Niagara CCC Adds Impact Newcomers (Including State and National Champs) to Strong Group of Returners; Looks For Big Year

Which New York college team could start a Fargo National champion, a three-time state champion and a two-time New York titlewinner in the middleweights this year?

If you answered Niagara County Community College, you’re correct.

The squad accomplished quite a bit during last season, collecting conference and region titles and a fourth place showing at the NJCAA National Duals, according to head coach Keith Maute.  With some quality returners and talented newcomers, expectations are once again high.

“We did some really good things last year,” Maute said. “We didn’t have a great national tournament, but ended up with two All-Americans.”

Those All-Americans, Kris Schimek and Irvin Buck, won’t be in the lineup for the Thunderwolves this year.  But there will still be plenty of threats to make the podium at the end of the campaign.

One will be Kevin Strong (149), who fell just one win shy of being on the medal stand a year ago.  According to Maute, Strong faced a tough road at the Nationals, losing by a point to the eventual champion and then in the Round of 12 to the bronze medalist.

In addition, Max Antone and Gunner Thomas, both regional champions in 2013, will return, but in different spots.  Antone will move from heavyweight to 197, while Thomas will transition from 197 to 184.  (Maute said Cedrick Stephens, a New York State qualifier, will also contend at 184). Meanwhile, Tyler Bruce will get a chance to show what he can do.  Maute said Bruce won close to 30 matches last year, but couldn’t consistently break into the starting group.

Bruce, a 157-pounder, could be surrounded in the lineup by some of the incoming talent.  A pair of transfers from Buffalo, Chris Nevinger (a three-time state champion from Letchworth Central) and Jimmy Kloc (a 2011 and 2012 gold medalist from Iroquois), both look to win big right out of the gate.  Nevinger will be at 165 while Kloc could compete at 141 or 149. (Maute mentioned that Barry Hart and Michael Carson add great depth in the middleweights and are working extremely hard).

In addition, Mark Havers, the aforementioned Fargo National champion, joined Niagara from Clarion.  The two-time Pennsylvania state finalist will take the mat at 174 for NCCC this winter.

“I expect all of those guys to do very well,” Maute said. “They’re all really good wrestlers who are ready to contribute.”

They all certainly came in with strong credentials.  The same could be said at the heavyweight spot, where Maute has a plethora of options.  Fans in Albany have seen Aaron Kroll, El Shaddai Van Hoesen, Kacee Sauer and Matt Montesanti wrestle in the state finals over the past few years. They’re all on the roster, as is Jim Donner, another formidable big man.

“They’re all pretty good,” Maute said. “Donner’s a little older and he wrestled Division I a few years ago.  It’s hard to pick just one to talk about.  There will definitely be interesting wrestleoffs for that heavyweight spot.  We’ll see who comes out on top and some will probably redshirt.”

In the lightweights, Cody Carberry returns after competing as a bit of an undersized 125 for NCCC a year ago.  Maute said Eric Velez, Marcus Popp, Jude Gardner and Lance Compton will be in the mix for starting roles.

“Eric Velez is going to be very good,” the coach said. “Out of high school he went to Brockport and he’s been working, taking care of his family.  He did some MMA, stayed in good shape.  I’m looking forward to seeing him.  We have a lot of good guys who can step in across the lineup.  We feel like we have a really nice roster.”

That roster will once again look to make an impact at the National Duals.  But first Maute said he looks forward to competing with all the other Empire State teams at the New York State Intercollegiates in November in Ithaca.

“We’re really excited about the team we have,” Maute said. “We have to get everyone in the right weights, stay healthy and stay on the right path academically and we’ll be ok.  This is the long part – the preseason. We’re looking forward to getting on the mat with some competition and seeing how this all plays out.”

NCCC Roster (As Provided by Keith Maute)

JIM KLOC 141/49

1000 Islands Duals: Superior Wins the Jr High Event; Buffalo Wrestling Club Takes Second in the HS Division

It was a bit of deja vu for the Superior Wrestling Academy team at the 1000 Islands Duals – in a very good way.

A year after winning the Junior High title at the summer event, Superior did it again, capturing first place with a 4-0 record on the opening day of competition in Clayton, New York.

Superior Wrestling Academy, Courtesy of Gary Ferro

The team began with a pair of dominant performances – topping Lockport and Midlakes. The semifinals round was a bit of a different story, as Nazareth, Pennsylvania pushed the squad to the limit in a 31-28 battle.

According to Gary Ferro, who coached the team along with Ed Schafer, Superior trailed going into the last three weights.  However, back-to-back falls by David Crow and Brandon Cousino at 155 and 165 pounds provided an insurmountable lead going into heavyweight.  (Superior forfeited at the unlimited class throughout the event).

“We faced Nazareth last year too and both times it was definitely our toughest match,” Ferro said. “They have an excellent team and it went back and forth, but our guys came through at the end.  Those two pins were huge.  [David Crow] was losing 4-0 but came back to get the pin.  Then [Brandon Cousino] followed with another one.  It was a great win to get us to the finals.”

The championship bout was less suspenseful, with Superior putting together a double-digit victory over Delaware Valley to finish first.

“The kids enjoyed coming back and taking a second championship and it was definitely exciting for us coaches too,” Ferro said. “Ultimately, for us, it’s about putting the kids on the mat in the summer and seeing them continue to get better. 1000 Islands Duals is the place to go to do that.  It’s amazing to see the wrestlers dedicating their time at this time of year.  That’s something we get excited about.”

Leading the way for Superior were undefeated wrestlers Ethan Ferro (75), Brian Courtney (105) and Mike Venosa (119) as well as Michael Gonyea (82) and David Crow (155), who both finished with one loss.

“We really enjoyed the tournament,” Ferro said. “We’ll be ready for next year and we’ll be looking to three-peat.”

(It was a good weekend overall for Superior, as the High School squad went 4-1 with the lone loss coming in a 32-31 match versus Northeast Elite, a top 8 placer.  The squad, coached by Ferro and Mark Friske, won the Blue Bracket).

Buffalo Wrestling Club in the Finals Again

In the High School action, another New York team made the finals – Buffalo Wrestling Club.  According to coach Keith Maute, the squad just missed out on the title for the second consecutive year at the 1000 Islands Duals.

“We were second last year too,” Maute said. “Last year against Bound Brook (NJ), it came down to the last match.  This year, it came down to criteria.”

Indeed, the championship dual between Buffalo Wrestling Club and Doughboy ended in a 27-27 deadlock.  However, the Massachusetts team was declared the winner using the tiebreakers.

The Buffalo WC squad, which Maute said was made up of wrestlers from the Cobra Wrestling Academy, cruised through the first three meets of the event, losing just a handful of matches along the way.

In the semifinals, however, things got more difficult in an eight-point triumph over Northeast Elite.

According to Maute, his group jumped ahead in the lightweights, but the opposition fought back to within five heading into 195 pounds.  A victory by James Empfield at that weight in the ultimate tiebreaker was crucial, as was another win at 220 by Tyler Hall to clinch a spot in the title match.

That championship dual followed a similar pattern initially.  Once again, the Buffalo WC built up an early advantage.  In fact, the squad led 27-4 going into 160 pounds, fueled by a number of grapplers who went undefeated throughout the tournament – Dane Heberlein (100), Kellen Devlin (130), Cody McGregor (137) and Dakota Gardner (145/152).  In addition, Troy Keller (107), Tito Colom (115), Danny Graham (145/152) and the previously mentioned Empfield (195) each lost only one bout during the weekend, according to Maute.

However, Doughboy responded to 23-point deficit by capturing the remainder of the matches, resulting in the 27-27 score.

“Doughboy was a tough team,” Maute said. “We were winning big, but then we got beaten up top where they were very strong. It was tough, but the guys wrestled well and it was a good tournament overall.”

Superior Wrestling Academy – Jr High Championship Team (provided by G. Ferro)
75-Ethan Ferro
82-Michael Gonyea
90-Drew Schafer
98-Trent Nadaeu
105-Brian Courtney
112-Tanner Cook
119-Mike Venosa
127-Emerson Block
135-Josh Shamp
145-Jake Ginter
155-David Crow
165-Brandon Cousino
Unlimited- None
Buffalo Wrestling Club (Cobra) High School (provided by K. Maute)
100-Dane Heberlein
107-Troy Keller/Hector Colom
115-Tito Colom/Michael Wisniewski
123-Drew Marra
130-Kellen Devlin
137-Cody McGregor/Freddy Eckles/Maulo Wawior
145-Dakota Gardner
152-Danny Graham
160-Lucas McKeever/Garrett Smead
170-Richie Jones
185-Marques Buchanan
195-James Empfield/Tyler Hall
220-Alex Jones
285-Nick Jones
Superior Wrestling Academy High School (provided by G. Ferro)
100-Trent Nadeau
107-Tanner Cook
115-Mike Venosa
123-Dandre Norman
130-Blake Jackson
137-Freddy Eckles
145-Laken Cook
154-Vinny Romeo
162-Jordan Torbitt
172-James Lukaszonas
185-Mark Friske
197-Ben Honis
220-Landry Cook

At the Second Annual NYWAY State Championships Over 900 Wrestlers Compete; Cobra Wrestling Academy Takes Team Title

According to Cobra Wrestling Academy Executive Director Keith Maute, Sunday was a great day.

The fact that he got married was the obvious and most important reason for that sentiment.

But Maute admitted that he took glances at his phone at points during the day for another reason – to check on how his wrestlers were doing at the NYWAY State Championships in Elmira.

The Cobra grapplers gave him a wedding present as the Buffalo-area club captured the team title by a slim two-point margin over Journeymen a year after finishing second in a close race behind G2 World Wrestling Academy (third in 2013).

“I’m really excited that we won,” he said. “I’m really excited for the kids, our club and our section. Last year we lost by a point or two and this year we’re on the flip side of that.  The fact that it was a tight team race makes it exciting for everyone.  It’s really nice to have 20 kids in the finals and another bunch of All-State kids.”

Cobra was led by 10 champions and 10 second placers**, as well as another six bronze medalists.  The champions were: Cooper Gronowski, JJ Lucinski, Justin McDougald, Tyler Bartolomei, Hector Colom, Jacob Brewer, Tito Colom, Jake Weber, Carson Alberti and Dane Heberlein.  The last two, Alberti and Heberlein, won this event last year as well.

But taking the championship this season was a bit different than doing so in the inaugural NYWAY event in 2012.  The tournament had over 930 participants this weekend as opposed to 640 a year ago and had representation from the all corners of New York this time, something that wasn’t quite the case before.

“We were extremely happy with the number of wrestlers we had and especially that we had a cross section from across the state,” said NYWAY President Clint Wattenberg. “We had at least 50 kids from each of the eight regions.  Every region had some champions and it was really a unifying event across the state.”

Courtesy of NYWAY

Making Wattenberg equally excited was the quality of the competition.  For example, a pair of state silver medalists – Vincent DePrez of G2/Hilton and Connor Lapresi of the Finger Lakes Wrestling Club/Lansing squared off in a match won by DePrez in sudden victory in the semifinals in the high school division.  (It was a good weekend to be named DePrez as all four brothers – Vincent, Anthony, Louie and Sam – took first at the event).

In addition to DePrez and Lapresi, many others who competed at the Times Union Center in late February also took part. In fact, the 113-pound bracket in Division 6 included All-Staters Ryan Hetrick and Kelan McKenna as well as Eastern States champion Chris Cuccolo. And none of those accomplished wrestlers came out on top; instead it was 30-plus match winner Blake Abbey of Corning (who won this tournament at 103 pounds in 2012).

Similarly, the younger divisions featured wrestlers who have placed and won prestigious youth tournaments across the country.  Some of those picked up their second straight NYWAY State championship, including (in Division 2) Waverly’s Bryce Bailey, G2’s Jayden Scott, the previously mentioned Carson Alberti and Lockport’s JR Leuer; in Division 3 Stevo Poulin of Journeymen and Myles Griffin of Mexico and in Division 4 Journeymen’s Michael Gonyea and Dillan Palaszewski as well as Orion Anderson and Benny Baker.  (Repeat gold medalists in Divisions 5 and 6 were Dandre Norman of Edge, Andrew McFarland of Carthage and the previously discussed Dane Heberlein and Blake Abbey).

Courtesy of NYWAY

For the full list of placers from first to fourth in each division and weight, see here.

While this weekend’s action at the First Arena in Elmira represented the largest event on NYWAY’s calendar, Wattenberg stressed that the second-year organization is much more than just a state championship tournament.

“It was a great, but it’s only a small part of our mission,” Wattenberg said. “We’re dedicated to creating continuity and direction for New York wrestling.  It’s all about the lifecycle of developmental wrestling and tying it all together at the youth, high school and college levels.  We want to find out where we’re losing people and try to help fill those gaps.  We think one of the critical pieces of the development puzzle in New York is in modified wrestling.  That’s why having Division 5 (middle school and some freshmen) as our biggest division at this event was encouraging.  New York continues to lose modified programs or have the mat time cut down significantly.  We feel that this is a role we can fill in the state, helping develop wrestlers that aren’t getting what they need through modified programs.”

Of course, it’s no secret that wrestling is losing more than the modified level.  The IOC’s decision to drop the sport from the 2020 Olympic Games is fresh on the minds of fans and Wattenberg said all $600 of total proceeds from the sales of programs will be donated to the ‘Keep Wrestling in the Olympics’ movement.

In addition, a portion of every online NYWAY transaction this season has been allocated to the President’s Fund, which is dedicated to strengthening and advancing college wrestling.  According to Wattenberg, that money will be “spread around to not only strengthen current programs in New York but to encourage additional schools in the state to start new wrestling programs.”

The link with the college level of wrestling wasn’t hard to see over the weekend.  On Saturday night, Cornell All-Americans Kyle Dake, Steve Bosak and Mike Nevinger attended the event, signing autographs and talking with participants and fans.

Meanwhile, some of their peers were on the mat – as referees.

Photo by John Drew

“It’s core to our mission to reintegrate college wrestlers into youth wrestling to help the next generation,” Wattenberg said. “Having a group of officials being college age wrestlers, along with veterans as the head officials, helps keep that development cycle going and makes the wrestling community stronger.  That’s the reason we like to stick to that format, but we are trying to integrate some other experienced officials as well.  As a whole, the feedback on the structure and set up of the tournament was positive.”

And so the second NYWAY season came to a close with Cobra standing on the top step.   While Maute kept tabs on the day’s events from his wedding, he expects to be in attendance in 2014 to help his club defend its crown.

“This tournament grew so much in just one year,” Maute said. “It’s awesome that there were almost 1000 kids there this year. Hopefully next year it will be 1300 wrestlers or even more.”


Wattenberg wished to thank the NYWAY Board of Directors, especially the state tournament committee (Kristine Maslin, Adam Burgos, Kevin Lucinski, Mel Cutrie) for their time and dedication and for making decisions with “best intentions to provide opportunities and create a level playing field.”  He also wished to thank Eric Padelford for setting up the technology portion of the event, especially on short notice.


**Some of the Cobra wrestlers, according to Maute, weren’t listed under Cobra in the brackets

Finalists as Freshmen, Mark West and Eric Lewandowski Prepare for One Last Title Run

In 2010, a pair of freshmen met for the 96-pound state championship.  Mark West of Hauppauge capped off an undefeated campaign with a 2-1 victory over Lancaster’s Eric Lewandowski and it looked like the duo would be fixtures on the New York state podium for years to come.

“Mark was intense from the time he was in the youth program,” said Hauppauge head coach Chris Messina. “To be honest, we weren’t surprised that he was a state champion that early. We knew him and his work ethic and what he was capable of, especially competing against guys mostly his own age at 96 pounds. Look at his record and the guys he beat, it was a great year.”

The record shows that it was indeed a great year.  West’s 43-0 mark included wins over eventual state champions or finalists Kyle Kelly, Dylan Realbuto, Drew Longo, Justin Cooksey, Trey Aslanian and Mark Raghunandan as well as other placers such as Sayville’s Matt Leshinger and Walt Whitman’s Joe Calderone.

Lewandowski’s title bout appearance wasn’t shocking to those around him, either.

“It didn’t surprise me when Eric went to the state finals as a freshman,” said Keith Maute, Executive Director of Cobra Wrestling Academy and head coach at Niagara County Community College, who has worked with Lewandowski since he began wrestling in elementary school. “I thought all year he’d be at least top four.”

The success hasn’t stopped for either wrestler since the 2009-10 campaign.  West went a combined 76-11 in his sophomore and junior seasons while Lewandowski compiled an 83-18 mark over the same time frame.  But neither made it back into the top six at the Times Union Center.

For West, it’s been a combination of injuries and stacked weight classes.   In 2011, he looked to be in good shape to get a ticket to the big dance, but in the bronze medal match at 112 pounds in Section 11, he suffered a concussion and had to injury default.  As a fourth place finisher, a bid to the state event wasn’t in the cards.

And then as a junior, the Hauppauge grappler competed in arguably the toughest Sectional tournament bracket in all of New York at 120 pounds.  The top three finishers, Matt Leshinger of Sayville, TJ Fabian of Shoreham Wading River and Sean McCabe of Connetquot all made the medal stand in Albany.  In fact, McCabe, who topped West 3-1 in the third place bout in Suffolk, became the state champion.

“It was difficult because Mark beat all the guys who finished ahead of him at some point that season,” Messina said. “He was right there with all of them. We felt that if he got to states, he would do well but it was a matter of getting there.”

He didn’t get a spot in the field, but West did travel to Albany to support his teammates and take in the experience.

“Mark’s been up there in Albany every year,” Messina said. “He was right by Nick’s [Mauriello, the fourth place finisher at 132] side, trying to help. He was a frustrated to not be on the mat, though.”

“It was upsetting to have to watch,” West added. “After a big year as a freshman, I wanted to make it back again. People expected so much and not making it out of the Section after all the work I put in, it was really upsetting.”

So coming into this season, West knew it was his last chance to get back on the floor at the Times Union Center.  He also knew it would be far from easy.  At 126 pounds, he would once again face Fabian and several other All-State caliber competitors such as Huntington’s Corey Jamison and Islip’s Brad Wade to earn top billing in Section 11.

He did what he always does, according to Messina — got back to work at a feverish pace.

“He’s really intense,” Messina said. “He’s one of the toughest, meanest kids I’ve ever seen or coached and I mean that in a good way. Mark goes so hard; he tears most guys up.  Hurt or not, he doesn’t let up.”

That’s a good thing because injury struck during his semifinal bout at the Eastern States against Dylan Realbuto of Somers [in a 5-4 loss].

Photo by

“It wasn’t a new injury,” Messina said of his shoulder issue. “He tweaked it against Realbuto and we made the decision to scratch him from the third place match.  He really wanted to wrestle.”

He wasn’t only held out of the bronze bout.  West was restricted from any activity for about a week and a half, according to the coach, and then resumed only cardio to keep his weight in check.

In fact, West didn’t go live at all from Eastern States until the League qualifier.  He only began to drill two days prior to that tournament.

“Holding him out wasn’t an easy task,” Messina said. “He was furious. When he returned, we had to slow him down. It was like he wanted to make up for lost time.“

West took out his frustration on his opponents, pinning his way through the League 4 event (plus a forfeit).

He then came into the Section 11 championships with a shoulder brace and a lot of confidence and he wrestled that way, looking dominant in a bracket where dominance wasn’t really expected from any wrestler given the quality of the competition.

In his first three contests, he recorded a technical fall and a pair of majors, including over Islip’s Brad Wade, a wrestler ranked in the state, in the semis.

“We were a little worried that he would lose his conditioning, but he came back so much stronger,” Messina said. “With those wrestlers in the bracket, it’s like picking your poison. They’re all tough. But Mark took it to another level. He told me he felt really good and he was focused – all business.”

“It was pretty hard to not be able to do anything for that amount of time,” West added.  “But it worked to my benefit. I had lots of time off to rest and heal everything.  I think it was an advantage.”

Photo by

He finished off a controlled, 5-2 victory over Jimmy Leach of Eastport South Manor to claim his second Suffolk crown and a trip to the biggest tournament of the year.  In the process, he received more hardware.

“With the terrific performances from so many wrestlers, Mark getting Most Outstanding Wrestler and Champion of Champions is really a credit to him,” Messina said. “He was shocked to say the least. I actually got a smile from him.”

Why not smile? For the first time since his freshman campaign, Mark West was returning to the state capital to compete.

“He’s done a terrific job,” Messina said. “He just focused on winning this county title.  He didn’t think about Fabian or Jamison or Wade.  He just got it done.  There’s so much pressure to win if you’ve won before, especially when you were young.”

Lewandowski can relate, but his journey has been different.  He has been back in Albany the past two years after his silver medal as a ninth grader.

“Early in my freshman year, we were paying a lot of attention to state rankings,” Lewandowski said. “I thought I could do really well. I expected to go in and win. I came up a little short, but it was a good experience to have early in my career.”

The next season, Lewandowski made a leap in weight, moving up to 119 pounds.  He had a solid season, followed by a 1-2 performance at the Times Union Center.

Lewandowski in 2010, Courtesy Bob Koshinski

“I knew 96 wasn’t the toughest weight class,” Lewandowski said. “And I knew moving all the way to 119, I was in for a test with kids who were stronger, better and older. It was a little harder than I thought. It was actually a little shocking to get beaten on because I was used to winning.”

The following year, his junior campaign, brought about another jump – up to 132 pounds.  Lewandowski once again won over 40 matches, including two in the state capital.  However, in the placement round, he dropped a 4-3 decision to eventual fourth place medalist Nick Mauriello [West’s teammate] to come up one match short of the medal stand. (His other loss in Albany was to champion Jamel Hudson of St. Anthony’s).

“I really thought he was going to place last year,” Maute said. “But I think that last loss made him very focused on this year.  I definitely think he’ll be in the mix to win it all.”

He has looked sharp for much of the campaign.  At the Eastern States, he took sixth after being tantalizingly close to the finals.

After a pin and a technical fall in his first two matches, Lewandowski won an exciting 9-7 bout against Fox Lane’s Tom Grippi in the quarterfinals at SUNY Sullivan.  In the semis, he led top-seeded Beau Donahue of Westfield, Virginia until a very late two points gave his opponent a 2-1 victory.

“He was right there at Eastern States,” Maute said. “There might have been five seconds left when he gave up those points. Eric hates losing.  He doesn’t handle it the best.  But those losses [including a 4-3 setback to Shenendehowa’s David Almaviva in the consolation semifinals] will help him now for one last shot.”

Photo by Josh Conklin

Lewandowski, whose brother Mark wrestles at Buffalo, said the fact that this is his last tournament with Lancaster has hit him.  And it’s led him to increase his workload, trying to get in additional lifts or runs after practice to “get that little extra that could make the difference.”

“I’m ready to go six minutes plus any overtime or whatever it takes,” he said. “I’m ready for it all.  Obviously, before the season started my goal was to win the state title and it’s still my goal now. I’m getting toward the end and I can see the finish line in sight.  I just have to go out there and take advantage of the opportunity.”

That’s the same sentiment expressed by West.

“This year I’ve pretty much been wrestling with no regrets,” West said.  “It’s my last year so I don’t want to hold back.  I want to wrestle like I have nothing to lose.“

The two keep in touch, seeing each other at the Eastern States and in Albany.

“I see Mark a couple of times a year and talk to him a lot,” Lewandowski said. “He’s a good kid and I try to keep up on how he’s doing. He’s a really tough wrestler.  He’s had a hard time at his Sectionals the past few years, but right now he has the same goal as everyone else.  There’s just one more time to get there.”

Indeed, for both West and Lewandowski and Class of 2013 wrestlers all around New York, this week represents the last chance.

Mark West and Eric Lewandowski battled for the ultimate New York wrestling trophy as freshmen in 2010.  With West at 126 and Lewandowski at 145, they won’t meet again in Albany this weekend.  However, both look to take the mat on Saturday night, three years later, and leave the sport as champions – the way they expected to as ninth grade finalists.

“It would mean the world to me if I won another state title,” West said. “I came into high school winning a state title and it would be the greatest thing in the world to leave that way.”


Lewandowski wished to thank his coaches and family, as well as his longtime practice partner Steve Michel.

West spoke highly of all his coaches and family, and specifically thanked his father.