losing in triple overtime.  I was hoping for a wildcard to states, but didn’t get it.”

Williams said he was disappointed, but not for too long.  His breakthrough was about to come.

“I felt like I really kept getting better and better without taking one step back,” he said of his ninth grade year.

It showed.  He racked up a 32-14 record as a freshman and captured his first Section 4 crown, winning by bonus points in each of his Sectional bouts.

Williams was unseeded in Albany as one of only two ninth graders in the 189-pound bracket, but he was undaunted.  In the second round, he met the number-two seed, Joe Cummings of Nyack, and came out on top 5-4 after hitting a snap down, spin behind in the third period.

In the semifinals, he fought hard against current North Carolina wrestler Frank Abbondanza, but a big move at the end of the second period was the difference in a loss.

“I still don’t remember how it happened,” he said.  “He had my leg and then the next thing I knew, I was trying to scramble and then I was falling backwards and the referee was counting back points.  I was really down after that match and it cost me a lot.  I didn’t bounce back well and I lost to guys I shouldn’t have in the wrestlebacks.  I learned something there about being stronger after losses.”

He put that to good use that summer as he earned All-America status at the NHSCA Freshman Nationals in Virginia Beach (fourth at 189 pounds).  His mettle was tested early as he fought through a close bout in the first round with some recognizable college coaches looking on.

“At Virginia Beach part of the reason that I finished where I did was that I was more of a straightforward wrestler at the time,” he said. “I didn’t really take angled shots.  Learning some Freestyle and Greco really helped me improve with angles.”

He apparently was a quick study as he went to Fargo for the Freestyle and Greco national championships a few months later and got on the podium there as well – while up a weight class (fifth at 215 pounds).

“Going into Fargo, I had an idea of how big the tournament was, but when I got there, I saw it was so much bigger than I expected,” he said. “I didn’t realize how tough it is to wrestle so many matches in such a short time.  You go hard in every single match against good competition and it got to me.  I’ve never been so exhausted.  If I was in better shape, I could have done better but the experience was amazing.”

Amazing could describe his sophomore year back in New York for the Wildcats as well.  In 2011-12, Williams registered a 39-3 mark, with all but six victories coming by bonus points and with all three losses coming against Shenendehowa state champion Tony Fusco.

The final setback was in the state finals, where Williams had quite a crowd pulling for him.

Courtesy of Reggie Williams

He said he remembers looking up at the stands and seeing Doug Stento, his football coach who he speaks fondly of, his mom and dad who don’t often see his matches, and his teammates.  In addition, he caught a glimpse of the t-shirt that was signed by a large number of Johnson City students (pictured).

“I saw all those people and I had that desire,” he said. “I got so fired up and wanted to do well to represent my school and my section.  Honestly, I felt like I was ready to play in the Super Bowl.  I made three mistakes and they cost me dearly.  Tony [Fusco] isn’t offensive or flashy, but he’s tough and strong.  When I made mistakes, he took advantage.  The worst part was that I felt like I let a lot of people down.”

Williams retreated to his hotel room afterwards, where he was soon joined by fellow silver medalist Keegan Cerwinski of Greene and a number of other Section 4 wrestlers.

“It seemed like the whole Section team was there,” he said. “We went out and walked the streets in Albany, talked and had a good time. Sometimes you have to just enjoy the little things in life.”

Right now, that’s enjoying football season where he is a fullback and linebacker and, for a brief time, he eats whatever he pleases.  But his mind doesn’t often stray from wrestling, which he sees far into his future.

Photo by Boris V

He said he has received letters from a number of top schools, including Iowa, Cornell, Columbia, Oklahoma and Lehigh, among others.  Williams isn’t sure what direction he’ll choose, but did stress that he’s looking for a place where his academic success will be a priority.  He also made clear that contrary to what he might have thought in the past, he won’t be a heavyweight.

“Reggie was thinking for a while he could be at 285 in college but then we went to the Penn State vs. Ohio State dual meet,” head coach Jordan Glenn said.  “After he saw the size of the boys at that level, he didn’t think that heavyweight would be the route for him.”

In fact, Williams said he “should have gone 182” last year and that he may certify at that weight for the upcoming campaign.

But at this point, the most important number isn’t his weight – it’s “nine”.

“We tell the boys all the time about the eight individual state champions we’ve had at this school,” Glenn said. “We talk about who will step up and become the ninth. We’re looking to get number nine this year and Reggie has what it takes to do it.”

“I’m thinking all the time about being number nine,” Williams said before quickly adding, “Or number 10 if one of my teammates beats me to it. That’s what’s driving me so much right now.  I’m going all out. I don’t want to lose a match and I want to pin anyone who steps on the mat with me.  My mindset now is that I have to win.  I wanted to be a three-time state champion but now I want to be the first two-time champion in Johnson City history.  I daydream about what I would do after winning states a lot.”

That would be yet another trophy for Reggie Williams.

 

More Season Preview Articles (and more on the way)

Section 1 Preview

Section 3 Preview

Section 7 Preview

Section 8 Preview

Section 9 Preview

CHSAA Preview

 

Features (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

Section 11 Feature: Nick Piccininni Looks to Continue Winning Streak