The dominance of Section 11 at the Division I state tournament last year was obvious. In the team standings, Suffolk County outdistanced second place Nassau by 79.5 points. Section 11 boasted nine of the 30 finalists (30%) and more than 25% of All-State wrestlers overall. Suffolk had at least one placer at 14 of the 15 weight classes (113 being the exception), including five state champions.
Four of those gold medalists graduated as did eight of the others that made the medal stand in 2012 (and Nicky Hall of Longwood moved on to Wyoming Seminary). Both of the Division II All-State wrestlers graduated as well. However, there are still plenty of quality grapplers remaining. The following is a look at some of the returning superstars, some wrestlers potentially ready for a breakthrough year and teams to keep an eye on as the season develops, both in Division I and Division II.
Returning Placewinners from 2012
State Champion: Nick Piccininni, Ward Melville (106 Pounds)
Second Place: Corey Rasheed, Longwood (145 Pounds)
Second Place: Tyler Grimaldi, Half Hollow Hills West (160 Pounds)
Third Place: Alex Tanzman, Westhampton Beach (99 Pounds)
Third Place: Matt Leshinger, Sayville (120 Pounds)
Fourth Place: Joe Calderone, Walt Whitman (99 Pounds)
Fourth Place: TJ Fabian, Shoreham Wading River (120 Pounds)
Fifth Place: Nick Lupi, Huntington (220 Pounds)
Sixth Place: Gio Santiago, Sachem North (182 Pounds)
Sixth Place: Mike Hughes, Smithtown West (285 Pounds)
Other Returning State Qualifiers from 2012
99 Pounds: Steven Lee, West Babylon
113 Pounds: Corey Jamison, Huntington
Seniors to Watch
Tyler Grimaldi was highly sought after by many colleges before choosing Harvard, and with good reason. He earned All-America status at both the NHSCA Nationals in Virginia Beach and at Fargo at 160 pounds. The senior went all the way to the state finals match in 2012 and is a solid favorite to get back to the title bout – and this time come out victorious.
Matt Leshinger won perhaps the most challenging Sectional bracket in all of New York last year when he captured the crown at 120 pounds over state champions Sean McCabe, Mark West and All-State wrestler TJ Fabian. The Columbia-commit, who took bronze in Albany, will look to climb a few notches higher in his senior year.
The previously mentioned Fabian, who was fourth in Albany, has entered numerous events in the spring and summer and has gotten his hand raised often in all of them. He was an All-American at the NHSCA Nationals in Virginia Beach and a dominant winner at the Ken Lesser Memorial Summer Heat tournament. Fabian also competed well against some of the Northeast’s top foes at the Journeymen Classic and the Iron Horse Invitational before placing in the top 12 at the Super 32 after winning seven in a row in the consolations. All of his work figures to serve him well in February.
Upperweights Gio Santiago, Nick Lupi and Mike Hughes all participated in the fifth place match in Albany in brackets full of grapplers who have since graduated. It wouldn’t be surprising to see any or all of them in the gold medal bout this time around.
On the lighter side of the scale, Alex Tanzman had a 46-2 season with 37 pins in which he lost a match in mid December and then rattled off more than 30 consecutive victories before losing to Jose Rodriguez, who has since moved to Ohio, in the state semifinals. He will be no doubt be one of the contenders to earn another title for Section 11 at the end of the campaign.
That group of seniors is no doubt impressive. But some believe that the best Suffolk wrestler may be a sophomore or junior.
Eleventh grader Corey Rasheed is already a two-time New York finalist and three-time placer with two full campaigns to go. He has shown that he can compete with the best regardless of the weight class, as he first was a runner up in seventh grade at 96 pounds, took fifth at 112 as a freshman and then earned silver in 2012 up at 145. He also was second nationally this spring when he made the finals of the NHSCA Nationals in Virginia Beach. Fellow junior Joe Calderone of Walt Whitman was fourth at 99 a year ago and will be a threat once again.
Several Suffolk fans believe that the top Section 11 wrestler is sophomore Nick Piccininni of Ward Melville. Piccininni followed up a third place showing as an eighth grader with a perfect freshman season in which he went undefeated on his way to a state championship at 106 pounds. While moving up in weight since then, he doesn’t seem to have skipped a beat, winning the Super 32 qualifier, going unbeaten at the Waterway Duals and taking first at the Journeymen Classic and the Iron Horse Invitational. He also finished in the top 12 at the Super 32, losing only to the second and third place finishers and splitting matches with the country’s #1 ranked sophomore, Zahid Valencia of California.
But that’s not all Section 11 has to offer. Last year, Grimaldi, Leshinger and Fabian were among those who stood high on the podium in their first trips to the state tournament. Who will make the medal stand in their initial appearance in Albany in 2013? Here are some of the many possibilities:
Let’s start with a very strong group of lightweights. Jesse Dellavecchia of East Islip racked up 31 wins as a freshman at 99, including triumphs over state qualifiers Steven Lee, Josh Antoine and Hunter Dusold. He lost two very tight bouts to New York state medalist Calderone (by one point and in sudden victory) and he stayed active in the offseason, winning the Ken Lesser Memorial Summer Heat and taking second at the Journeymen Classic in early October. But Dellavecchia isn’t the only young lightweight to watch. One of the wrestlers to defeat Dellavecchia last season was John Busiello of Eastport South Manor, who garnered a 26-8 mark as an eighth grader. Huntington’s John Arceri, a freshman this year, picked up 28 wins last season and will be another impact player.
A little bit higher on the weight scale is Mike D’Angelo of Commack. In his 33-3 season as a freshman at 106 pounds there was only one wrestler D’Angelo couldn’t beat – Nick Piccininni. All three of the Commack grappler’s losses came against the undefeated state champion from Ward Melville. He showed dominance throughout the season with 28 bonus point victories.
“D’Angelo had trouble with Piccininni but so did everyone else,” Rocky Point Elite Eagles coach Steven Ketcham said. “He is capable of placing at the state level.”
A few other names to keep in mind are James Szymanski from Shoreham Wading River and Matt Bradice from William Floyd. Szymanski topped Dellavecchia, Busiello, Lee and CJ Archer a year ago and impressed in the offseason with a championship in his bracket at the Journeymen. Meanwhile, Bradice, a 2012 Suffolk placewinner at 103, put together a 31-7 campaign as a junior at 113. If he remains at that weight, contributor John Passaro believes he could make the Section XI finals as a senior.
Steven Bulzomi of Connetquot was fourth in the county as a junior at 113 pounds after posting a 34-5 record. Three of his losses came against Hauppauge’s Chris Mauriello and another to Suffolk champion Corey Jamison. He did record solid victories over Mauriello and state qualifier Santo Curatolo of the PSAL. His 4-2 performance at the ultra-challenging Super 32 tournament in late October showed that he’s ready to go for his senior campaign.
Over the years there have been wrestlers who have made their marks on the national level before achieving All-State status in New York. That looks like it could be the case with the following grapplers in 2012-13.
Chris Mauriello (Hauppauge) – Mauriello won a national title in the spring at the NHSCA Middle School championships in Virginia Beach after taking third at 113 in Section 11 as an eighth grader. The Hauppauge wrestler compiled a 37-5 mark a year ago with three of his losses coming to state placers – (two to Mark Raghunandan and one to Brandon Lapi). He will be looking to break further into the postseason as a freshman, possibly all the way up at 132, according to Ketcham.
Travis Passaro (Eastport South Manor) Passaro has a strong resume. He was the Eastern States champion in 2011 and has been an All-American at NHSCA Nationals. He has repeatedly tested himself, winning the Super 32 Shippensburg qualifier event, wrestling well at the Waterway Duals while up a weight class, taking second at the Journeymen Classic and making the top 12 at the Super 32 in North Carolina. In Suffolk, he was fifth in a loaded 120-pound class last year and will look to make a state tournament run like his brother Maverick did in 2012.
Thomas Dutton (Rocky Point) – Dutton made the medal stand at the NHSCA Nationals this year at 138 pounds and was also was an All-American at perhaps the top tournament in the country, when he took eighth in freestyle at Fargo. He’ll be seeking some wins in Albany after a fourth place showing at the County tournament at 132.
“Dutton has been all over looking to improve on last year’s finish,” Ketcham said. “His improvement from year to year has been very good and he can accomplish a lot this year.”
And watch out for the upperweights . . .
Carlos Toribio (Brentwood) – Toribio was third at 160 last year and 41-5 overall at 160 pounds. He avenged an early season loss to Shaun Gillen and suffered his only other setbacks to state placers Anthony Pistone and Tyler Grimaldi (three times). He looked dominant in the summer in his victory at the Ken Lesser Memorial Summer Heat tournament. He will be among the favorites to earn a ticket to the Times Union Center.
Grimaldi is a state championship favorite, but he isn’t the only member of the HHH West squad who could make an impact in the postseason. Teammates Joe Piccolo and Jagger Rebozo also appear ready for successful senior years. Piccolo compiled over 35 wins at 170 pounds, including victories over state placers Rrok Ndokaj (twice) and Dylen Seybolt and qualifier Zach Colgan of Section 4. Rebozo also had over 30 wins at 182 pounds.
Ronnie King (Islip) – As a sophomore 160-pounder, King placed fifth at the Section XI tournament. This year, Passaro predicts that the Islip wrestler has a great opportunity to make the county finals at 170.
Chris Chambers (East Islip) – Chambers was fifth at 182 at the Section 11 event as part of a 31-7 season. He looked strong in the offseason, however, winning the Ken Lesser Memorial Summer Heat. In fact, he recorded an impressive victory over All-State grappler Gio Santiago, who had pinned Chambers last season.
Ryan Hughes (Islip) – Hughes had a strong season at 220 pounds, with just a handful of losses and a number of quality victories. He topped state placer Nick Lupi in sudden victory in early February and will be a threat to go to Albany this year.
Cristian Nunez (Sachem East) – Nunez knows how to rack up points. He was 36-3 at 195 pounds a year ago with two wins over state qualifier Dan Choi of Syosset and 30 victories by bonus. He’ll be looking for a big year.
Don’t Forget About . . .
Mark West (Hauppauge) and Corey Jamison (Huntington) – West was a state champion in 2010 but hasn’t made a return trip to the big show. He was right there with many All-Staters last year as he defeated three placers – Sean McCabe, TJ Fabian and Matt Leshinger (although he lost to them as well). He’ll be looking to make a run in his last season. Meanwhile, Jamison came to the Times Union Center as the number two seed after a season in which he defeated credentialed wrestlers such as William Koll and Brandon Lapi. However, after advancing to Saturday’s action, Jamison didn’t compete on the second day in Albany. He looks to take that next step as a junior.
Jackson Mordente (Sachem East) – Mordente went 35-8 in 2011-12 at 138 pounds, with five of his losses to champions/high state placers (Jamel Hudson, James Dekrone and Alexis Blanco). He did well representing Long Island at the Waterway Duals and looks to carry that success through his senior year. His teammates Conor O’Hara and Jakob Restrepo should also have a strong seasons. O’Hara went 29-9 with wins over Mike Lofrese and state placer Gio Sanchez in 2011-12. Restrepo looked good winning a title at the War at the Shore in the spring and is primed for a breakout postseason.
While many wrestlers have been discussed above, there are many more who could have been profiled. We fully expect that there will be additional Suffolk wrestlers who excel at the county and state levels in 2012-13.
Sachem East offers a very strong group that looks ready to pile up tournament points. Conor O’Hara, Cristian Nunez and Jackson Mordente earned All-County honors last season and will be in line to do so again. In addition, the Flaming Arrows will likely add to their medal haul with wrestlers that came close to 30 wins a year ago such as Mark Tracy, Zach Nobre and Jakob Restrepo. Heavyweight Josh Edmonson will also be a key factor as will Connor Farrell and Anthony Messina.
Brentwood is the returning county championship team and one of the favorites again. The squad graduated a number of Suffolk medalists, including second place finishers Eric Orellana and Alexis Blanco. However, the team brings back two third placers – Carlos Toribio and Marc Gonzalez as well as Danny Murray, who was fourth. In addition, BJ Jackson and Luis Rodriguez appear among those ready to contribute heavily.
Huntington can’t be overlooked. County champion Corey Jamison will take the mat along with runner up Anthony Puca and All-Stater Nick Lupi. John Arceri will be in the hunt for the Suffolk title at 99 pounds and others are capable of winning some matches at the Section tournament, such as Joseph Puca.
Yet another possible contender is Sachem North, which brings back finalists Gio Santiago (Suffolk champ and state placer) along with Section 11 runner up Steven Mills. A large number of wrestlers also return after notching 20 or more wins last season, including Mike Falcon, Matt Stallone, Stephen Guardino, Matthew Marino, Nick Perez, Alec Ross and James Schreck.
When asked for potential team champions, another handful of squads were mentioned. It wouldn’t be completely surprising if the county champ is none of the teams above. That’s how the talent is spread across Section 11 this year.
Returning State Qualifiers from 2012
99 Pounds: Lucas Webb (9) Mattituck
106 Pounds: Michael Menzer (12) Center Moriches
113 Pounds: Hunter Hulse (10) Stony Brook
120 Pounds: Justin Underwood (12) Bayport-Blue Point
132 Pounds: Ryan Hake (12) Bayport-Blue Point
152 Pounds: Paul Cavanagh (11) Port Jefferson
170 Pounds: Tomasz Filipkowski (12) Mattituck
182 Pounds: Brian Loskamp (12) Babylon
195 Pounds: Chris Baglivi (12) Mattituck
220 Pounds: Kevin Giron (12) Hampton Bays
Both of the All-State wrestlers from Division II graduated (Harrison Desousa and Travis Baskerville), but some tough wrestlers return to try to give Suffolk representation on the medal stand in Albany.
Tomasz Filipkowski of Mattituck came within one victory of placing in February. The Section 11 tournament Champion of Champions opened with a loss to NSHCA Nationals runner up Troy Seymour of Peru before earning two victories in the consolation bracket. He then dropped a 3-1 overtime decision to Section 2’s Brad Burns to fall just short of the podium. After a 34-4 campaign, he looks poised to finish as an All-State wrestler.
“He’s a high quality wrestler who came so close to placing,” Bayport-Blue Point head coach Rich Reilly said. “I don’t seem anyone challenging him in the DII Sections and I think he will be very competitive upstate.”
Ryan Hake of Bayport-Blue Point had 31 wins a year ago, including 18 pins. He had a victory in Albany, while both of his losses were to placers. 2013 would be his fourth appearance at the state tournament and he hopes to break through to the medal stand.
“Ryan is my best wrestler,” Reilly said. “He’s been up there three times. He hasn’t had seeding criteria in the past and we’ve adjusted our schedule this year, which should help Ryan with seeding criteria. He had an outstanding season last year and the opportunity will be there for him to place. He’s a tough kid who is technical and very smart on the mat. I really believe this is the time for him.”
Michael Menzer of Center Moriches is another wrestler Reilly points to as a threat to make the podium in the state capital. Menzer went 29-9 overall, including 1-2 in Albany.
“He’s definitely a tough kid who will be in the mix no matter what weight he wrestles,” Reilly said. “He has the experience of being upstate and has a great chance to do very well there.”
Also Keep an Eye On . . .
Lucas Webb (Mattituck) – Webb won the 99-pound crown a year ago before heading up to the Times Union Center, where he went 1-2. He will look for a return visit to the state tournament, while the wrestler he defeated in the Section 11 title bout, Jake Palma of Bayport-Blue Point will look for his first journey upstate. Palma, who may be at 113 this year according to his coach, has put in significant work and has shown improvement.
Joey Palma (Bayport-Blue Point) and Tristan DeVincenzo (Port Jefferson) – Last year’s second and third place finishers behind Menzer at 106 pounds both have the potential to do big things this year, according to Reilly.
“Joey has really impressed me in the offseason,” the coach said. “He gave up football to wrestle more because he took second two years in a row. He felt like it was time to get to the next level. He’s a kid I would bet on having a great year. Joey beat DeVincenzo both times they wrestled last year, but the score wasn’t indicative of the matches. They were really tough matches and DeVincenzo is a really tough kid.”
Justin Underwood and Dylan McGovern (Bayport-Blue Point) – Underwood traveled to Albany last year and faced a difficult path, dropping contests to state champion Sam Recco and fifth placer Zach Ayen. When discussing Underwood, Reilly couldn’t help but mention teammate McGovern. The two wrestlers battled back and forth last year, with Underwood earning a 6-4 decision in the Section 11 championship.
“Dylan hasn’t stopped in the offseason,” Reilly said. “He’s tired of taking second. I don’t think they’ll be at the same weight class this year and I think they could both be at the top of the Section 11 podium. Justin is probably more of a technical wrestler, very slick. Dylan has that nastiness that you like to see. We were pretty deep last year and there wasn’t a lot of wiggle room for them to get away from each other. Things have opened up now and I think they may be at 126 and 132. I believe both could win matches upstate.”
Hunter Hulse (Stony Brook) – Hulse racked up 30 wins in 2011-12, primarily at 113 pounds. He lost his opening round match at the state tournament by one point before rebounding with a technical fall victory. He was eliminated by multiple-time state placer Cody McGregor of Section 6, but looks to capitalize on his postseason experience.
“Hulse kind of came out of nowhere and had a great year,” Reilly said. “He didn’t place upstate but he did a good job. He’s the kind of kid who will be in the mix because he’s tough and he knows he can compete. In that same weight last year were two other very good kids, Peter Schneider of Smithtown Christian and Justin Engel from Bayport-Blue Point. I think those two are capable of going upstate as well.”
Chris Baglivi (Mattituck) – The state qualifier went 27-11 with 15 pins in 2011-12. He had a pair of victories over Ryan Lewis of Center Moriches, including a 1-0 triumph in the Section final. Lewis is someone to keep an eye on in the upperweights as well after a 28-9 campaign.
Returning state qualifiers Brian Loskamp (Babylon) and Kevin Giron (Hampton Bays) will look to return to Albany to pick up a few more victories after going 1-2 on the big stage in 2011-12. Paul Cavanagh (Port Jefferson) will also aim to make a return trip after winning the 152-pound Section 11 title a year ago.
Bayport-Blue Point won the team title a year ago by 17 points over Mattituck. Those look to be the top squads again this season. The Phantoms lost some key contributors including All-State heavyweight Harrison Desousa and Suffolk runner up Ralph Fabiani, but the squad returns champions Hake and Underwood and silver medalists Joe Palma, Jake Palma, Dylan McGovern as well as a trio of third placers.
Mattituck graduated only two All-County grapplers and looks to be a threat with returning state qualifiers Lucas Webb, Tomasz Filipkowski and Chris Baglivi as well as county runner up Brian Pelan and third placers Andre Vega and James Rugnetta.
Reilly believes there are a number of schools that will have a say in this year’s team competition.
“I wouldn’t say we’re the favorite,” Reilly said of his Bayport-Blue Point squad. “We have some holes although we return a lot of kids and are solid in the lower to upper middleweights. Mattituck will definitely be in the race. Port Jefferson and Center Moriches kids have done a lot of work this offseason. They’re tough and well coached. You can never forget about Babylon. They’re always right there and won this thing not too long ago. They’re rebuilding with some good wrestlers.”
In fact, he believes that some of the somewhat lesser known wrestlers may be the deciding factor.
“The way our section is designed, it could always come down to four or even five teams,” he said. “The parity in our division has gotten better over the past few years. A lot of teams will have their two or three champions and then it comes down to the other guys. If you’re fortunate enough to have another guy in the weight who can take third or fourth, that’s where you win the tournament. That’s been our success over the past few years, with guys like Dylan McGovern, second guys at the weight that pick up more points. It should be an interesting tournament.”
Special thanks to all of the contributors to this story, in particular, Steven Ketcham, John Passaro and Rich Reilly.
More Season Preview Articles:
Section 1 Feature: Aslanian and Realbuto, All-State Wrestlers and Workout Partners, Seek to End Their Careers on Top of the Podium
Section 4 Feature: Looking for “Number Nine”: Reggie Williams Aims to Make History at Johnson City
Section 5 Feature: The “Miracle” Continues: The Return of Aaron Paddock
Section 9 Feature: Unstoppable: Vinny Vespa Wrestles Again After Confronting Cancer
Section 11 Feature: Nick Piccininni Looks to Continue Winning Streak