Cam Simaz Grabs Championship, $2500 at Inaugural Tour ACW Event; Kyle Borshoff Takes Second

Simaz, Photo by BV

On Sunday, Cam Simaz was the ‘First 2 ten’ and he earned $2500 in the process.

In the inaugural event of Tour ACW (Association of Career Wrestlers) in the Grand Ballroom at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Pittsburgh, the former Cornell NCAA titlewinner was one of five champions. Each winner received a $2500 check. (Those victors were Daniel Dennis at 135 pounds, Frank Molinaro at 155, Nick Marable at 170, Simaz at 205 and Dom Bradley at 265).

How do you win in Tour ACW?  Quite simply, you score 10 points.  There are no time limits or periods and some freestyle elements, such as a point for a pushout, are combined with typical folkstyle rules.

Simaz had a bye in the first round and then defeated Division III national champion Evan Brown 11-3 in just over four minutes in his first action.  In the title bout, he jumped out to an 8-0 advantage against Deron Winn after just over two minutes with a takedown and a pair of three-point near falls. He closed out a 10-5 victory with two escapes.

In addition to Simaz, there were several other participants with New York ties, including 155-pound runner up Kyle Borshoff.  The Pittsford native, who is currently an assistant coach at American, beat Danny Sheehan and Jake Patacsil before dropping the final against Frank Molinaro at 155 by a 10-1 score.

At 135 pounds, Chris Notte and Jeffrey Streu competed.  Notte attended Nassau Community College while Streu went to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

Former Ithaca College standout Jeremy Stierly entered at 155, as did Kirk Landon, a graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point.  In addition, former Lehigh grappler Trevor Chinn, a multiple-time New York state champion from Canandaigua, wrestled in that class.

For more on Tour ACW, see touracw.com.

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Next Stop, Binghamton: State Finalist Steve Schneider of MacArthur Selects the Bearcats

When asked about his goals, MacArthur senior Steve Schneider didn’t hesitate.

New York State champion. High school national champion.  NCAA champion.

On that last one, he and Binghamton University head coach Matt Dernlan are certainly on the same page. And that’s one of the reasons Schneider committed to the Bearcats a few days ago.

“Coach Dernlan sat across the table from me in my dining room with my parents and said that he would make me a national champion,” Schneider said. “To hear that in his voice, especially after all he did for Penn State, it gave me great vibes.  He sees my potential and my dedication and my motivation to get things done even though on paper, I don’t have all the trophies.”

He may not have all the trophies, but he has racked up plenty of impressive wins.  As a sophomore in 2011-12, he went 41-4 at 152 pounds and went into the Section 8 championships as the top seed.  However, he was upset by Mepham’s Dan Tracy, a wrestler he had defeated earlier in the year, and took third.  He waited patiently to see whether he would get the opportunity to compete at the Times Union Center.

“I had a heartbreaking loss in the semis, but I beat everyone in my weight class during the year,” he said. “My coaches thought I would get a wildcard to states, but it didn’t happen.”

Schneider still made the trip to Albany to cheer on some of his teammates, including 2012 state finalist Justin Cooksey.

“Even going just as a fan to support Cooksey let me get some nerves out,” Schneider said. “It’s important to go to big events like that because when you’re there for the first time it can affect you on the mat.  Being there before was a big part of why I did so well this year.”

It may have played a role in Schneider’s stellar junior campaign, but so did all the offseason work.

“After I lost in the counties, I was so motivated to devastate the county and win it all the next year,” Schneider said. “I trained my butt off. I did a lot of wrestling — so many tournaments — and a lot of lifting. I got a lot bigger and stronger. I didn’t only want to win the county, I wanted to win the state tournament too.”

It was an objective that he reminded himself about constantly.

“Last year, I wrote ‘160-pound New York State champion’ in my book every day,” Schneider said.

And he did make it to the 2013 state finals bout after an impressive campaign, which featured a third place showing at the Eastern States Classic. At that event, Schneider topped several wrestlers who placed in Albany in 2013, including Nick Gallo, Mike Beckwith and Andrew Psomas.

Photo by BV

That showing at SUNY Sullivan, his first Nassau County title, as well as his performance throughout the 47-4 season earned him the second seed at the Times Union Center.  But he found himself in a battle in the opening round with Amsterdam’s James Marquez, a bout he won 3-1 in extra time. [Marquez then won five in a row to take third].

“My first match – the nerves were there,” he said. “You have to feel it to totally understand it.  I felt like I had stone feet. It was more mental than physical.  In overtime, I woke up and snapped right out of it.  After that, I felt like I opened up more each match. I thought I was getting better and better and I was ready to take another shot at Grimaldi.”

Tyler Grimaldi of Half Hollow Hills West was a returning state runner up who had handed Schneider two of his three losses during the season.  The two did indeed square off in the state title match this February, with Grimaldi (now a freshman at Harvard), grabbing a 9-3 victory.

“When you look up on that yellow mat in the finals and see all those faces – it’s just a different level of excitement,” Schneider said. “It was good to experience it already.  So next year in the state finals, I’ll be ready to take it home.”

Taking home a state championship in wresting isn’t something Schneider was thinking about when he first began in the sport in elementary school.  In fact, he said he got involved simply to “keep in shape for baseball.”

However, due largely to the efforts of youth coach Colin Curnuck, Schneider said he continued in wrestling and was hooked, especially when he began working out at Vougar’s Honors Wrestling in eighth grade.

“As soon as I walked into Vougar’s gym, he threw me in there with the big guys,” Schneider said. “I got pulled up to varsity as an eighth grader and started to really take it seriously.  I also started training with Jamel Hudson when I was a freshman and I stopped playing baseball. I chose wrestling.”

And last week, he chose Binghamton as his future home after also considering Hofstra and North Carolina.

“The coaching staff seems great – I think they are a great combination together,” Schneider said. “It feels like a good fit for me athletically and academically.  Not only am I going to Binghamton for wrestling, but I’m also going because it’s a great school and I know I’ll be able to achieve all of my academic goals while I’m there.”

Those academic goals include majoring in computer engineering.

Schneider, who said he will likely wrestle at 174 or 184 pounds for the Bearcats, mentioned that he is also excited about training with so many familiar faces.

“When I went for the unofficial visit, I felt like I knew almost everyone on the team already,” he said. “I feel like it will make me more comfortable there.  I’ve won with a couple of these guys already – Rob Person in Section 8 and Nick Kelley on the national level in Florida [Disney Duals]. There’s already a bond.  Also, Ryan Conrad was my drill partner in high school.  I think it will make the experience even better.”

As for now, he’s looking for an ‘even better’ high school season as a senior.  After the state tournament was over last season, he began writing ‘2014 New York State champion’ in his book every morning.

And whether he winds up going for the title at 170 or 182 pounds in 2013-14 (he said he isn’t sure yet), Schneider feels that he has benefited from nationally ranked competition at offseason events such as the Pop & Flo, Waterway and Disney Duals.

“The Disney Duals changes you – I came out a totally different person and wrestler,” he said. “Everybody that I lost to was top 10 in the country. The level of competition is insane.  It’s the best thing that happened to me before my senior year because I learn more from my losses than my wins.  I’ve gotten so much stronger since last year and I have so much motivation from the loss in the state finals. It’s not how you start; it’s how you finish.  My sophomore year was ok, my junior year was better and in my senior year, I’m ready to take home the gold.”

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Steve Schneider wanted to thank his youth coach, Colin Curnuck who kept him involved in wrestling.  He also wanted to thank his parents for all their support and Vougar Oroudjov for “always making sure there is someone in the room for me to train with, keeping my wrestling and academic goals on my mind and always having confidence in me.”

 

"Blessing in Disguise": Robert Person to Start the Next Chapter at Binghamton

 
 
Robert Person called it a “blessing in disguise.”

The Bellmore JFK wrestler was referring to the interesting path that led to his commitment to Binghamton University last week, a place he feels is a great fit for his future both on the mat in the classroom.

“I’m really happy with Binghamton,” he said. “It’s very good academically and when I visited, I loved the campus.  The kids on the team made me feel welcome and everyone was friendly and approachable.  I got to know Coach [Jasen] Borshoff and Coach [Matt] Dernlan and they’re great.  I didn’t get to meet Teyon Ware, but it’s exciting to have a World Team member in the room. I think it worked out for the better for me.”

Person’s excitement about his future is a bit of a contrast to what he was feeling about a month ago.  On April 1, in the late morning, he dialed the wrestling offices at Boston University.

“I called [head coach] Carl Adams and told him I would be coming to Boston,” Person said. “He was happy and I was happy.  And then six hours later, I went onto Intermat to report my commitment.  On the front page, it said ‘Boston University Drops Wrestling.’  I was thinking, it’s April Fool’s Day, maybe my dad is somehow messing with me.”

But it wasn’t a joke.  The administration at the former CAA institution had announced just a few hours after Person’s call that they would be shutting down the program after the 2013-14 campaign.

“After the biggest decision of my life, there was a huge letdown,” he said. “It was devastating.”

Person and his club coach Craig Vitagliano of Ascend quickly sprung into action, looking into options.

Person said he originally hadn’t considered Binghamton because he was looking to go outside of New York to experience something different.  But when he looked more closely, he realized the school offered all the things he was looking for in a college.  He also connected with American and Franklin & Marshall over the past month and visited those institutions as well.

“I can’t be more appreciative to Coach [Mike] Rogers [of Franklin & Marshall] and Coach Teague Moore [of American],” he said. “They were really good to me and although I didn’t choose to go to those schools, I will forever be grateful to them.”

According to Vitagliano, one of the reasons those coaches were willing to get involved late in the process with Person was because of the potential he has to make an impact at the Division I level.

“He was a two-time state placewinner before this year [sixth in 2011, fifth in 2012] and was ranked number one in the state early in the season,” the Ascend Wrestling coach said.  He’s as good a technician as I’ve coached with amazing level changes and flexibility.  He’s like a Gumby doll.  With all of that, he was expected to place high or win the state this year.  After he went 0-2 a lot of coaches forgot about him or didn’t pursue him.  But most people didn’t know what he was dealing with in Albany and you might not pursue him as a coach if you don’t know the story.”

So, what’s the story?

“This year was disappointing for me,” Person said.  He came into the Eastern States Classic as the number four seed, but didn’t place after going 3-2 while competing with bronchitis.

One of his losses was to Nassau rival Chris Cataldo of MacArthur in an 11-9 contest.

“Not taking anything away from Chris, who wrestled a great match, but that was a wake up call for me,” Person said.  “I started training 10 times harder after that tournament.  I was ready to wrestle and do my thing.  I was so excited for a chance to wrestle him again at [the Section 8 tournament].

Just 15 seconds into the county final match, however, Person felt significant pain in his leg and took injury time.

“I felt something pulling.  I had no idea what it was, but I knew I had to keep going,” he said. “I kept hitting duck unders because it was all I could do.  Adrenaline pushed me through the match.”

“It was amazing how he wrestled through it,” Vitagliano added. “He hit three or four duck unders that were so slick, people are still talking about them.  I thought it would be a close match, but he blew the match wide open.”

He sure did, winning the Nassau crown with a dominant 19-8 major decision to punch his ticket to Albany after a 37-2 regular season record with 23 pins.

There was a problem, though.

“I thought I would wake up the next day and be at 100%,” Person said. “My leg hurt a lot but I thought I probably just tweaked it.  But it started to hurt more and more.  I went to the doctor two days later and found out I tore my hamstring and would be out for six to eight months.”

With the state tournament less than two weeks later, Person knew he had a decision to make.  And it was an easy one.

“I wanted to leave on my own terms no matter what,” he said. “It was rough, going 0-2 at states. I worked so hard all year. But I was proud of myself for going out there and trying to wrestle.”

Months later, Person continues to rehab the injury, going to physical therapy three times per week.  He said he still hasn’t been cleared to get on the mat, but has been working in the weight room and is hoping to be able to start wrestling by July.

“I’m looking to lift into the 125-pound weight class,” he said. “I haven’t been cutting much weight and I think a lot of my success was because of that.  I think my technique is on par, but my strength will be the biggest factor as to how well I do in college.”

Vitagliano agrees.

“He needs to get stronger and we all know that,” Vitagliano said. “He needs to hit the weights hard because that’s all he’s lacking now – strength.  He’s technically as good as anyone I’ve ever coached. He’s also a really good kid with a great sense of humor and a supportive family. It was tough for him to end the way he did because he wrestles with a lot of the guys that placed and is right there with them.  It was a disappointing end, but I think he has a bright future at Binghamton.”

Perhaps it all was a blessing in disguise.

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Robert Person wished to thank Craig Vitagliano, his parents, and his high school coach at Bellmore JFK, Brian DeGaetano.

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.

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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.”

Wantagh's Danny McDevitt, Champion On and Off the Mat, Commits to Penn

 
 

By MATT DIANO

The story of Wantagh High School senior Danny McDevitt’s commitment to Coach Rob Eiter and the University of Pennsylvania wrestling team has become something of a running joke at New York Wrestling News.  An article that we had intended to bring to you in mid-January when the news became official, it seemed that every time we sat down to pen the piece, McDevitt would go on to win another big event later in that week, forcing us to start anew.

Photo by BV

With these sentiments in mind, it might seem peculiar that we are choosing now, fresh off of an event (the 2013 New York State tournament) that the Warrior student-athlete did not win, to finally publish. We would disagree.  Because, for those of you who know the future Quaker and have had the privilege of following his career, you already are keenly aware of the fact that independent of any scoreboards, brackets or podiums, Danny McDevitt is, was, and will be a champion, both on the wrestling mat and especially in life.  So no, this article is not about a 2013 New York State champion making his college selection; it is much bigger than that. It’s about a young man, with tremendous depth of character, realizing his dream.  This is an All-American story about an individual who has always done Wantagh proud and will continue to do so next fall when he steps foot on the Philadelphia-based Ivy League campus.

So who is Danny McDevitt?  If you answered, “wrestler”, you would be correct, but would also be guilty of painting the talents and attributes of this young man with much too broad a brush.  He is a scholar, ranking towards the top of his class academically; a brother, who has such a tight and loving bond with his siblings that after watching him win the 2013 Nassau County title, his sister could not help but be overjoyed and sing his praises on a live interview being conducted on MSG Varsity; and above all else, Danny is known as a generous and selfless friend.

The latter would be on full display this past weekend when despite being at the lowest point of his senior season (after losing for the first time), McDevitt did something that brings tears to my eyes, just thinking about it.  If you want to know what makes McDevitt special, it’s that without a second thought, he was the person who took it upon himself to go over to 2013 New York State runner up, John Vrasidas (who because he is from the CHSAA is not eligible for the full array of awards bestowed upon other placewinners) and hand him the second-place medal because as Danny was quoted as saying, “you deserve this.”

Photo by BV

All of the aforementioned having been said, we return to McDevitt’s prowess on the wrestling mat, a home away from home for him where he has been about as dominant as you can get during his six year varsity career.  A four-time Section 8 placewinner, winning the title the past two years at 138 and 170 pounds respectively, the only times McDevitt did not win the Nassau County title, he came pretty darn close, finishing as a bronze medalist as a freshman before taking home runner-up honors in 2011.  As important as individual honors may be, if you ask McDevitt, he is quick to redirect attention back on his teammates by reminding us that during the four years he was a student at Wantagh, the Warriors never failed to finish lower than second in the team standings, winning titles from 2011-2013.

State-wise, this consummate gentleman more than held his own, earning a pair of top-five finishes in Albany, including a bronze medal this past weekend that witnessed him shake off a heartbreaking loss in the quarterfinals to Vrasidas to win four straight bouts in the consolation bracket.  He added this hard-fought third place showing to the fifth place performance he notched last year, losing a pair of nailbiters in the semifinal and consolation semifinal rounds.

Nationally, the Paul Gillespie (at Wantagh) and Craig Vitagliano (at the Ascend Wrestling Club) trained student-athlete has also enjoyed success, demonstrating on multiple occasions that he possesses the skill level to go toe-to-toe with the country’s elite.  (Gillespie mentioned that the presence of former Hofstra All-American PJ Gillespie in the room during the 2012-13 season provided another boost to McDevitt’s performance).  Earning his first All-American distinction in 2011 at the NHSCA Sophomore National tournament with an eighth place finish, McDevitt would return to Virginia Beach last season, improving his lot by a few spots, placing fifth.  Should he make the decision to compete in the Senior tournament, it would hardly surprise anyone to see him ascend (no pun intended) to the top of the podium.

With regard to what awaits McDevitt in the future, I can tell you this; if desire to achieve is any indicator of success on the collegiate level, then this young man is going all the way.  Someone who could have attended pretty much any college or university in the country, it is impossible to overstate how much McDevitt is looking forward to being a Quaker.  In chatting with him for only a few moments, it is easy to tell how invested he is in making the next four years the most fulfilling of his life.

“I am ecstatic about UPenn,” McDevitt said. “My mother was always passionate about me going there and was extremely happy when I got in.”

As it pertains to what it was about the fourth oldest university in the country that ultimately won him over and convinced him that it was the best place for him, McDevitt, who intends to major in business, was quick to speak about the unmatched reputation of the Wharton School, which continues to produce some of the finest corporate minds in the world.  He also was very complimentary of Eiter, suggesting that his future coach’s immediate interest in him was confidence boosting and won him over.  Stating it succinctly, McDevitt said, “Everything about the school is just fantastic.”

Speaking candidly about his star pupil, Vitagliano could not contain his genuine pride.

“I’m extremely excited for Danny, his family and Coach Gillespie,” Vitagliano said. “Coach Eiter is getting a really special kid here! He and I have been through a lot together these past five years and I feel extremely honored to have been a part of his journey. This year has been exceptionally tough for him and the fact he was able to overcome his difficulties really shows what he is made of and is an indication of how well he will do in the future.”

 

Another February, Another Title: Nassau's James Dekrone Wins National Championship at 141 Pounds

Every wrestler hopes to be in peak physical condition as the postseason approaches.

But for Nassau Community College’s James Dekrone, not feeling well contributed to his National Championship performance last weekend in Iowa.

The former John Glenn High School standout spent the majority of the year at 149 pounds, going 18-4 at that weight according to the NWCA Scorebook, with three of those setbacks against Division I wrestlers.

But as February rolled around, an illness changed the course of his year.

Photo by BV

“To be honest, I was planning on going 149 the whole season,” Dekrone said. “I told my coach I was staying at 149 and then I got sick and lost weight.  I had no appetite and the next thing I knew, I wasn’t that far from where I needed to be for 141.  I thought maybe I should take a shot at it.  Once I committed, it wasn’t bad to stay down.”

He wrestled three bouts in early February at the lower weight and won all three – two by technical fall.  He then entered the NJCAA National Championships ranked eighth nationally and not knowing what to expect.

“I really didn’t know too much about a lot of the other wrestlers because I wasn’t at that weight most of the season,” he said.  “I had seen rankings here and there.  I went in thinking I just needed to go and wrestle hard for seven minutes and see what happened.”

The unseeded tournament can be unpredictable.  But Dekrone began with a 10-3 decision over Tyler Lashbrook and followed that up with a with a 2-1 victory against Jarett Morrill.

The semifinals brought Steven Ruppert, the number two grappler in the country. It wasn’t really a contest, however, as the Nassau wrestler picked up a 12-5 win to punch his ticket to the title bout.

After a scoreless first period versus top-ranked Zach Loveless of Northwest College, Dekrone took a 5-0 lead in the second stanza with a takedown and near fall.  A few minutes later, he was a national champion after a 7-6 triumph.

“Even though the final score was close, I felt like I was in control for most of the match,” he said. “It was 7-3 halfway through the third and he had a late reversal and stall point.  I was pretty comfortable that I was going to win.”

He was the only victor for Nassau, but he wasn’t the only placer.  In fact, three other wrestlers – John Pellegrino (125), Chanse Menendez (174) and Yaseen Mudassar (285) finished as silver medalists and Kyle Wade (149) and Ian MacIneirghe (197) also made the podium.

Those showings put the squad in fourth place in the standings.

“In the beginning of the season, we didn’t know if we had that strong of a team,” he said. “That last month, everyone came together and turned it on at the right time.  We had 10 guys at nationals.  We wrestled well at the best time and exceeded expectations.”

As for Dekrone, he felt that he simply met expectations with his championship.

“This weekend was pretty surreal,” Dekrone said.  “It was similar to winning the [138-pound state] title last year.  It felt like there was a great weight off my shoulders. I was just happy that I reached my goals and got to where I wanted to be at the beginning of the season.”

Photo by BV

He believed that he had plenty of help to get there.

“I think ‘fine-tuned’ is a good way to describe what’s happened here this year,” Dekrone said.  “They’ve tweaked the little things to take me from being a good kid to a great kid on the mat.  I’ve definitely matured as an athlete and wrestler.   Physically, I’m in better shape than ever before.  I’m more explosive than I’ve ever been.  That comes from the great coaching I’ve had, which has helped me take the extra steps I needed.  It’s also because I have great training partners like Kyle Wade and Anthony Abidin.”

Abidin captured a national title in 2012 and is redshirting this campaign before heading off to Nebraska in the fall.  It’s a path that Dekrone would like to emulate.

“Next year I’ll be here wrestling but I’ll be redshirting,” he said. “Then, we’ll see.  I absolutely want to transfer, hopefully somewhere in Division I.  I’ll start looking around again.”

But for now, he’ll remain on Long Island with another line added to his resume.

“Nassau has been a great fit,” he said. “I’m happy I’m here.  It’s great to be around a lot of kids I know, wrestling with guys I’ve known for a long time.”

And it’s great to be a national champion.

 

Q&A with Chris Koo, All-American Looking to End His Career With a Trip to Albany (and a Title)

Photo courtesy of Chris Koo

 

By Irwin Loew

Chris Koo is an All-American wrestler.  In fact, he has placed at the NHSCA Nationals in Virginia Beach each of the last two years.  However, despite his achievements, the Great Neck South senior is looking for his first trip to the New York state tournament.  In 2012, Koo took third at 160 pounds at the Section 8 Championships, but after an offseason full of training, he would like to not only get to Albany this year, but also find a spot high on the podium to cap off his high school career.

Irwin Loew caught up with Koo for a few questions about his accomplishments to date, his future in the sport and more.

How did you get into wrestling?

Chris Koo (CK): I got into the sport when my father took me to the local YMCA for open mats.  I was eight years old.  I was not successful right away but I loved the feel of the mat and the intensity.

What’s the atmosphere like in the Great Neck South room?

CK: The atmosphere in the room is great.  Some of my main workout partners are my head coach, Ryan Pingatore and Sal Lanzilotta.  Coach Pingatore is on top of everyone and creates such an intensity in the room.  We may not have the best kids in the county, but he pushes everyone and makes sure they give 110 percent.

Where else do you wrestle?

CK: I also wrestle at Ascend Wrestling Club, run by Craig Vitagliano.  I go to four practices a week.  The days I am not wrestling, I’m either running or lifting.

You took sixth place at 145 pounds at the 2011 NHSCA Sophomore Nationals.  What was that experience like?

CK: The experience was great.  That’s when I first started attending Ascend and Craig [Vitagliano] broke down every single match out there for me.  He corrected what I was doing wrong.  I wasn’t expecting to place at a national tournament. I went there with the attitude of just wrestling and gaining a great experience.

After placing at that national tournament as a sophomore, what were your expectations for your junior year?  

CK: My expectations coming into my junior year were to win counties and become All-State.  Watching [Mepham’s] Dan Tracy win counties was the most heartbreaking thing in the world.  I remember coming home and crying. [Koo defeated Dan Tracy by major during the season but placed third in Nassau].  I also wasn’t happy with my performance at Virginia Beach.  Coach Craig and I were aiming to get a higher finish than the previous year. [Koo made the podium again at the national tournament, taking seventh at 152].

What are your expectations for your senior season?

CK: As a senior, winning counties would be great, but I am aiming to win states.  We’ve never had a state champ come from our school.  I’ll be at 152.  I have been working on a lot of wrestling situations and techniques with Coach Craig [Vitagliano].

Are you looking to continue wrestling after high school?

CK: I am interested in wrestling Division I.  I am looking into Hofstra, University of Maryland and Merchant Marine Academy.  I expect a lot when I get into college.  Wrestling with college wrestlers like [Harvard’s] Paul Ligouri and John Khory shows me what my weaknesses are and how I can improve.  I would like to study Economics or Statistics.

What wrestlers do you like watching?

CK: I enjoy watching Adam Saitiev and Elbrus Tedeev because they are very good at hand fighting and set ups.  Most of the wrestlers I watch are great at hand fighting.

Do you play any other sports? 

CK: I don’t play other sports but I do run a lot.

What music do you like to listen to?  What is the last book you read and the last movie you saw?

CK: I like listening to Eminem before my matches.  Last book: The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown.  Last movie: The Avengers.

Koo earned four pins in his first five matches this season and then picked up the Most Valuable Wrestler Award at the Bethpage Dads Club tournament.  In the latest Nassau County rankings, he is #1 at 152 pounds.