40 teams began the competition in the All-Star bracket at the AAU National Duals (Disney Duals) in Orlando on Saturday.
When the competition ended at the prestigious event on Tuesday evening, New York Kong captured second place after compiling a 10-1 record with victories over squads from places like Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Florida and South Dakota.
“It was just a great tournament,” said John Passaro, who made the trip and whose son Travis competed at 120 pounds. “The facilities were great, the experience was great. Taking second shows the direction New York wrestling is going. The team had some amazing wins.”
Indeed, after capturing eighth at this event in 2012, the group made it all the way to the finals, shown live on ESPN3.com. To get to that championship bout, the squad picked up a meaningful semifinal victory over Diesel, a Pennsylvania team that defeated the New Yorkers a year ago at this tournament.
“We wrestled lights out overall and especially in the semifinals against Diesel,” said Steve Hromada, who coached the team along with Anthony Ciolino. “Everyone was amped up and excited for that one, especially since they beat us pretty badly last year. Getting payback was nice, but it wasn’t just that match. The kids came together more and more as time went on – the more matches we wrestled, the hungrier and better they looked.”
That semifinal win was a hard fought one, with a 30-12 final score. The Ohio Hawks also provided a challenge in a 30-18 contest in the quarters.
However, the outcome in most of the earlier meets was never in doubt. In fact, the team won at least 12 of the 14 matches in each of the first seven duals, including shutouts. The dominance wasn’t surprising considering the team featured state finalists at 10 weights and every spot in the lineup was filled by a top five NYS finisher (see roster below).
The first place tilt was a different story, however as the powerful Young Guns squad from the Keystone State came out on top convincingly.
“You never know how good you can be until you see a certain level,” Hromada said. “It was a humbling experience. We have very accomplished wrestlers who were fantastic, but the finals showed that you can always get better. Our state champs want to be more than that – they want to be national champs too.”
One national champion, Spencer Lee of Young Guns (ranked #2 in the country by FloWrestling at 106), began with a major decision for the Pennsylvania squad in the championship dual.
However, Ward Melville’s Nick Piccininni, who was a perfect 11-0 at Disney, responded with a decision over another highly-regarded foe, Luke Pletcher, at 113. (Pletcher sits fourth in the national rankings).
At that point, Young Guns led 4-3 on the scoreboard, but they took over from there, collecting several bonus point wins.
Gaining bonus points of his own was Hofstra-bound Mike Hughes of Smithtown West who ended the dual with a 9-1 major decision over Luke Fleck at heavyweight to complete an undefeated tournament. In addition to Piccininni and Hughes, 152-pounder Joe Mastro, who will attend North Carolina State, also notched an unblemished 11-0 mark on the trip.
“[Piccininni] is a true warrior and he has the attitude and tools needed to be an elite wrestler. It showed when he beat the competition he faced,” Hromada said. “Having Hughes as the anchor of your team is the best feeling. You know that you’re always in a good position at the end of the match and that you’ll end on a positive note. And Joe Mastro is a diamond in the rough. He has great technical skills, endurance and toughness.”
In addition to the unbeaten wrestlers, a number of others picked up “silver status” at the event with a single loss. According to Hromada, those included Eastport South Manor’s Travis Passaro (120), Columbia-bound Matt Leshinger (132) and future Binghamton Bearcat Nick Kelley (138). Despite an injury, Minisink Valley graduate Josh Bonneau (220) also racked up wins.
While the squad was looking for one more victory, the journey was seen as an undeniable success.
“We took out some great teams,” Hromada said. “We showcased ourselves and it was an eye-opening experience for some people. We had a bunch of people walk up and say they didn’t know New York could be that tough. It was a nice feeling.”
Leading the charge were coaches Ciolino and Hromada, who put together the very formidable crew to represent the Empire State.
“Anthony Ciolino and Steve Hromada assembled a great team,” John Passaro said. “There is so much that goes into assembling a team of accomplished wrestlers like this. There were no egos — all the kids, who are competitors with each other back home, were teammates this week. It’s very hard to coordinate schedules, meals and travel for 17 wrestlers and also wrestle at such a high level. The coaches did a wonderful job.”
The same could be said for the New York Kong wrestlers. They went from eighth in 2012 to second in 2013 at the Disney Duals. And they’ll be back for more in 2014.
“We’re working to perfect the system,” Hromada said. “We learned from last year and did things better this year and we’ll be even better prepared for next time. It was an absolute pleasure to be able to coach the elite athletes in New York this week and we’ll up the ante and go back looking to win it all next year.”
New York Kong – 2nd Place Disney Duals
106 Kyle Quinn, Wantagh (2013 State Champion)
106 Jesse Dellavecchia, East Islip (2013 State 4th)
113 Nick Piccininni, Ward Melville (2013 State Champion)
120 Travis Passaro, Eastport South Manor (2013 State 3rd)
126 Alex Delacruz, Ossining (2013 State Champion)
132 Matt Leshinger, Sayville (2013 State Champion)
138 Nick Kelley, Shenendehowa (2013 State Champion)
145 Brandon Lapi, Amsterdam (2013 State 2nd)
145 Frank Garcia, Norwich (2013 State 2nd)
145 Jakob Restrepo, Sachem East
152 Joe Mastro,Yorktown (2013 State 3rd)
160 Steven Schneider, MacArthur (2013 State 2nd)
170 Carlos Toribio, Brentwood (2013 State Champion)
182 James Corbett, Wantagh (2013 State 2nd)
195 Nick Weber, Kings Park (2013 State 5th)
220 Josh Bonneau, Minisink Valley (2013 State 4th)
285 Mike Hughes, Smithtown West (2013 State Champion)