Diakomihalis Captures the Super 32 Title as Five Others Place in High School Action; Adam Busiello Strikes Middle School Gold

BY MATT DIANO

One year removed from the heartbreak that witnessed several New York wrestlers come close, but only one Empire Stater (Shayne Brady) make the podium at the 2012 Super 32 Challenge, one could not help but feel that when the NY wrestlers took to the mats this weekend in Greensboro, North Carolina, they would be competing with a chip on their shoulders; a little extra motivation; a need to prove that last year was an exception and not the rule.

With all the dust having now settled in the Coliseum, 2012 has officially been put in the rearview mirror following an amazing collective effort which yielded six top-8 finishes, the second most ever earned by New York in the 14-year existence of the Battle for the Belt. (New York had nine placers in 2009).

Led by 106-pound champion Yianni Diakomihalis (Hilton), the Empire State would also emerge with a runner up finish at 182 (Nicky Hall), a bronze medal showing at 152 (Louis Hernandez), a pair of fourth place finishes (Nick Piccininni at 120 and Vincent Feola at 220), and a seventh place effort from Thomas Dutton at 145 pounds.

Diakomihalis

Diakomihalis entered the tournament as the #3 ranked wrestler in the nation per Flo after winning the 2013 NYS large school title as an eighth grader in the 99-pound weight class. The Hilton star would be nothing short of dominant on Sunday, going 3-0, including back-to-back bonus point performances in the quarter and semifinal rounds to punch his ticket to the title bout.  Kicking off the morning by securing a first period fall over Ohio’s Hunter Lucas via cradle, Diakomihalis would make a huge statement in the semifinals when he upended 2013 Ohio DII state champion Tyler Warner, 14-3, in a clash of the #2 and #3 ranked wrestlers in the country.   The fab frosh would take the title with a methodical 3-0 decision over sixth-ranked Cage Curry of Pennsylvania in a bout that was not as close as the score would indicate.  Scoring a takedown in the first period and then adding an escape in the second, Diakomihalis would never give his Keystone State foe an opportunity to get on the board, racking up a plethora of riding time.  After winning the Middle School crown in 2012,  Diakomihalis becomes only the second New York wrestler to ever win a Super 32 High School title. (Joe Booth in 2007 was the first).

Hall, a fifth-year for coach Scott Green at Wyoming Seminary (PA), would make his home state proud in finishing second at 182.  Because he is considered a postgraduate, the former Longwood standout is not eligible for an individual national ranking.  However, this weekend more than proved that he is among the nation’s elite as he would go on to defeat the #20 wrestler in the land, Stephen Loiseau of Lancaster Catholic (PA), 6-0 in the quarterfinals, before besting 2013 Michigan third place finisher/#19 (@195) ranked, Ty Wildmo (who upset the 11th ranked wrestler in the quarters), to advance to the finals.  In the championship match, the recent North Carolina State commit would give a game effort, constantly looking for his offense.  But alas, a second title for the Empire State would not be in the cards as Hall dropped a 5-2 decision to Zack Zavatsky.  With the #9 ranked Zavatsky headed to Virginia Tech next fall, Sunday’s finals match could have been the commencement of a long ACC rivalry between these two talented competitors.

Taking the long way to the bronze medal would be the defending NYS large school champion from Mepham, Hernandez.  A product of the Ascend Wrestling Club, with his mentor, Craig Vitagliano in his corner, the day would begin with a bit of whimper for the #13 ranked wrestler in the nation.  Pitted in a tight quarterfinal bout against #4 Jake Danishek, Hernandez appeared to be the aggressor for much of the duration, but would be unable to convert on any of his takedown attempts.  With the match deadlocked at 1-1, the three-time Ohio state champion out of Dayton would explode for a controversial takedown in the final half minute and would hold on in the closing seconds to earn the 3-2 decision.  This questionable loss would be the only one of the day for the stud from Nassau County as he would go on to win four consecutive bouts in the consolation bracket, highlighted by a 7-5 decision over the nation’s #3 wrestler, Fox Baldwin (Florida) in the wrestleback semifinals.  Hernandez would also post 10-2 and 8-3 victories over National Prep third place finisher, Toby Hague, and New Jersey fourth place medalist Zack Hertling prior to his aforementioned win over the Floridian.  In the bronze bout, Hernandez would win a low scoring affair, recording the only takedown of the match to secure the 3-2 decision over 2013 Virginia runner up, Jack Bass.

Piccininni would demonstrate the heart and perseverance that has made him a two-time NYS champion for Ward Melville, rebounding from Saturday’s disappointing upset loss in the round of 16 to go 4-1 on Sunday.  Beginning his journey back to a top-four placement with a 3-0 shutout over 2013 Pennsylvania bronze medalist Tyrone Klump of Nazareth, the wrestler from Suffolk would survive a bit of a scare when he was taken into sudden victory by fellow nationally ranked (13th) opponent, Kyle Akins of Illinois.  With the match all knotted up at 3-3, Piccininni would waste little time in making sure he advanced, quickly getting in deep and finishing on the 2013 Illinois state champion.  In the consolation quarters, Piccininni would run into a familiar foe in the person of New Jersey’s Anthony Cefolo.  A 3-0 winner over the Garden State representative two weeks ago at the Iron Horse Invitational, the Ward Melville standout would make it two-for-two against the Hanover Park product, notching an 8-4 decision. The Empire State’s top-ranked junior would pick up his final win of the tournament in the consolation semifinals, defeating fan favorite Troy Gregor, from the host state, 5-1.  In the bout for the bronze, Piccininni would come up just short of third place honors, losing a hard fought 4-3 decision to the nation’s top-ranked wrestler, Sean Russell from Georgia powerhouse Collins Hill.  Russell finished second at the Super 32 last season.

Perhaps the most surprising top-8 finisher for New York would be Feola, who came to the Tar Heel State as a relative unknown, but leaves it as a hot commodity following his 2-2 effort on the final day of competition.  The Walt Whitman High School and Vougar Honors Wrestling Club representative may have raised his stock more than any other Empire Stater this weekend.  A fourth place finisher at the Suffolk County Tournament in 2013 for Walt Whitman, he would lock up a spot on the podium when he jumped out early and then kept his composure late to earn a 5-4 decision in the quarterfinals over LaSalle College High School’s Antonio Pelusi.  However, in the semifinals, 2013 Massachusetts state champion Ian Butterbrodt would have his arsenal from the top position on full display, earning several series of back points to deny the Long Islander a spot in the finals with the 11-1 major decision.  Feola would split his final two bouts of the weekend, sticking his consolation semifinal opponent, 2013 Florida runner up Ben Cruz, in 84 seconds before finding himself on the short end of an 8-3 decision in the third place bout to 2012 Georgia silver medalist, Matthew Moore.

Speaking of stock that continues to skyrocket, Rocky Point’s Dutton had another stellar outing. Two weeks after winning the Iron Horse, the junior who finished fourth in Albany last season, would come up clutch again, posting a .500 record (2-2) on day two in North Carolina to become the second member of his family to finish in the top-8 at this event. (Older brother, Stephen, who currently wrestles for the University of Michigan, was a two-time S32 placewinner, including a runner up showing in 2009).

Dutton’s morning would begin on something of a sour note following an 11- 2 major decision loss to two-time Missouri champion/#8 ranked wrestler in the country, Grant Leeth. However, Dutton would need less than a minute in the consolation bracket to guarantee himself a placement finish, earning the fall at the 58 second mark over 2013 Pennsylvania sixth place finisher, Billy Barnes.  Like Feola, Dutton would split his final two matches of the tournament, losing a 10-3 decision to eventual third place finisher, Nick Bennett of Michigan in the consolation semis, but then putting an exclamation on a solid weekend with a 4-3 decision over two-time New Jersey runner up, Gary Dinmore.  This “w” makes two in a row for Dutton over Dinmore, as he also defeated him by one point (3-2) at the Iron Horse.

Falling just short of the podium, but still very deserving of recognition were the following wrestlers who lost in the round of 12: Vito Arujau (113, Syosset), Vincent DePrez (145, Hilton), and Steven Schneider (170, MacArthur).  All were 2013 large school state silver medalists. Arujau would drop a 1-0 decision to eventual eighth place finisher, Eric Hong (PA); DePrez would be defeated by the fourth place medalist, Micheal Longo of California (6-1); and Schneider would be nipped 2-1 by the seventh placer from Ohio, Seth Williams.

Showing that not only is the present bright, but so too is the future were the following Middle School Division placewinners: Adam Busiello (1st @85), Hector Colom (3rd @100), Michael Gonyea (5th @75), Ivan Garcia (6th @ 70), and AJ Burkhart (6th @95).

With a 1-0 victory over Colorado’s Colton Yapoujian in the title bout, Busiello becomes the first New York State wrestler to win multiple Youth Super 32 titles, after cruising to the crown in 2012.  Yapoujian, who won a Super 32 gold medal in 2011 and placed second last season, entered the tournament as the pound-for-pound #6 junior high prospect on the Flo rankings board.  Busiello is expected to compete on the varsity this season as a seventh grader for coach Nick Garone’s Eastport-South Manor squad.

Colom, who set the school record for victories in a single season as a 7th-grader with 37 (37-5) for Dunkirk, would compile a 5-1 record on the day, opening the tournament with three straight wins, including a 4-2 decision over Flo’s #19 junior High School prospect, Mason Turner of Olathe, Kansas. In fact, the 2013 Section VI 4th place finisher appeared destined to go all the way to the winner’s circle before being tripped up in the semifinals by the 32nd rated youth wrestler, Brian Stuart of Maryland. The 12-year-old superstar would return to his winning ways in the consolation bracket, pitching shutouts in each of his final two bouts of the tournament, including a 3-0 decision in the bronze medal match against Council Rock, PA’s Benjamin Radner.

Notching four pins in his five overall victories would be the Journeymen Wrestling Club protege, Gonyea, who went 5-2 with victories over opponents from Vermont, Ohio, Iowa, Pennsylvania, and Connecticut.  The two opponents who were successful in getting their hands raised against him would later go on to finish 2nd and 3rd overall in the tournament.

Garcia (representing the Apex Wrestling Club) and Burkhart (Waverly) would go a combined 7-6 in rounding out the NYS youth contingent’s performance with their previously noted sixth place finishes.

Congratulations to all NYS placewinners!

FINAL High School BRACKETS

Final Middle School Brackets (free registration required)

Super 32 Update: State Champs Diakomihalis and Hernandez Among the NY Wrestlers Still in Contention in Greensboro

Hernandez, Photo by BV

After a full day of competition in Greensboro, NC, New York has a number of wrestlers alive in the chase for the Super 32 championship belt.  That includes a pair of 2013 state titlewinners – Yianni Diakomihalis (Hilton, 106) and Louis Hernandez (Mepham, 152).

Diakomihalis, who won a Middle School crown at this event last year, was dominant with two pins and a technical fall during the day.  Hernandez cruised as well, with seven and nine point wins in his first two bouts before receiving a forfeit in the Round of 16.

After winning a challenging bracket at the Iron Horse a few weeks ago, Rocky Point’s Tom Dutton followed up with four straight victories at 145 to punch his ticket to the quarters.  Another champion at the Iron Horse, Steve Schneider of MacArthur, posted a trio of wins, including a pin at 170. Fellow Long Island wrestler Vincent Feola of Walt Whitman notched a fall and a one-point decision at 220, while former Longwood standout (and current Wyoming Seminary grappler) Nicky Hall will also appear in the Round of 8 tomorrow, at 182 pounds.

In addition to the quarterfinalists mentioned above, several other Empire State wrestlers remain in contention for spots on the podium, including state champion Nick Piccininni of Ward Melville at 120 pounds and NYS finalists Vito Arujau of Syosset (113) and Vincent DePrez of Hilton (145).  Also still in the mix after a successful first day on the mat in North Carolina are East Islip’s Dennis Ferro at 152, Clarence’s Jake Weber and Rocky Point’s Joseph Russo at 170 and former Pine Bush competitor Chris Cuccolo at 106.

Sunday’s Scheduled Matches for NY Wrestlers – Super 32 Challenge

In the quarterfinals:

106: Yianni Diakomihalis (Hilton) vs. Hunter Lucas (OH)

145: Tommy Dutton (Rocky Point) vs. Grant Leeth (MO)

152: Louis Hernandez (Mepham) vs. Jacob Danishek (IN)

170: Steve Schneider (MacArthur) vs. Chance Marstellar (PA)

182: Nicky Hall (Wyoming Seminary/Longwood) vs. Stephen Loiseau (PA)

220: Vincent Feola (Walt Whitman) vs. Antonio Pelusi (PA)

 

In the wrestlebacks:

106: Chris Cuccolo (St. Benedicts/Pine Bush) vs. Jarrett Reisenbichler (MO)

113: Vito Arujau (Syosset) vs. Patrick D’Arcy (NJ)

120: Nick Piccininni (Ward Melville) vs. Tyrone Klump (PA)

145: Vincent DePrez (Hilton) vs. Chandler Pyke (GA)

152: Dennis Ferro (East Islip) vs. Paden Bailey (OK)

170: Jake Weber (Clarence) vs. Jacob Cooper (MI)

170: Joseph Russo (Rocky Point) vs. Joe Heyob (OH)

Gold Mining: Jason Goldman Looking for Titles at the Veteran World Championships in Bosnia

BY ZAKKARIAH ROLFE

At the beginning of October, two-time Binghamton University All-American Jason Goldman will begin his journey in Sarajevo, Bosnia as he chases the title of Veteran World Champion. After winning Freestyle and Greco Roman national titles in each of the last three years, he’ll be looking for double gold, competing in both styles at 58 kg. (Freestyle will be first).

Goldman has seen a lot of overseas success throughout his wrestling career. In 1990, he won a gold medal at the Vierumaki International Cup in Finland and in 1991 he earned a silver medal at the Cadet World Championships. Fast forward to 2009 when Goldman won a gold medal at the Maccabiah Games in Israel. (The Maccabiah games are recognized as the Jewish Olympics held every four years).

A lot of things had to fall into place for “Coach JGold”, as the Section Four community refers to him, to make the upcoming trip. First, he had to win the Freestyle and Greco Roman national titles back in April. He also had to raise the money to travel and he had to train.

Who would have thought that winning the national championships would be the easy part? Goldman dismantled his competition, surrendering only two points and picking up two pins and a technical fall in Freestyle. Meanwhile, in Greco, he picked up two technical superiorities on his way to his second title in two days.

Jason Goldman with Casey Lanave

Raising money might have been the most stressful part for Goldman.  He had three weeks to prepare for a spaghetti dinner, where there was also a bake sale, Chinese auction, 50/50 raffle, great food, and a DJ/band for entertainment. Another major contributor to his fundraising efforts were Goldman’s “TEAM JGOLD” shirts, which were a huge hit.

“I only anticipated getting five dozen made up but after pre-selling them in a week’s time, I had accounted for almost 150 shirts,” Goldman said. “To this day, I have sold over 200 ‘TEAM JGOLD’ shirts, and I still have various sizes available for purchase – cost is $20.”

The last part that needed to fall into place was preparation for the tournament.  Of course, that wasn’t easy with many other commitments.

“Competing as a Veteran, most of us have busy lives that revolve around work and family,” Goldman said. “We all wear many hats; whether we’re husbands, fathers, sons, teachers, coaches.  I’m fortunate that no matter the role, I have a pretty strong supporting cast behind me, especially from my wife of six years. As a result, I’m blessed to say that my training over the last five months has gone very well.”

That preparation has been intense, both physically and mentally.

“From a physical standpoint, my training weeks since April have consisted of two to three days of wrestling practice, two days of lifting, several runs and watching lots of video,” Goldman said. “I run a lot of 5K races on the weekends to stay in shape, challenge myself and keep that competitive edge.  I’m constantly setting small goals for myself, whether it is to run faster, lift heavier, not give up takedowns in practice during live goes, etc. I’m thankful to have had a great training partner throughout the summer, Casey Lanave, student-athlete at Cortland. Throughout my training, I have also continued to coach a handful of dedicated kids, who by making a commitment to the sport have inspired me to work hard to achieve my goals, as I help them work toward their own.”

Achieving his goals also involves running the upcoming tournament through his mind, ready for whatever awaits.

“As for my mental preparation, I’ve spent every day since Nationals visualizing myself winning this competition,” Goldman said. “I’ve seen myself as a World Champion for the last 150 plus days.  I’ve already won.  It’s all about going out and executing my game plan at this point.”

Goldman said he’s excited about what the journey will bring.

Jason Goldman (center) at Veteran Nationals

“Going to the Veteran Worlds will be an overall new experience, different competition and a different country,” he said. “Another thing that makes this trip so special is having my father go out as the Team Leader.  My father has only missed one competition (Finland) in my competitive career that has spanned more than three decades.  It means the world to me, not only to have him make the trip to watch me compete, but to have him in my corner while I do so.”

He’s very clear on what he, with his father at his side, plans to do when he gets to Sarajevo.

“A few weeks ago, I got a tattoo on my right bicep of the words ‘Carpe Diem’, Latin for ‘Seize the Day’ and the letters ‘ETG’ (Embrace the Grind).  This has been my training motto all along, and one that I try to instill in all the wrestlers that I coach. I’ve worked hard, I’m healthy, I believe in my training and I believe in myself.  I’ve never been more ready to throw up the straps, lace up the shoes, flip that ‘beast mode’ switch and empty the tank!  In the words of our 74 kg World Champion Jordan Burroughs, ‘All I See is Gold’, except because I’m representing the USA in both styles in Bosnia, I’m hoping to bring home DOUBLE GOLD!”

———————————-

Jason Goldman wanted to thank Jeff Goldman, Greg Smith, Rob Kennedy, Thorobred WC, Superior WC, Rocky Point WC and the Hancock Youth Program, for their support and their major financial contributions.

'Ready to Brawl': Suffolk Native Jenna Burkert Heads to Bulgaria Looking for a Junior World Title

Representing the United States at the FILA Junior World Championships is nothing new for Jenna Burkert.  The Suffolk County native will take the mat for the Red, White and Blue for the third consecutive year, this time in Sofia, Bulgaria on August 15 at 59 kg/130 pounds.

The path to the Junior Worlds had a few challenges in 2013.  In January, she suffered a shoulder injury, which forced her to spend time away from training.  Still, she returned to the mat, including for the US Open, where she took fourth.

“I went through a lot of rehab,” she said. “But I think I had a pretty fast recovery for the injury I had.  It’s pretty much taken until now [late July] to feel really good about my shoulder.  Actually, I think my shoulders feel even stronger now than before I got hurt.”

Courtesy of Jenna Burkert

In addition to her injury, Burkert found herself in a tough position at the Body Bar FILA Junior Nationals, which are the qualifying event for the Junior World Team.  It didn’t look that way initially, as she cruised through the early portions of the tournament and won the first period of the best-of-three finals series against Kayla Miracle 7-0.  But in the second stanza, Miracle responded with a pin to capture the first match.

“That was definitely unexpected for me and many others,” Burkert said. “I couldn’t believe I got pinned and my mom was in the stands freaking out.  She was expecting me to be freaking out too.  Years ago, I don’t know if I would have made it through the rest of the matches.  But it’s the best thing that could have happened to me mentally.  It showed how much I’ve grown.  Things happen in wrestling. I laughed it off, relaxed and came back to dominate the rest of the way.”

Indeed, she did. Burkert won the final two contests over Miracle by 1-0, 1-0 and 6-0, 3-3 scores to earn the spot on Team USA.

She hopes to keep the ball rolling in Bulgaria.  In her first trip to the Junior Worlds in 2011, Burkert went 2-2 to earn eighth place.  Last year, she faced China’s Jiamin Feng in her opening bout.  In a back-and-forth affair, the Chinese wrestler picked up the fall in the third after 2-2 and 3-3 scores in the opening two stanzas.

“It was a pretty crazy match,” Burkert said. “I had her on her back for a while then I got caught. It was really upsetting for me.  But it’s all a process. I learned a lot.  Sometimes, in the past, I didn’t think I could keep up with the best.  But I know that my opponents are not supernatural with superpowers.  I’ve seen that I’m right there brawling with them. I know things will get hard and I may get scored on, but that doesn’t mean the match is over.  I’m really excited.  I’m ready to leave it all on the mat in my last year at the Junior Worlds.”

In addition to the experiences she had at previous international competitions, Burkert has seen top wrestlers just about every day over the past year as a resident athlete at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs.

“It’s been really good,” she said. “It’s a different environment – everyone here is an athlete focused on making the Olympic Team. It’s inspiring to be around the best in many sports. My technique is so much better and there’s no one better than the coaches here. And the room is intense.  You get your butt kicked every day, but you keep coming back and getting stronger.”

A number of the athletes Burkert sees on a frequent basis are repeat World team members as well.  She’s excited to be making the journey with them.

“I love my teammates and I’ve known them all for a while,” she said. “It’s cool to keep making the teams together.  We know what to expect and how to get the nerves out. We also know how to push each other and also be there for each other.  One of the best things about wrestling is being able to travel and make great memories with your friends.”

She’s also ready to make some great memories on the mat.

“I think I’m going to win it this time,” she said.  “I’ve said it a million times before.  I was just telling my coach that I can see myself up on the podium.  In the past, I’ve really wanted to win it but I didn’t really picture myself doing it.  Now, I’ve been to training camps, I’ve wrestled everyone. I’m ready to brawl this year.  I’m not coming home with anything less than gold.”

Long Island Native Jenna Burkert Returns to FILA Junior World Championships Looking for Gold

Photo courtesy of Jenna Burkert

It had been quite some time since Jenna Burkert took the mat against a male wrestler.  But Burkert didn’t treat her opponent any differently than the females she typically faces, and the result was familiar.

She won by fall.

“I probably hadn’t wrestled an official match against a guy in four or five years,” she said of the exhibition dual in March 2012 against a group from Japan at Northern Michigan.  “It was a lot of fun to participate and especially to get the pin. It almost felt like a new experience.”

The experience may have felt new, but it was common years ago on Long Island.  In fact, when she first began in the sport, Burkert primarily competed with the boys and did so with a lot of success.

“I started wrestling in first grade in Rocky Point,” Burkert said. “There was a flyer in my classroom and a kid told me I couldn’t do it because I was a girl.  I begged my mom for a long time and finally she let me do it.  I fell in love with it and did well right away.“

She did, recalling that she was undefeated for years against her male foes.  She said her first loss was an unfamiliar feeling for a number of reasons.

“The first time I was beaten was by a girl – Lisa Anson,” Burkert said. “I was used to winning against the boys so when I lost, I didn’t know what to do.  She’s actually a friend of mine, but I never did get the chance to get revenge on the mat.”

Over the years, losses have become fewer and far between.  And now, Burkert is getting ready to take on some of the best at the FILA Junior World Championships in Thailand in early September.

“I’ve trained all year for this,” she said. “I’ve put in the time, the training, the running.  I’ve gotten some great experience and participated in both Olympic camps.  I feel like I’m ready.  I plan on getting the gold and having fun doing it.”

This won’t be the first time at a high profile international event for Burkert.  She was a Junior Olympian in 2010 and last year at the Junior Worlds in Romania, she went 2-2 (with two pins) and finished eighth.

“It’s just an honor to compete at such a high level,” she said.  “I thought I wrestled just okay at the Junior Worlds last year.  I think the nerves got to me.  Even the two matches I won, I had to come back in both.  It wasn’t fun because I let so much pressure build up.  But there’s a big difference this year.  I’m having a lot more fun and it think it will show.  I can do better and I will this time.”

Part of the fun is appreciating the trip.  Burkert said she is hoping to ride an elephant while in Thailand and to experience some of the country, something she felt she was able to do while in India in May of this year.  On that journey, she notched an impressive second place performance in the Hari Ram Grand Prix in New Delhi, despite wrestling on relatively short notice.

“I had no idea I was going until a little bit before,” she said.  “Olympian Kelsey Campbell was going at 55 and the coach said they needed at 59 pounder.  We were there about a week.  It was one of my favorite trips.  We had a really fun group, including Kristie Davis, who is someone I’ve always looked up to.  The people of India that we met were really nice and we went on runs where we really got to see the town. It was frustrating to lose in the finals, but it was a great experience.”

The great experience was one of many for Burkert in 2012.  She had a productive year, including a second place showing at the Dave Schultz Invitational and a dominant performance at the Body Bar, where she earned her berth to the upcoming Junior Worlds.

She continued to increase in confidence, going to toe to toe with many of the top grapplers in the nation, including Olympian Campbell.

“It was really good to wrestle Kelsey and a lot of the Olympians,” she said. “Sometimes you get caught up, putting them on a high level and forgetting that when you’re on the mat, you need to see them as just girls with wrestling shoes on.  They deserve respect for all they’ve done but not when you’re out there wrestling them.  I started to try to take it to them.”

Burkert saw a lot of the London-bound wrestlers in Colorado Springs, which will be her new place of residence after living in Michigan for a number of years.

During her sophomore year of high school, she moved to the Wolverine State when coach Tony DeAnda offered her a spot in the US Olympic Education (USOEC) program at Northern Michigan University.   She had been attending school in Longwood, but found the invitation to the elite training environment at the USOEC difficult to turn down.

“It was really hard to leave, even though I was excited,” she said. “It was just one of those opportunities that may never come again if you don’t take advantage.”

It certainly was an adjustment.  Burkert said she had practice at 5 a.m., then attended high school at nearby Marquette Senior High before attending another practice, which ended around 7:30 in the evening.   The severe winter in the first year didn’t make things easier.

“It was really hard at first,” she said. “New team, new coaches, new school, no parents.  I would cry every day in the beginning to anyone who would listen. But, after a few months, it got better.  Erin Golston and I became good friends and helped each other through.  By the end, I wound up loving it.  I made great friends and the whole town is wonderful.  I was even voted the class clown.”

She had plenty of success on the mat as well as she was named the ASICS Women’s High School Wrestler of the Year in 2010 and 2011.  But despite her happiness in Michigan, she didn’t forget her original home in Suffolk County.

“It’s great to come back. I always go to Rocky Point and see the guys there, who are really nice and give me so much respect.  I get some good workouts in too with lots of people, like the Duttons.  But I mostly like to beat up on Darren Goldstein and [Steven] Ketcham,” she said with a laugh.  “The support I get from Long Island is great.  Sometimes I think they may have forgotten about me, but then I see they still talk about me and want to see me succeed, and that’s amazing.”

Coming to New York also gives Burkert a chance to see others who are so important to her.

“I really appreciate the support of my family.  They’ve given so much time, effort and money since I was young to help me get where I am,” she said.

And, her family has also served as an inspiration to her and her career goals off the mat.

“With the women’s freestyle program moving from Northern Michigan, I’ll be resident athlete at the OTC,” she said. “I’ll be training and going to the University of Colorado Springs.  The education is so important to me.  I’ve always been around autism with my brother Joshua.   He is the reason I want to be a special education teacher, hopefully in kindergarten, because I feel you can have so much impact at that age.”

Burkert’s dedication is apparent to everyone who sees her, or more accurately, to all of those who see her ankle, where she has a tattoo that says “Joshua” on top of the symbol for Autism Awareness.

“I plan on getting an Olympic medal and using that platform to really get the cause out there,” she said.

But before the Rio Games in 2016, Burkert has many other intermediate goals in mind. It all starts next week in Pattaya, Thailand where she looks to become a Junior World champion.

Brandon Escobar Ready to Represent Honduras (and Suffolk County) at the London Olympics

Brandon Escobar kept the promise he made two years ago.

In 2010, he and his family were near the end of their vacation in Great Britain when Escobar, on a whim, stopped in a crowd and a made a loud declaration to a group of strangers.

“I was over by the London Eye,” he said. “I jumped up on the riverside by the ledge and I remember throwing my hands out and yelling, ‘London, I’ll be back in 2012.’ People were looking at me like I had three heads.  My family looked at me a little funny too and I said, ‘I’m going to make the Olympics.’”

The former Rocky Point standout has done just that.

In March, Escobar made the finals of the FILA Pan American Olympic Freestyle Qualifier in Florida to punch his ticket to the London Games, for Honduras.

The feat didn’t go unnoticed as Escobar received plenty of attention upon returning to the Central American country, where he lived for several years as a young child.

“It was really big,” he said. “Honduras is a small country of only about 8 million and everyone reads the newspapers.  People on the streets would notice me or point at me.  I was thinking, wow, this is not like the US for a wrestler.  The people love their country so much, they are so excited that Honduras will be represented.”

The representation holds special meaning, because when Escobar commences competition at 55 kg on August 10, he will be the first-ever Olympian for Honduras in the sport of wrestling.

How did Brandon Escobar, a relative newcomer to the sport who spent most of his life in New York become the inaugural Olympian for Honduras?

A simple e-mail made all the difference.

Escobar moved to Suffolk County in time for kindergarten, and despite not starting to wrestle until 8th grade, picked up the sport quickly, earning All-County honors three times and placing at the state tournament twice (fourth in 2008 and third in 2007).

After graduating from high school, he practiced with the college team at Morrisville for a short while, but said he “saw no future” there and moved back to Suffolk, where he attended some classes before entering a competition that changed his path.

“I saw an ad for the FILA Junior Nationals,” he said. “When I thought about it, it seemed like a good idea to go.  First, because going to Vegas would be awesome. But second, I really like wrestling Freestyle and Greco.”

So he ventured to Sin City and came back with an impressive haul – a first place finish in Freestyle and a runner up spot in Greco.  Adding to his excitement was an encounter he had with Henry Cejudo, a recent Olympic gold medalist, at the event.

“I remember watching [Cejudo] on TV at the Olympics and thinking how great it would be to be there someday,” Escobar said.  “He was everyone’s favorite wrestler at that point and on the last day in Vegas, he was there, talking to people.  I asked him to sign the plaque I won at the FILA Juniors and he was cool with it.  He told me he only had a few of those. I think that’s where it started for me.  I wanted to reach the goal he achieved at the Olympics.”

Escobar’s prowess in the international styles earned him an invitation to train at the New York Athletic Club (NYAC) in Manhattan. He competed in tournaments in various locations, honing his craft.  However, in the ultra-competitive 55 kg class in the United States, Escobar knew it would be a tough battle to win a berth to the London Games.  Knowing he had dreams of Olympic glory, one of his coaches suggested that he consider wrestling for Honduras, a recommendation that Escobar was unsure about at first.

“I didn’t know they had a wrestling team,” Escobar said. “I had to go onto the FILA website and check that they did. The name of the wrestling coach was there and I figured I would send an e-mail. I thought, what was the worst thing that could happen?”

What did happen was that the coach contacted Escobar with a high level of interest.  Before he knew it, Escobar was headed to Central America to train with his new national squad, from January to May of this year.

Escobar worked mostly with the team’s 60 and 66 kg wrestlers, since there weren’t any others in his weight class.

“Those six months made a huge difference,” he said. “I got bigger and developed a lot.  Everyone outweighed me by 10 or 20 pounds, which was a valuable experience. I had more technique but they had experience from a lot of traveling.  They came up with stuff from pure imagination and used their strength really well. It showed me that there are no boundaries to wrestling and opened my mind up more to think differently when I wrestle.”

He certainly kept his goals high.

At the Olympic Training Center in Honduras, he had to walk through a museum-like area to get to his room.

“Every day, I walked past this place with medals from different athletes,” he said. “I saw one for Athlete of the Century.  I told the security guard that I wanted to get that one.”

When asked what the key elements would be to reach that award or any other, Escobar immediately mentioned “strength”.

Strength is an important word for Escobar, as it not only signifies physical strength but that of his family, his supporters and his dreams. The word is featured prominently on the T-shirts he sells and it is tattooed on his right bicep.  How that ink got there is a story Escobar tells with a laugh.

“I was at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs and I forgot a toothbrush,” he said. “I was going to buy one but the tattoo place was on the way and I decided on the spur of the moment to go in.  I wanted to get a tattoo of something that emphasized my wrestling and how my life has gone. I felt my strength is something that has helped me out and will always be there for me. Right after I got the tattoo, I panicked about how I would explain it to my parents.  And I totally forgot about the toothbrush.”

When he returns from London, Escobar plans to add another tattoo – of the Olympic rings, signifying not only the 2012 experience but his plans to be part of the Olympics again in the future.

“I’ve really only had six months of international wrestling experience,” he said. “I’m looking forward to stepping out on the mat in front of the whole world. Once I’ve wrestled in the Olympics, any national or international tournament will seem like no problem. I’m excited to get a taste of the experience this time and then I’m looking to be there again in 2016 and maybe even 2020.  Wrestling is the most natural thing for me, it frees my mind and is my life away from life.  I want to do it for a long time.”

He’ll proudly continue to compete for Honduras. But he’ll also be competing for several others.

“My support group and fans constantly send me messages and fuel my fire to succeed,” he said.  “My mom (Angela Costanzo) and dad (Manuel Jesus Escobar) have always been supportive and I can’t thank all of my family enough. There are so many more people who are helping me like Jeremy Paul at Long Island Strength and Conditioning and there are so many coaches who have played such a big role. My high school coach Darren Goldstein, my NYAC Coach Nick Catana, my Cadet National Coach Anthony Ciolino. I am thankful to more people than I can mention.”

Besides coaching, Ciolino designs singlets and is involved in developing the uniform Escobar will wear in London.  But while competing, Escobar said he will also be thinking about another singlet that he wore back in his high school days.

“I bleed Section XI —  it’s where I came from and it got me to the point where I am now,” he said.  “You have to work so hard to beat all that great talent; that’s what gave me what I needed to get ahead.  I knew what I needed to do to get to the top.  Wherever I am, I’ll always be representing Suffolk County.”

Two years ago, Escobar told unsuspecting Londoners they would see him again in 2012.  In just a few days, Brandon Escobar will make good on his promise as the world watches.

Special thanks to Nancy Troisi for her assistance and photos.

Former State Champions Announce Transfer Plans: Dutton to Michigan, Malvestuto to Buffalo

Stephen Dutton, Photo by Boris Veysman

Two former New York State champions recently made their transfer destinations official.

On Tuesday, the Dutton family confirmed that Stephen Dutton will be attending the University of Michigan in the fall.  The Rocky Point graduate was a two-time NCAA qualifier at Lehigh and a two-time placer at the EIWA tournament (4th in 2011, 3rd in 2012) at 141 pounds.

During his Mountain Hawk career, Dutton compiled a 42-21 record and made the Round of 12 at the NCAAs as a freshman.

After getting his release from Lehigh, Dutton also considered staying home on Long Island and wrestling for Hofstra before choosing the Wolverines.  He has two years of eligibility as well as a redshirt year remaining.  Dutton plans to stay at 141 pounds.

Dutton won his second state title in 2010, the same year that Niagara-Wheatfield’s Angelo Malvestuto captured his state crown at 189 pounds.  After a pair of seasons at Virginia Tech, Malvestuto recently announced his plans to change schools. He will now join the hometown Buffalo Bulls.

The all-time wins leader at Niagara-Wheatfield redshirted in his first season in Blacksburg and competed at both 184 and 197 pounds during his freshman campaign in 2011-12.  He amassed a 21-13 mark, which included placements at tournaments such as the Harris Open, Nittany Lion Open and Shorty Hitchcock Classic.  At the end of the year, Malvestuto represented Virginia Tech at 184 pounds at the ACC Championships.

The Bulls staff is pleased to welcome the three-time high school All-American back to New York to compete for a starting role in the upperweights.

“Angelo was a proven winner in high school,” said head assistant coach Matt Lackey in a Buffalo press release. “Coming to Buffalo after spending two years at Virginia Tech allows him to make an immediate impact at a weight class where we need him.  One more stepping stone has been added in our climb to the top of the MAC with the addition of Angelo.”