Why the International Styles of Wrestling Are So Important (by John Gartiser)

BY JOHN GARTISER

Over the years I feel it has been harder and harder to get our (I mean “our” in terms of NYS wrestlers, though it could be noted across the nation as well) top end wrestlers competing in Freestyle and Greco Roman.  In my opinion, these two styles, the International Styles, are extremely important for athletes to reach their full potential in the sport of wrestling.  I will cover some of the basic points on why the International Styles are so beneficial to young wrestlers.  My hope is to grab the attention of the local athletes and other NYS wrestlers to increase their knowledge and outlook on Freestyle and Greco Roman participation.  I will list the benefits of these styles below.

1. Exciting style of wrestling

Jordan Burroughs, http://www.phototrens.com

With the new rule changes, more than ever, Freestyle and Greco Roman promote scoring but also make an easier transition for an American Folkstyle wrestler.  What is the most exciting point (no pun intended) in a match?  It’s usually when a wrestler is scoring or when there is a long scramble where two wrestlers are trying to score.  That’s what makes the sport exciting!  Excitement is what our sport needs in order to thrive on a grand scale like other major sports.  Freestyle and Greco Roman reward the aggressive wrestler and the competitor who is looking to score points and there are more opportunities to score.   That is a good formula for participant and, maybe more importantly, fan excitement.

2. Sharpens your technique

One of the biggest advantages I see to wrestling Freestyle and Greco Roman is the ability to expose your weaknesses from the neutral position.  I commonly tell my athletes that in Freestyle if you are not scoring there’s a good chance you are being scored on.  Your inability and weaknesses on finishing your shots are demonstrated.  If you are in on a leg attack and don’t finish effectively, your opponent will be in position to score on you and off your attack.

In Freestyle, the wrestler does not need complete control in order to score.  From a defensive position, it is very common to expose an offensive wrestler’s back 90 degrees for a 2 or 3-point move.  Knowing this, you MUST work on your set ups and finishes for all your offensive leg attacks.

In Folkstyle, the ability to get to a single leg attack and grapple to a stalemate does not negatively reinforce a wrestler enough to make him truly focus on a technical deficiency on leg attack finishes. Furthermore, you can actually see wrestlers USE this stalemate position to BURN time off a clock to eke out a close match.  In a Freestyle competition, your ability to “eke” out that victory can become counterproductive very quickly.  A Freestyle mindset emphasizes what makes wrestling exciting, a scoring style of wrestling! This type of attitude should be brought to the mat every time you step out there to practice or compete.

Another aspect of technique to be sharpened through Freestyle and Greco Roman relates to the Par Terre position (wrestling on the mat).  I will use Greco Roman wrestling as an example here.  A lot of the scoring from the top position we see in high school and college wrestling today has roots in the International Styles.   I feel a lot of the tilts that are popular today can be linked to and have correlations to gut wrenches in Freestyle, and more prominently, in Greco Roman wrestling.  Being able to roll across your own back to secure future back points is not always the easiest thing for a new wrestler to comprehend and be able to perform in a match situation.  In Greco Roman, this is one of the main ways you can score points.  You have to conquer this fear and master the positioning of hips and leverage in order to score from the top position.  This in turn (again, no pun intended), gives a wrestler a huge advantage over top competition nationwide.   These moves allow wrestlers to learn how to use proper leverage and momentum in order to expose their opponent.

I think the most common counter argument people pose to the so-called negatives of Freestyle and Greco Roman wrestling technique is seen from the bottom position.  One of the more frequently used bottom techniques in both International Styles is the “big bird” position — in laymen’s terms, flattening your body out and moving your hips so you don’t get turned.  (It’s actually a much more in-depth technique to learn than it sounds).  If a wrestler were to do this in Folkstyle, they would be warned/called for stalling.  But the “big bird” position can help improve a wrestler’s bottom wrestling in Folkstyle because in reality, it teaches wrestlers to adjust based on the momentum and leverage the top wrestler is trying to use to turn them and expose their backs.

Another one of the more important aspects that the International Styles promote is a break from Folkstyle training.  It’s a good pressure release and allows good Folkstyle wrestlers to open up their minds and start to learn and get used to new or different positions.  I’ve seen terrible wrestlers on bottom in Folkstyle actually get better by not constantly practicing it.  Sometimes in order to see the proper gains, your mind needs a break and needs to gear things in a different direction.  Sometimes it actually is better to not beat a dead horse.

3. The Right Mindset

Freestyle and Greco Roman offer our wrestlers an opportunity to participate on the largest stage possible – the world levels.  Only in Freestyle and Greco Roman do we have an opportunity to compete internationally.  Too many of our athletes look at section and state titles as the pinnacle of high school wrestling when, indeed, they should be shooting for much more.

The largest tournament (numbers wise) in the world today, on any level, is the ASICS/Vaughan Junior and Cadet National Championships in Fargo, North Dakota.  The tournament is better known as “Fargo”.  I will touch more on this event in my last point of interest.  Fargo is the #1 recruiting ground for college coaches and it has the nation’s top competitors battle it out over 2 to 3 days of grueling action.  The grind mimics many college tournaments, such as the NCAA Division 1 Championships.

Only the country’s top wrestlers will rise to the occasion and come out on top at Fargo.   It now makes sense why this tournament is a college coach’s ideal setting for finding future champions.  The Freestyle and Greco Roman Nationals seem to be the best indicator of future success for young athletes. Don’t believe me?  Ironically enough, this video was recently posted on Flowresting.com with Zack Esposito (see here).

For the top wrestlers in the United States, national titles are seen as a stepping-stone to compete at the world level.   I’m almost positive if we asked the majority of our wrestlers locally and even nationwide what the FILA Cadet event is, the majority would not know.  (It is a national tournament held to determine who will represent the United States in the FILA Cadet World Championships).

FILA is the worldwide governing body of wrestling. The FILA Cadets saw a 14-year absence but began again in 2011.  Through Freestyle and Greco Roman wrestling, our athletes now have the opportunity to compete for a world title!  I believe the fact that the great majority of young wrestlers don’t know this is a major problem.   I feel it is extremely important for every athlete to shoot for the pinnacle in any sport they participate in, as well as in life.

 

4. The Numbers Don’t Lie

July 13, 2013 — Fargo, ND. This is home of high school wrestling’s equivalent of the Super Bowl.  Nowhere else are you going to have 120+ wrestlers in a single weight class, 3,000 competitors under the same roof (dome is more appropriate here) battling it out for the convenient “Stop Sign”.  According to Flowrestling.com if you look at the Top 5 wrestlers in each weight class nationally (70 wrestlers), 50 are scheduled to compete. If those numbers aren’t staggering enough, let’s say Folkstyle is your favorite style of wrestling.  Let’s say Division 1 All-American and National Champion are the goals you wrote down all those years ago.  Here’s a statistic that will put your odds of achieving that goal much higher: Qualify for Fargo and compete in the ASICS/Vaughan Junior and Cadet National Championships. Why you ask?  Because 83% of all U.S.-born NCAA Division 1 All-Americans from 2006-2013 took the mat in Fargo (68% of them were Freestyle and/or Greco All Americans) and produced 75% of the NCAA National champions.

(Credit Willie Saylor from Flowrestling.com for some of these statistics and figures)

Pick Your Champions Prediction Contests: Results Are In!

 
 
Thank you to everyone who entered our New York State Pick Your Champions Prediction Contests for last weekend’s state tournament.  We were very excited about the large number of people who participated both on the Division I and Division II sides.

The winners of both the large and small school contests correctly predicted 11 of the champions.

Josh Lear was the Division II winner and the Division I winner was from Long Island. iTunes cards will be awarded to both.

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A few fun facts about the predictions.  Some champions were well anticipated by those that participated.  The titlewinners that received the highest percentage of the votes were:

Burke Paddock (160, DII) 81%

Corey Rasheed (152, DI) 78%

Nick Kelley (138, DI) 76%

In addition, Tyler Grimaldi (160, DI), Nick Tighe (138, DII) and Zack Zupan (182, DII) all received at least 65% of the vote.

Choi, Photo by BV

On the other hand, several champions were more of a surprise to the contest participants, as the following titlewinners received less than 8% of the votes:

In Division I, Dan Choi (195) and Richard Sisti (220).

In Division II: Kevin Thayer (152), Adis Radoncic (170) and Matt Abbott (285).

Congratulations to all of the New York state champions and thanks so much for playing!

 

 

Division II New York State Tournament Recap: PSAL Gets First Champion; MOW Tighe Earns Third Straight and Much More

The New York state high school season has come to an end.  30 wrestlers walked out of the Times Union Center as champions on Saturday night and many others fought to become All-State.

(This article focuses on the Division II tournament.  The Division I recap can be found here.)

In Division II, it was a tight race, but in the end Section 5 reigned supreme, led by the top two schools in the standings – Midlakes and Warsaw.  Midlakes featured five All-State wrestlers – 120-pound runner up Sean Peacock, sixth placer Tyler Smith (195) and a trio of grapplers in the fifth position – Jason Charlette (106), Ralph Mateo (113) and Collin Fox (170).

Just five points behind was Section 6, propelled by the third place squad – Fredonia.  The Hillbillies boasted four medalists, led by the Gardners – Dakota (second at 126) and Jude (third at 145).  Also making the podium for head coach Alex Conti’s squad were Tyler Cassidy and Chris Saden.

Only one team had more than one champion over the weekend, and it was Gouverneur.  Seniors Dillon Stowell (113) and Hunter Ayen (195) made their final high school matches count as they brought a pair of titles back to Section 10.

Speaking of titles, Most Outstanding Wrestler Nick Tighe added another to his collection.  For the third consecutive year, the Phoenix grappler stood on top of the podium.  Joining him was Adis Radoncic, who made history of his own when he became the first-ever state champion from the PSAL.

 

99 Pounds:

The Champion: Derek Spann of Adirondack came in as the number three seed but went all the way to the top, utilizing his solid mat skills to get there.  In the finals, he was trailing after giving up a pair of takedowns to his opponent, Matteo Devincenzo, in the first period, but when Devincenzo took down to start the second, the complexion of the match changed.  Spann used back points there and then again in the third when he chose the top position to seal the title.

And Also . . . Devincenzo was Section 11’s highest placer in the Division II tournament. He had only one loss coming into the weekend (to Division I runner up Vito Arujau) and although not highly seeded, he looked strong throughout the tournament and will be someone to watch in the coming years.

 

106 Pounds:

The Champion: Top-seeded Luis Weirebach opened with a pin and then registered a trio of two-point wins the rest of the way, concluding with a 3-1 victory over Danny Fox in the finals.  The junior, who took fifth in 2012, became the first-ever state champion from his school.

And Also . . . Maple Grove’s Brad Bihler is pretty stingy with points.  Other than his 2-0 loss to Weirebach in the semis, he outscored his foes 31-0 (and added a pin) on the path to third place.  The Section 6 wrestler entered the tournament on a nine-match winning streak and continued to wrestle well in Albany.

 

113 Pounds:

The Champion: Dillon Stowell has significant experience at the Times Union Center, having placed numerous times in the past.  In his last chance as a senior, he reached the top of the podium after beating Nick Casella in the title bout.  In the semis, Stowell topped another veteran of the state tournament, Warsaw’s Austin Keough, by the same score (4-2) as their bout at Eastern States.

And Also . . . Casella knows how to make it to Saturday night. Last year as an unseeded wrestler, he competed for the 99-pound crown, losing a close decision. This weekend he was on a mission to finish higher and once again reached the title bout after defeating the #4 and #1 wrestlers in the bracket.  As a junior, he’ll no doubt be back for another crack at a championship.

 

120 Pounds:

The Champion: The third time was definitely a charm for Trey Aslanian of Edgemont.  In 2011, he led 5-0 before falling to William Koll in the state title match at 103 pounds.  In 2012, he dropped a decision to Sean Peacock of Midlakes for the 113 crown.  But on Saturday night, in a rematch with Peacock, Aslanian came out on top, 4-2, in his final high school contest.  The Section 1 grappler leaves as a champion, with his next destination Princeton University.

And Also . . . The finale against Peacock was a tough, close match but it wasn’t the only one for Aslanian.  In the quarters, the Edgemont standout trailed super freshman Kellen Devlin for much of the match.  (Aslanian won 4-3). Devlin, who came back to take the bronze, completed the year with just three losses and will be among the favorites for the next three seasons.

 

126 Pounds:

Koll, Photo by BV

The Champion: William Koll, a state champion in 2011, said he was disappointed with his third place showing last season.  He got back to the top of the medal stand over the weekend, cruising through the event with his closest match a 6-2 victory over Dakota Gardner in the last bout.

And Also . . . After medaling as an eighth grader in 2012, Gardner had only one setback during the season, in the Section 6 final against Brandon Muntz.  That result likely dropped him to the sixth seed in the bracket, however, he overcame that to get to the title bout as a freshman.  With three campaigns left for Fredonia, New York fans will certainly see Gardner on the podium a few more times.

 

132 Pounds:

Rodriguez-Spencer, Photo by BV

The Champion: In last year’s quarterfinals, Renaldo-Rodriguez-Spencer topped Tristan Rifanburg in overtime, a victory that propelled the Cheektowoga wrestler to the silver medal.  This year, the duo met again, but this time it was in the finals and both came in undefeated.  Rifanburg led 1-0 late into the third period on the strength of an escape and a rideout in the second.  However, Rodriguez-Spencer stayed aggressive on his feet and notched the winning takedown with time winding down.

And Also . . .  Rifanburg is now a three-time state finalist (2010 champion) and a four-time placer . . . and he still has two years of high school left.  Clyde Carey, on the other hand, has now completed his career at Addison. However, he finished on a high note.  A year ago, he wrestled with a significant injury in Albany and came within one match of a medal.  His road wasn’t easy over the weekend as he faced (and topped) returning All-Stater Zach Ayen in round one.  After losing to Rodriguez-Spencer, he captured four straight in the consolations to grab third place.

 

138 Pounds:

Tighe, Photo by BV

The Champion:  Upstate fans were excited about a potential clash between then two-time state champion Nick Tighe and 2012 titlewinner Connor Lapresi at the Eastern States.  It didn’t happen there, but it did occur on Saturday night.  Tighe broke a 1-1 tie in the third with a takedown to pick up his third consecutive crown for Phoenix.  CAA wrestling at Binghamton is next for him.

And Also . . . Lapresi leaves Lansing with another All-State showing as he prepares to take on Division I wrestling at Bucknell.  Also concluding his career with multiple medals was Lewiston Porter’s Dan Reagan.  After taking fourth in this class last year, he moved up to third as a senior.

 

145 Pounds:

Hull, Photo by BV

The Champion:  Royalton Hartland’s Drew Hull outscored his opponents 22-5 on his title run.  Last year, he lost a tight bout in the finals to take second.  This time, he got his hand raised in a 2-0 victory over Norwich’s Frank Garcia.

And Also . . . Garcia, a sophomore, opened with a pin and then won two close matches, in overtime in the quarters and 3-2 in the semis.  After jumping from the top 8 in 2012 to second in 2013, he’ll return looking for more as a junior.

The bronze finisher Jude Gardner of Fredonia had a stellar senior campaign.  He suffered just four losses – and all four were to state champion Hull, including in the semifinals on Saturday morning.  With Hull, Gardner and Eric Lewandowski (second in Division I), there’s no doubt Section 6 was strong at this weight this year.

 

152 Pounds:

Thayer, Photo by BV

The Champion:  At the Section 4 championships, where he took second, Kevin Thayer had an incredible 18-16 victory over returning state placer Dan Dickman of Greene.  His finals victory over Rowdy Prior on Saturday was similarly action-packed.  Prior, a prolific pinner, chose top for the third while trailing and locked up a cradle that seemed likely to give him the gold medal.  Somehow, however, Thayer not only avoided the fall but also got the reversal to seal the title.

And Also . . . Prior provided an exciting semifinal victory.  He was behind 4-2 late in the match but got the pin over Alex Smythe.  Smythe’s tournament is worthy of mention as well.  After taking fifth at the state tournament in 2011, he didn’t get a bid last year.  However, he moved up several weights and had a solid season, coming into the Times Union Center with just two losses (to the previously mentioned Hull and Lewandowski).  One of only two medalists in the bracket not graduating (fifth placer Trey Duvall of Addison is the other), Smythe will look to make a run in 2013-14.

 

160 Pounds:

Paddock, Photo by BV

The Champion: In the semifinals, Mike Beckwith of Greene lasted over three minutes before getting pinned by Burke Paddock.  Beckwith was the only wrestler to stay on the mat with Paddock for that long.  The Warsaw junior stuck all four of his opponents to conclude a tremendous season and collect his first state championship.

And Also . . . Sophomore Nick Gallo fell one victory shy of place on the podium a year ago.  This year, he took several steps forward with a runner up showing.  The Section 2 wrestler defeated third placer Matt Fisher as well as returning medalist Tyler Silverthorn to earn his slot in the title bout.  He should be a force as a junior.

 

170 Pounds:

Radoncic, Photo by BV

The Champion: Coming into the tournament, some were pegging last year’s runner up Cheick Ndiaye, the top seed at 113, as someone who could give the PSAL its first-ever state champion.  Instead, it was Adis Radoncic of Riverdale Kingsbridge Academy who was the first to stand on top of the podium.  The junior did it the hard way – defeating the top two seeds in the bracket.  In fact, it appeared he might be in for an uphill battle in the title bout as he faced #1 Christian Dietrich once before this season at Eastern States and lost that bout 13-4.  However, Radoncic was undaunted and fought off a number of deep shots by the Greene grappler to take a 4-3 decision. Radoncic now has his sights set on being the PSAL’s first two-time champion.

And Also . . .  It’s easy to forget that Dietrich is just a freshman, especially given the way he performed all year.  He amazed many when he placed at 152 pounds as a seventh grader and looked very good all year at a higher weight.  Keeping him out of the top spot over the next several seasons will be a tall order for the rest of the field.

Dietrich’s first round opponent, John Messinger of Putnam Valley, fought back to take fourth.  Winning four in a row to get to the bronze match is an accomplishment, but the way he did it was even more impressive.  He trailed late in nearly all of his wrestleback matches and found a way to come out on top, multiple times in the waning seconds.   In one bout, he tied the match up with two points dangerously close to the third period buzzer and then picked up a takedown a few seconds into overtime to move forward.

 

182 Pounds:

Zupan, Photo by BV

The Champion: Zack Zupan had his eye on a repeat championship all year long and he finished the job.  The future Binghamton Bearcat had little trouble making the title bout as he racked up bonus points in his first three contests before controlling the finale, a 3-2 victory over Warsaw’s Tim Schaefer.  He joined future teammates Nick Kelley and Nick Tighe as titlewinners on Saturday night.

And Also . . . Schaefer finishes high school with a plethora of accolades.  He made the podium five times during his career, beginning with a sixth place finish as a seventh grader.

Hoosick Falls had its first champion in Luis Weirebach at 106 and added a third placer in Brad Burns at 182.  The Section 2 grappler was beaten in double overtime in the quarters but bounced back with four in a row to grab bronze.

 

195 Pounds:

Ayen, Photo by BV

The Champion:  Gouverneur had Dillon Stowell win it all at 113.  And then, the Wildcats crowned a second champion at 195 pounds when Hunter Ayen sent Bryce Mazurowski to his second consecutive silver medal.  Ayen fell behind 6-0 in the match, but climbed back into the bout when he threw the Avon wrestler onto his back.  When he was close to the pin, the referee stopped the action for blood time, but Ayen was unfazed as he added another takedown to win 9-6.  The Gouverneur senior had pinned his first three opponents.

And Also . . . One of those foes for Ayen was Matt Booth.  The Section 6 wrestler excelled in the consolation bracket, outscoring his opponents 30-5 to take third.  In the bronze match he topped Dusty Lewis of Salamanca, the wrestler he beat to qualify for the tournament a few weeks ago.

 

220 Pounds:

Bacon, Photo by BV

The Champion: A pair of undefeated wrestlers marched through the tournament and faced off in the finals with Hornell’s Zack Bacon utilizing strong mat wrestling to take the title 1-0 over Ryan Wolcott.  Bacon came back after a silver medal a year ago to end his career in the top spot.

And Also . . . Wolcott made a smooth transition from 170 pounds, where he won two matches in Albany in 2012, up to 220.  He pinned his way to the championship bout and the 1-0 loss to Bacon was his only setback all season long.  In 2013-14, he’ll look to go from second to first the same way Bacon did in his senior campaign.

 

 285 Pounds:

The Champion: Windsor’s Matt Abbott came into the tournament with a 33-1 mark and 19 pins.  (The sole loss was to the previously mentioned Wolcott).  He exited the Times Union Center as a champion.  Heavyweight matches are often low scoring but Abbott put a lot of points on the board, including 11 in the semis and eight in the finals.

And Also . . . Alex Soutiere, last year’s runner up in this class, took third after winning five wrestleback bouts.  In 2012, Soutiere upset top-seeded Kacee Sauer.  The tables turned this year as Soutiere (the #1 seed) was upended in the opening round by junior Connor Calkins of Section 5. Calkins wound up fifth and as the only non-senior placer, will be in the mix for top honors in 2014.

For all the brackets, see this link.

Congratulations to the Division II wrestlers on a great season.

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 LISportsshots.com

“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 LISportsshots.com

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.”

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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.

Finals Videos from New York States Junior Division (Fargo Qualifier)

Check out videos for the finals from the New York State Championships (Fargo Qualifier) on May 5 in Binghamton.

 

160 Pounds: Dylan Palacio (Ascend) vs. Burke Paddock (Team Ten)

 

182 Pounds: McZiggy Richards (Beat the Streets) vs. Jeffrey Day (Genessee Valley WC)

 

170 Pounds: Rrok Ndokaj (Beat the Streets) vs. Sher Mohammad (Beat the Streets)

 

138 Pounds: Tom Page (NYSS) vs. Vincent Turano (Ascend)

 

126 Pounds: Keanu Thompson (Beat the Streets) vs. Oral Allen (Ascend)

 

132 Pounds: Jessy Williams (Team Worldwide) vs. James Ronca (Journeymen)

 

145 Pounds: Matt Greene (Columbia) vs. Justin Boone (Copiague)

 

152 Pounds: Tial Thang (MVWC) vs Leland Slawson (MVWC)

 

220 Pounds: Soslan Gularov (Steeplechase) vs Jonathan Babson (Happy Yo)

 

195 Pounds: Pat Nasoni (MVWC) vs Alex Moss (MVWC)