Hector Colom, Dylan Ryder and Ivan Garcia Finish in the Top Four at the Suplay Kickoff Classic in Tulsa

BY MATT DIANO

With the start of the 2013-2014 high school season right around the corner, a quartet of Empire Staters would make the trek all the way to Tulsa, Oklahoma to compete in the 2013 Suplay Kickoff Classic.  When the dust had settled after two fierce days of battle, three-fourths of the New Yorkers would find themselves in the top-four as Hector Colom would take second and Dylan Ryder would emerge with a third place finish in the 15 & Under division while youngster Ivan Garcia would claim a strong fourth in 10 U competition.

Ryder, a Candlewood resident who was representing the 631 Elite Wrestling Club, would post five wins at 75 pounds. He began with a defeat at the hands of the eventual champion, Kyle Biscoglia of Iowa, in the opening round of the tournament.  (Biscoglia is Flo’s #42 overall junior high prospect and was second at the 2013 Super 32 Middle School Tournament).  Up against a proverbial wall, finding himself in the consolation bracket a lot sooner than he is accustomed, the young Suffolk County stud would respond in a big way, pitching the 7-0 shutout over Oklahoman Spencer Edwards, and then following it up with back-to-back pins in a combined 3:37 against five-time Georgia Kids State Champion, Trevor Burdick (2:59) and 2013 Ohio Junior High State qualifier, Kyle Ryan (0:38).  In the consolation semifinals, Ryder would keep the momentum going, jumping out to a 5-0 lead before surrendering a late takedown to win 5-2 over 2013 Ohio Grade School State Champion, Gabriel Tagg.  In the bronze medal bout, Ryder would be in control from the opening whistle to the final buzzer, recording the only points of the match in a 5-0 decision over Pennsylvania’s Brandon Seidman. (He would lose his true second bout to Malik Heinselman).

Like Ryder, Hectom Colom’s tournament would begin on a bit of a sour note as he too would find himself on the short end of a decision (3-1) in the first round.  In a 101-pound match versus the host state’s Colton Denney, the Dunkirk eighth grader created multiple scramble positions in the third period in an attempt to even the score with a takedown.  To the credit of his foe, Colom would be unable to get himself sufficiently untangled to score the much needed points.  This hard fought loss would be the only one of the weekend for the Buffalo Wrestling Club representative as he would go on to utilize his excellent skills from the top position to reel off seven consecutive wins. Commencing his comeback effort with a 15-0 technical fall over Kansas’s Dante Rodd, Colom would find himself in a bit of a dogfight in his next bout against another opponent from the Jayhawk State, two-time Youth State placewinner (2nd in 2012; 3rd in 2013), Kaj Perez.  With the score all deadlocked at two apiece heading into the third period and Perez having choice, the New Yorker would come up clutch, breaking the tie with a tilt for three near-fall points.  This would prove to be the difference as he would ride out the full 90 second duration to advance with the 5-2 decision. Colom would have a much easier time of it in his next match, dominating Derek Holschlag to the tune of a 4-0 decision.  The runaway train of success would refuse to stop in the consolation quarterfinals when Colom earned a third period reversal to get a 6-4 win over 2013 Missouri Kids bronze medalist, Jackson Henson.

In the consolation semis, a rematch with Denney would await him.  However, unlike the first matchup, Colom would never allow himself to fall behind, fighting off a deep shot attempt in the first period, earning an escape in the second, and then riding out the entire third to walk away with the 1-0 decision.  In the third place match, it would be a case of déjà vu against New Jersey’s Christopher Cannon.  In identical fashion to his previous victory over Denney, a second period escape would be all Colom would need as he rode his way to victory, working a crab ride for much of the last 45 seconds and just missing near-fall on at least two occasions in the last half minute.

He then tackled one more challenge – a true second bout against Tanner Ward.  He emerged victorious in that contest by a 6-4 score to nab silver, a finish that caps off what has been an unbelievable offseason for Colom, as he adds this medal to the gold he won at the Journeymen Classic in September and the bronze he won in the Middle School division of the Super 32 tournament last month.

Last, but by no means least, would be Port Chester’s Ivan Garcia, who went 5-2 with both of his losses coming to the same opponent, California’s Alex M. Ramirez (3-1 decision in the quarterfinals; by fall in 2:27 in the third place bout).  Aside from his inability to master his rival from the West Coast, Garcia would cruise this weekend, using his excellent defensive skills to limit the offense of his foes. He would outscore his five victims by a cumulative tally of 22-2, beginning with 5-0 and 7-1 decisions in the first two rounds over Isaac Klinkhammer (2013 South Dakota Novice State runner-up) and Mitchell Mesenbrink (5th in the 2013 Wisconsin Kids State Tournament), respectively. Garcia would then shake off the disappointment of his first loss to Ramirez by going on a mini winning streak, beating back-to-back Arkansas wrestlers, Tristan Stafford (2-0) and Tripp Mays (1-0), before getting his hand raised one final time in the consolation semifinals, 7-1 over Jackson Eller.  The win over Eller would have to be considered one of the best of Garcia’s career when you consider that the former entered the tournament as a six-time ASICS/USA Wrestling Kids All-American in the international styles (including an Intermediate National Title in Greco-Roman in 2012).  While the weekend would end in defeat, there is no question that the Section I wrestler should be very proud of his effort as his top-4 finish here surpasses the sixth place showing he put forth last month at the Super 32 Tournament.

Tito Colom of Dunkirk was also in action this weekend, going 2-2 at 108 pounds.

For Full results, please visit Trackwrestling.com.

Longwood National Champion Corey Rasheed: Driven to Dominate in His Senior Year

Corey Rasheed said it was the “worst I’ve wrestled in a long time.”

Returning from injuries that had sidelined him for most of the summer, the Longwood star went undefeated at the Journeymen Classic to capture the 160-pound title and Most Outstanding Wrestler honors for the upperweights.  He faced a New England champion and wrestlers who took second and third at Fargo in 2013 – and won by a combined 21-5 score.

Not too shabby for his “worst.”

Rasheed, Photo by BV

“When I tell people that, they look at me funny,” he said.  “But I’m not satisfied. It’s not about the title. Most wrestlers are in competition with the kids in their weight, but I feel like I’m in competition with every wrestler. I want to be the best.”

He showed his potential to be among the best as a seventh grader when he earned a spot in the state finals at 96 pounds.  After a fifth place finish as a freshman, Rasheed returned to the title bout in Albany as a sophomore in 2012, before taking silver for the second time.  A few weeks later, he again made the championship round of a big event – the NHSCA Sophomore Nationals in Virginia Beach, where he took second place at 145 pounds.

“When I lost the match [to Minnesota’s Larry Bomstad] in Virginia Beach, it felt like the state finals all over again,” Rasheed said.  “I knew I couldn’t let it happen again.”

He made sure in 2012-13 with a season of pure dominance at 152 pounds.  The Suffolk County standout went 34-0 with 22 pins. Only two opponents managed a regular decision.

But there was only one thing on his mind.

“All season, I was thinking about states,” he said. “I know I shouldn’t have, but during counties, I was thinking about states.  Then, during the first rounds of the state tournament, I was thinking about the finals.”

He punched his ticket to the finals with a technical fall, pin and a 5-0 shutout at the Times Union Center. In his third time wrestling on Saturday night at the biggest New York tournament of the year, he was ready.

“I was kind of numb at the moment,” he said. “Everything seemed so slow. I wasn’t nervous; I’d been there so many times before.  I was just thinking I had to win.  If I lost again in the finals, it would have been devastating.  I had to win.”

He did.  And he did it quickly.  Just 56 seconds into the title bout, Rasheed pinned Great Neck South’s Chris Koo.

“I didn’t care about getting the pin in the first period,” Rasheed said. “At the end of the day, I was just happy to get my hand raised there in the finals.  When I looked at the crowd and saw my friends and family hugging each other, it was a great moment.”

Appropriately, the fall came from the move Rasheed executed with perfection all year long – the cradle.

“I’ve been using that cradle since I started wrestling as a young kid,” he said. “People don’t see that it’s so easy to hit from all different angles.  It’s something that comes natural to me.  I work on other things – I don’t practice the cradle anymore.”

He may not practice it, but he certainly used it a lot, including at Virginia Beach where he returned to the national finals. This time, he came out on top, defeating Alabama’s Brandon Womack 9-6 in the 152-pound title bout to finish a perfect season as a state champion and a national champion.

The national rankers noticed, even if Rasheed wasn’t paying much attention.

Photo by BV

“I’m not a strong believer in rankings,” he said. “It’s an honor to be there and I want to be #1 one day, but I haven’t checked them in a long time. I don’t even know where I am anymore.”

(He is currently listed as the #56 senior in the nation by Intermat and #48 by FloWrestling.  At 160 pounds, Flo has Rasheed as #8 in the land).

College coaches probably have a good idea of where Rasheed stands in the rankings.

“I have a group of schools that I’ve been talking to,” Rasheed said, preferring to leave out the names. “I can’t pick yet because I haven’t visited places so I wouldn’t be making a good decision. I’m not in a rush to commit, but I am excited to wrestle in college.”

Rasheed’s familiarity with college wrestling has been increasing recently.

“I’m unorthodox when it comes to wrestling because I don’t really watch wrestling much,” he said.  “My favorite sport to watch is basketball. But a lot of college coaches that got in touch with me compared me to some guys and I started to watch them. I realized that I’m getting better just from watching. Ed Ruth is one that a lot of the coaches mentioned.  The coaches said we do a lot of the same things in every position.  Other than that, my favorite wrestler to watch is probably Jordan Burroughs – he’s phenomenal; so fast and explosive.”

Many fans have used those adjectives to describe Rasheed as well.  (The vast majority of coaches and observers we spoke to all around the state said Rasheed is New York’s top senior). He named numerous people who have helped him develop over the years, but at the top of that list was his brother Malik, a multiple-time state placer for Longwood.

“Malik has definitely helped me so much,” he said. “He should have been a two or three time state champ, but he had bad luck with tearing cartilage in his rib and so many other things people don’t know about. He’s my biggest influence. Last year, he came to the room and wrestled with me. We really go at it – there are days he beats me up and days I beat him up.  We’ll leave the room bleeding.  At times, we fight because it gets that competitive, but he’s helped me so much.”

That spirit translates to basketball, which Rasheed said he plays just about every day, “even in the snow.”  And despite all his accomplishments, his intensity hasn’t waned at all on the mat.

“I have more of a desire to win now than ever before,” Rasheed said. “In seventh, eighth, ninth grade, I was only thinking about high school wrestling and what I wanted to accomplish there.  But now, I’m thinking about college and the Olympics.  A lot of kids who start young burn out because it’s a tough sport to dedicate yourself to.  It’s not really a sport; it’s a lifestyle.  For me, the feeling of not getting your hand raised is terrible, more now than ever.”

Rasheed doesn’t plan on having that “terrible” feeling this year.  He said he will certify at 154 pounds, giving him the option of being at 152 again or moving up to 160.

“My goals are to win leagues, counties, states and nationals,” he said. “I’m still deciding between Virginia Beach and FloNationals and I know they’re crazy hard tournaments.  But I don’t want to just win; I want to dominate. My goal is to dominate the whole year.”

He pretty much did that as an eleventh grader.  And while he’s proud of what he did in 2012-13, he’s not dwelling on last season.

“I was definitely happy about my junior year,” he said. “Once I graduate, I can look back and say I won states and nationals that year.  But two weeks after nationals, I moved on. I don’t reminisce too much.  I just think about what’s next.  The most important time for me is right now.”

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Corey Rasheed wanted to thank his brother, Malik, his uncle Greg, his mother and his family for their support.  He also wanted to thank coaches Mike Picozzi and Ethan Prifte for their huge influence on him over the years.  In addition, he mentioned the significant contributions of coaches Darren Goldstein, Steve Hromada, Nick Garone and Nick Hall.  He couldn’t name everyone, but thanked everyone who has helped him and supported him along the way.

Working for #1: New York's Top Junior Nick Piccininni Looks to Add A National Championship to His Resume

We have been discussing some of the top wrestlers in New York over the past few weeks.  We started with our #1 Junior High School grappler in the state, Penfield eighth grader Frankie Gissendanner (see link),then profiled top freshman Yianni Diakomihalis and discussed other ninth graders to watch.  Then, we wrote about the wrestler at the top of the Class of 2016 rankings – Christian Dietrich and additional tenth graders to watch. Now, here’s more about the #1 junior in New York, Nick Piccininni.

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It was the match that people were waiting to see. Even before the 2013-2013 season started, there was buzz about a possible clash of champions at 113 pounds at the state tournament.  Fans were excited about the possibility of watching 2012 gold medalist Nick Piccininni against the last wrestler to beat him in New York (in 2011) – two-time NYS title winner Kyle Kelly of Chenango Forks.

The matchup came to fruition and both Piccininni and Kelly were unbeaten entering the 2013 state final. But the Ward Melville star said he wasn’t thinking about simply winning the bout. He was determined to make a statement.

“I definitely wanted to dominate and show everybody that I was on another level,” Piccininni said.  “I was looking to come out and dominate right away.”

Photo by BV

He did. The Suffolk County grappler took control from the start and didn’t stop until the final whistle. In the end it was a 14-4 major and a second state crown.

And that was just the start of a string of big victories for Piccininni. He followed up with a second place showing at the FloNationals, dropping a 2-1 bout in the championship contest to Nathan Boston. However, on his way to the title match, he defeated some quality foes, including Oklahoma’s Markus Simmons [ranked 11th in the nation] in a match he trailed 4-0 early on before storming back for an 8-5 decision.

“The competition was tough during that whole tournament,” Piccininni said.  “I did pretty good up until the finals. Then I don’t know what happened. It was a tough match and I just slipped up a little.”

If he “slipped up”, he quickly rebounded. At the Disney Duals in Orlando, he earned “Gold” Status after sporting a perfect record against top-notch opposition. He and the New York Kong squad went all the way to the championship match of the prestigious event where they faced Young Guns, a team from Pennsylvania.  While the Keystone State group captured the dual, Piccininni stood out, registering a 7-5 victory over Luke Pletcher.  WIN Magazine called that victory the biggest win of the offseason at 113 pounds anywhere in the United States.

“I knew [Pletcher] was tough,” Piccininni said. “He was actually on my team the week before at the NHSCA National Duals, so we’re friends.  We were joking around about having to wrestle each other.  I knew going into the match that I was older and had more experience. I thought I had something over him in the match, even though he’s a national champ and I’m not yet.”

Piccininni continued to excel throughout the offseason with undefeated performances at the Waterway Duals and the Journeymen Classic. In fact, he took on another national champ, Florida’s Radley Gillis, for first place at the Journeymen event and cruised to a 10-2 major. He nabbed Outstanding Wrestler honors … and did it all at far less than 100 percent.

“It was tough because I actually strained my hamstring in my second match,” Piccininni said about his Journeymen Classic experience. “I wrestled uncomfortably in the rest of my matches.  I won, but I actually wish I did a little bit better.”

It’s hard to see how much better he can do, but he’ll have a chance at the Iron Horse Invitational in New Jersey and then at the Super 32 Challenge in North Carolina. The latter is an event Piccininni has waited to get another chance at after missing the podium by one win a year ago despite defeating the nation’s #1 ranked wrestler at the time, Zahid Valencia of California.  (The two met twice and split the bouts).

“My goal is to win Super 32 this year. That’s what I’m going there for,” he said. “I would like to face [the nation’s top ranked 120 pounder] Sean Russell again but I’m ready for anyone I’ll face there.” [Russell defeated Piccininni on the way to a runner up finish at the Super 32 last year].

Russell is one of many heralded grapplers registered for the Super 32. In fact, at least 10 of the top 20 120 pounders in the land are listed in the field, including, of course, #4 ranked Piccininni.

He relishes the competition, as do his favorite wrestlers – Matt McDonough, David Taylor, Tony Ramos, Logan Stieber, Kyle Dake and Jordan Burroughs.  Piccininni also said he admires Derek Jeter, who he calls a hard worker and a respectable person.

All those athletes have something in common – spending significant time at the top.  That’s something Piccininni is looking to accomplish on the national level after two consecutive undefeated state championship seasons in New York.

“I don’t think about the rankings much,” Piccininni said.  “But no one wants to be #4 or #2 or anything but #1.  I’m definitely working to get the #1 spot.  I’m going to keep doing everything I’ve been doing since eighth and ninth grade.  I’m keeping my work ethic up and I’m not stopping.  I want to be an undefeated state champ again and an undefeated national champ.”

'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.”

Back to Long Island: State Champ Maverick Passaro Joins Hofstra

Maverick Passaro is back on the Island.

After spending a year at Rutgers University, the former Eastport-South Manor state champion is now a member of the Hofstra Pride, where he plans to wrestle at 133 pounds in 2013-14.

Photo by BV

“It’s a much better fit for me,” Passaro said. “It’s really good to represent the Island and be part of building a team here with the best Long Island wrestlers.  I’m happy to be closer to home and I think I’ll also be able to pursue my career better at Hofstra.  They have the major that I want and I think it’s a better place for me as a wrestler.”

Another bonus to being a member of the Pride is the chance to work with a familiar face.

“I’m really excited to be back with [assistant coach] Ryan Patrovich, who I know for a long time.  He coached me in club wrestling for years.”

But Passaro emphasized that while he’s excited about the change, there were many positives about his experience in New Jersey.

“I had a good time at Rutgers,” he said. “I got along with the coaches and I had great teammates.  I made some big improvements in my wrestling — I spent a lot of time on the mat rather than on my feet and I improved a lot in the top position.”

That time on the mat was more limited than Passaro hoped, however.  He got off to a solid start with a 2-2 performance at the Hokie Open in his first collegiate action.  However, as the squad prepared to face Clarion a week later, Passaro suffered a dislocated thumb in practice.

“I didn’t get to wrestle as much as I wanted because of injuries,” he said. “When I was getting back from the first injury, I ran into another one when I really hurt my back lifting.  It threw me off completely. It was tough to go through a year like that because I was never really hurt before in my life.  It was frustrating to not be able to be out there on the mat the way I wanted to be.”

After only wrestling a few matches all season, Passaro said he applied for a medical redshirt and will find out by the end of the summer whether it has been granted by the NCAA.

In the interim, he’s healthy again and ready to get back to the competition he missed.

“I’ve been training four times a week for about four weeks now,” he said. “I moved in to Hofstra a few days ago and now that I’m living here, it’s a lot easier and it’s different. I feel like I’m really a part of it. I’ve been working with guys like Jamie Franco, Jamel Hudson and Kyle Krasavage.  I can’t wait for the season to get started.”

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Maverick Passaro became the first-ever state champion from Eastport-South Manor High School when he defeated Sam Speno of Fox Lane 2-1 in 2012 at 126 pounds.  Speno was an NCAA qualifier for North Carolina State as a true freshman in 2013.

Passaro isn’t the only anticipated addition to the Hofstra program for the 2013-14 campaign. More details will be provided when available.

What's the Recruiting Experience Like? A State Champion's Perspective (Part 2)

 
 

Last Monday was July 1, the first day that college coaches can contact members of the Class of 2014. What is it like for high schoolers and their families during the recruiting process?  We asked Harvard-bound Tyler Grimaldi and his father Frank to share their experiences.  

Last week, we posted Part 1 of this article. To read about the beginning of the recruiting process, the craziness of July 1 and the phone and mail contact from schools all over the country, see Part 1 of this article.

The second part of the story begins below:

Narrowing Down the Field

Tyler Grimaldi: As important as wrestling is, school comes first.  Always has. Based on academics, I started to narrow the list down.

Frank Grimaldi: When we saw a lot of Ivies were interested, we put others on the backburner.  All along, we’ve talked about how wrestling is a means to an end. Tyler loves to wrestle; he lives for wrestling. But he knows that success on the mat will help him in life.  He had a very high average; high test scores. But that by itself doesn’t get you into some of the best schools.  We decided that it was time to take some unofficial visits.

So in the summer, it was off to a number of campuses across the Northeast to get a closer look – including Columbia, Cornell, Harvard, Hofstra, Penn and Princeton.  He walked around the schools, met the coaches and teams and tried to get a feel for the environment at each place.

Tyler Grimaldi: I didn’t know anything about the college experience or being a college wrestler. I went in with an open mind.  It was such a new world for me. I was looking for a place to grow as an athlete, a student and a person.  I wanted to find the place that would mold me into the person I want to be.

His trip to Harvard was eye opening.  Ironically, Tyler said the Crimson staff didn’t contact him early in the recruiting period, as he said head coach Jay Weiss first reached out in August.

Frank Grimaldi: On the trip to Harvard, we sat down with Coach Weiss and Coaches [JP] O’Connor and [Muzaffar] Abdurakhmanov. We talked for three hours, but not one second was about wrestling.  Before we went on the tour, he reinforced that he doesn’t do negative recruiting; doesn’t talk about other programs.

Grimaldi, Photo by BV

The visits went in both directions, as Grimaldi not only made trips to colleges, but several coaches traveled to his home in Dix Hills.  Frank Grimaldi talked about how great it was to “have these amazing coaches in my kitchen for three or four hours.”

Frank Grimaldi: The unofficial visits absolutely helped narrow it down.  He set up five official visits.  He went to Harvard first and loved it.  Then he went to Princeton next and loved it.  After that, he said he didn’t want to go on any other visits because he wanted to go to one of those places.

Decision Time

Frank Grimaldi: With it down to Harvard and Princeton, I told him I couldn’t give him a hint of what to do.  I didn’t want to push him one way or another and have him regret the decision.  The decision was all his. He couldn’t lose either way. His guidance counselor felt the same way. She asked him, ‘If you could never wrestle another day in your life, where would you rather go to school?’ Three hours later, he told me his decision was made.

Tyler Grimaldi: When I was in sixth grade, I told my parents I wanted to go to Harvard.  Originally, I didn’t think they were interested in me.  But after Fargo [Grimaldi took sixth at 160 in Freestyle], we talked and really hit it off. I still was torn between Harvard and Princeton, though. My relationship with coach Weiss was the deciding factor. I saw him as a second father figure.  He stays in touch with all the people he’s coached and he develops us as wrestlers and people. I had a different kind of connection with Coach Weiss. I feel like he knows what’s best for me.

A week or two after making his choice, Grimaldi got a “likely letter” from Harvard, indicating that his chances of being admitted were high.  In October, he received a call that he had been accepted on what was “one of the coolest nights ever” according to Frank Grimaldi.

The Hardest Part – By Far

Having a final decision meant a lot of good things for Grimaldi and his family.  Contacting all the other coaches who had been recruiting him was not one of them.

Tyler Grimaldi: That was the worst part of the whole process; by far the worst.  It was horrible.  All of those coaches went out of their way for me, came to my house, took a lot of time with me. I felt really bad.  But you know what? Most of the coaches were very cool about it.  They wished me the best and told me the door was always open if something changed.

Any Advice?

Frank Grimaldi:  My advice would be to talk to everybody you can.  Take good notes and understand that it is a business.  You have to understand that you’re the greatest thing since sliced bread when you talk to some coaches, but they’re saying the same things to other people.  They have a numbers game – they have a list of wrestlers they really want, a list that they’ll settle for and a list they’ll take if they have to in order to fill numbers.  You have to figure out where you are in the pecking order.  I was kind of shocked at the response of one of the coaches when Tyler told him his decision. It’s a business, but when it’s the business of your son, you take it personally.  At the end of the day, it’s a great process, a great ride.  There were so many great people and great opportunities that Tyler couldn’t have made a bad decision.

Tyler Grimaldi: One thing I learned is that there’s no opportunity that’s too small.  Keep all of your doors open and don’t close off anything right away. Hear everyone out and listen carefully because you might find a gem in a program you never imagined.

Also, enjoy the opportunities you get from the process.  I loved taking the visits and seeing the schools.  It was amazing to learn more about what it takes to compete on the mat and in the classroom at a high level.  I got to tour parts of the country and see places I’ve never seen.  You’re made to feel really important and that’s a lot of fun. It’s a great experience.

The Road Ahead

Now, the new challenges commence. As Frank Grimaldi said, “All [Tyler] has so far is admission to Harvard, and while that’s great, he knows he’s not guaranteed anything from here.”

Tyler expects to begin as a 157-pounder but may see 165 down the road.  In the classroom, he will likely concentrate in biology or psychology as he hopes to attend medical school in the future.   He experienced quite a bit in past year and will no doubt experience a whole lot more.

“From July through October, it was a whirlwind of calls, mail, visits and discussions,” Frank Grimaldi said. “It was quite a ride. In the end, I’m the happiest person in the world with the way it worked out.”

A Wrestler's Perspective: Tyler Grimaldi's "Whirlwind" Journey through the Recruiting Process (Part 1)

 
 
What is it like to be a top wrestler entering his final year of high school?  The recruiting process is “out of a movie” and a “whirlwind”, according to Harvard-bound Tyler Grimaldi, a 2013 state champion from Half Hollow Hills West High School, and his father Frank.  With July 1 marking the beginning of the official recruiting period for the Class of 2014, we asked the Grimaldis to share some insights on what they experienced as Tyler made his college choice.  

This is part 1 of a two-part article.

 The Beginning

The story of the recruitment of Tyler Grimaldi goes back to the summer of 2011, when he competed at the Junior Freestyle National championships in Fargo, North Dakota between his sophomore and junior years.

Grimaldi, Photo by BV

Frank Grimaldi: At Fargo, Tyler was coached by Columbia’s Carl Fronhofer. Tyler decided to take an unofficial visit to Columbia during his junior year and after he finished second in the state that year [2012], Coach Fronhofer talked to [Hills West coach Mike] Patrovich with a lot of interest. I was ecstatic; I thought it was the greatest thing in the world.  I thought Columbia would be a great place for Tyler.  I sat down with a friend and Tyler’s coaches and they were excited too.  They told me it was awesome; amazing.  But they also told me that we should go through the process fully.  They said, ‘Just wait until July. A lot more will show interest then.’”

Grimaldi continued to bolster his resume, earning All-America honors at the NHSCA Junior Nationals in Virginia Beach where he took fourth at 160 pounds in April (2012).  College coaches definitely took notice.

Frank Grimaldi: In Virginia Beach, it was the quarterfinal round and Tyler was about to wrestle. One of Tyler’s buddies was close to the mat and he was telling me that he almost got knocked over by someone trying to get to the match.  It was really cool – because I saw who it was.  It was [an Ivy league assistant coach], who had run almost across the entire convention center to watch Tyler.  It was really cool to watch.”

 July 1, 2012

Many know that July 1 is the big day when the first official calls and visits can occur.  But the Grimaldis admitted that what happened during that 24 hours was beyond their imagination.

Tyler Grimaldi: It was totally different than I expected. I expected a couple of calls.  What happened was straight out of a movie.  You wake up and your phone doesn’t stop ringing. Some were from schools I e-mailed with before [Grimaldi said he e-mailed coaches as a junior to introduce himself to programs he might be interested in], but some were from schools and coaches I never even heard of or schools I had no idea had any interest in me.  I really felt like I was in a movie.

Frank Grimaldi:  It was a Sunday and it started at about 9:30 a.m. By the end of the night, Tyler had received more than 25 phone calls.  It continued on Monday.  It was a dream come true. I couldn’t imagine it. It was everything from DI powers to D3 schools to Junior Colleges. It got really, really crazy.  Tyler talked to everyone and listened to what they had to say. We would sit down after each call and write down what the coach said, maybe do some research on the school.

The phone interactions continued throughout the summer.  NCAA rules stipulate that schools can only call once every seven days and for the most part, that’s exactly what they did.

 And It Continues . . .

Tyler Grimaldi: Most coaches would call every week on the dot – same exact time. I wasn’t used to it – all these people calling and pulling in different directions.  They wanted to know what my thought process was and where I stood. It became stressful at times.

Frank Grimaldi: The first calls came on that first Sunday.  Some continued to call on Sunday and some switched to another day, but it was pretty much every seven days throughout the summer.

It wasn’t just calls, however.  The postal service saw a big increase of activity at the Grimaldi house as well.

Frank Grimaldi: The mailbox filled up almost every day and so did the school mailbox.  It was like Christmas morning, every morning.

Tyler Grimaldi: There was a lot of mail, and to be honest, I read every single recruiting letter. It made me feel really good to have all those schools gunning for me. A lot of it was pretty basic, asking me to fill out questionnaires or information on the school.  Some was more personal.  Cornell’s stood out – they had some funny letters and some hand written, personal ones specific to me.

Frank Grimaldi estimated that around 75 programs contacted his son during the process, with at least 40 of them doing so by phone.

Tyler Grimaldi: It was pretty overwhelming at first. The big thing is that we didn’t close off anything early on.  I wanted to hear what all the options were.

Frank Grimaldi: There were many different opportunities. One school said with the classes he was taking in high school, he could come in as a sophomore [academically] and wrestle four years and get a redshirt year.  That way, he’d graduate in three years and have two years of grad school or med school paid for.  Everybody was offering different things – there were different packages and scholarships. Some of that was incredibly tempting.  In the end, I told Tyler that he needed to figure out what college he wanted to go to; what was right for him, and we’d figure out the next steps from there.

One of those key next steps was narrowing down the field to a handful of schools.  How that occurred and the rest of Tyler Grimaldi’s recruiting story is at Link to Part 2 of the article.

Down to Durham: State Runner Up Alex Tanzman Decides on Duke University

 
 
With a pair of Suffolk County titles and two All-State showings, Duke University-bound Alex Tanzman is the most decorated wrestler in Westhampton Beach history.

However, when the squad looked to clinch the league title in January, the Hurricanes planned to do it with their star sitting on the sidelines.

“It was our last dual meet of the year against Shoreham Wading River and we needed to win it to win the league,” head coach Paul Bass said. “We were hoping to do it without him because he had hardly practiced in three weeks and was in a lot of pain. He had done his job for us 48 hours before when we upset [then-#3 in the state] Rocky Point and we didn’t want to wrestle him again.”

Things did not go according to plan, however.  When it came time for the 106-pound weight class, instead of being in a solid position to capture the meet, Westhampton Beach trailed by double digit points.

“Alex put his head gear on, took his warm ups off and said he had to go out there for the team,” Bass said.

Tanzman wasn’t facing just an average opponent.  He was set to take on James Szymanski, ranked in the top five in the state at the time after an outstanding third place performance at the Eastern States Classic.

According to Bass, Syzmanski jumped out to a three point lead lead after two periods.  But Tanzman fought back in the third, escaping to begin the stanza and picking up a takedown to tie things up.  In overtime, Tanzman completed the comeback to win 7-5 and propel his squad to the championship.

“It was the gutsiest thing I’ve seen in 31 years of coaching,” Bass said.

Coming from behind late in a match against a top foe takes guts, but Alex Tanzman was dealing with much more.  He always had his mother, Jina Tanzman, and her battle with pancreatic cancer in his thoughts.  And physically, he suffered a painful intercostal rib injury in early 2013 that impacted him the rest of the season.

“It was January 5 at our home tournament,” Tanzman said. “It was a short match.  I just did a wrong motion and twisted the wrong way. After that, I slowed down.  I took three weeks off to try to heal, but it didn’t really work. I wasn’t going to not wrestle my senior year so I just toughed through it.  I had to change the way I wrestled. I just had to adapt.”

Adapt is a good word for what he did, according to Bass, as he moved away being from the ultra aggressive wrestler he had always been.

According to his coach, Tanzman set the Long Island record with 37 pins as a junior and was on pace to challenge that mark with 11 falls in November and December.  However, the injury didn’t allow him to attack the way he typically had.

“He couldn’t be aggressive,” Bass said. “He started using a very defensive style.  He gave up more takedowns in the last three weeks of the season than he had in his whole career combined.  He had to square up his stance and score off of defense.”

That led to falling behind in bouts, something that had not been common for the senior in the past.

“I actually was losing in a lot of matches this year that I ended up winning,” Tanzman said. “I never got too nervous, I just tried to stay focused.  I never expected to lose, even with the pain.”

A great example was in the Suffolk County finals against West Babylon’s Steven Lee.  He trailed early in the contest, but responded with a pin and his second straight Section 11 title.  At that point, he had a 32-1 record with his only setback coming up a weight against nationally-ranked Nick Piccininni of Ward Melville.

A few weeks later, the returning New York State bronze medalist (at 99 pounds) was the top seed at the Times Union Center at 106 and he went all the way to the championship bout before dropping a decision to Wantagh’s Kyle Quinn.

While Bass desired a different outcome, he marveled at Tanzman’s ability to achieve second place.

“To win Suffolk and go all the way to the state finals in that kind of condition is pretty amazing,” the coach said. “Everyone we talked to said that injury shuts most guys down completely.  You can’t really twist certain ways.  Honestly, Alex couldn’t do much and we were nervous about the lack of work he was able to do.  It was touch and go for a while and we had to take one day at a time, one week at a time.  He kept coming through.”

That kind of ‘can do’ attitude was reflected by the entire Westhampton Beach squad this year. Both Tanzman and Bass emphasized how the tight-knit group pulled through a lot of adversity – and on top of that, earned a lot of success on the mat.

“We had a bunch of hard, tragic events going on all around us,” Bass said. “I’ve never seen anything like it in all my years of coaching.  But the kids stuck together.  There was no quit in anyone.  Alex was a perfect example. He was wired from his parents and teammates to keep going no matter what.”

“Our team was really close this year, all of us,” Tanzman added. “We stuck together and encouraged each other through some really hard times.  It was everyone – family, friends, coaches, teachers.  We were proud to win the leagues, which we wanted so bad.  We were able to support each other.”

One of the many evidences of that support came from the T-shirts the team sold.  According to Tanzman, the shirts were purple for pancreatic cancer and there was a “JT” on the sleeve for Jina Tanzman.  The money from the sales of the apparel went to the Lustgarden Foundation, an organization that funds pancreatic cancer research.

Tanzman’s ability to fight through it all was one of the many reasons the Duke coaching staff was excited to welcome him aboard.  His outstanding work in the classroom was, of course, another.

“I was always interested in Duke for the academics,” he said. “I visited a few weeks ago and met with Coach [Glen] Lanham and the wresting team.  It’s a beautiful school with great sports and I really liked the coaches.  It was my number one choice since the beginning of the year.”

The future economics major, who said he weighs about 122 pounds now, will redshirt his first year in Durham, North Carolina with the intention of wrestling at 125 the following season.

“Alex has all the tools,” Bass said. “He’s a very good athlete who is very explosive and strong for his size.  We always knew he was tough, from the time he was in our kid program in fifth grade.  He listens, he’s smart and he learns quickly.  You’re on your own a lot more in college and you need to be self-motivated and independent to succeed.  That’s Alex.  He has his priorities straight. He chose a great university and knows that education comes first.  I know he’ll do awesome.”

Taking Flight: Sachem East's Conor O'Hara Ready for the Next Step at Air Force

 
 
Conor O’Hara won 152 matches during his Sachem East career, more than anyone in school history.  But when asked about what matches really stood out to him, he didn’t choose any of the 152.

“I would definitely say the county tournament in tenth grade, the only time I didn’t place, stands out,” he said. “The year before as a freshman, I was second at 96 [pounds] and made it to states.  I was a really big and strong 96 and the flaws in my technique were never really exposed.  When I didn’t place, it was big for me mentally. It made me realize what I needed to do to beat the best guys. I realized there were things I needed to fix and it made me train harder.”

Courtesy of the O'Hara Family

He has been praised by his coaches for the way he trained throughout his high school years. That work ethic will certainly come in handy as he takes the next step in his academic and wrestling careers at a place where hard work is essential – the Air Force Academy.

In fact, there won’t be a break for O’Hara.  Just a few days after graduating high school, he’ll be off to Colorado Springs for Basic Cadet Training, a six-week program labeled “rigorous” and “serious” by the institution’s website.

So although he won’t be on the beach or relaxing the summer before college like some of his peers, O’Hara wouldn’t have it any other way.  He’s been excited about going to a military environment for some time.

“When I started looking at colleges, I was attracted to the service academies,” he said. “There are so many opportunities to do cool things you can’t do anywhere else.”

He thought about the Naval and the Merchant Marine Academies as well, but a few factors drove him to the Air Force, especially after he thoroughly enjoyed his recent visit to the campus.

“I might be interested in civil engineering, but I’m still undecided,” he said. “So I really liked that there are more majors at Air Force to choose from.  I thought it gave me more options.”

And the wrestling component was key as well.

“I felt that [head] Coach Joel Sharratt and the whole coaching staff really believed in my potential,” he said. “I’m thankful to Coach Sharratt for giving me the opporuntity to continue my career.”

It was a career that included record breaking moments, one of which was passing Sean O’Malley on the all-time Sachem list for victories.

“I knew before the season that I wasn’t too many wins away,” he said. “I knew it was within reach and that I could do it pretty early in the season.  Having that record was a nice milestone along the way, but it wasn’t my focus.  My goal was to be a champion.”

O’Hara began the campaign at 138 pounds and racked up a 14-3 record at that weight before moving down to 132 in January, where he said he “felt really good and got into the swing of things.”

It sure looked that way.  He won his first 23 bouts at the lighter class, with all but two of the victories by bonus points.

“In the beginning of the year, I was struggling on my feet with motion and taking good shots,” he said. “I did a lot of work with Isaac Ramaswamy getting my shots better, getting the first takedown.  That’s a big part of scoring bonus points for me.  If I can get the first takedown, I have a lot more time to work on top, where I was wrestling really well.”

O’Hara came into the county tournament at 132 looking to get an elusive Suffolk title.  In addition to his runner up finish in Section 11 as a ninth grader, he was fourth as a junior.  He began by winning his first two matches, but dropped a decision to Hauppauge’s Chris Mauriello in the semifinals, his first setback in 2013.

A second trip to the state tournament seemed in jeopardy.

“The night I lost in the semis, I actually didn’t think I had a good chance of getting a wildcard to states,” he said. “But once I looked into it a little more and figured out the points, I started to feel pretty confident.”

To get to the Times Union Center he needed to take third – and he fought back to do just that. He wasn’t the only one from Sachem East.  Five of his teammates (Jakob Restrepo, Michael Pistone, Mark Tracy, Cristian Nunez and John Vigh) also made it to the bronze medal match.  So despite having only one finalist (Jackson Mordente), the Flaming Arrows captured the Suffolk tournament title for the first time since 1992 by 18 points over East Islip.

“I think after the end of last season, we all had our minds set on winning a county title,” he said of the Sachem East squad. “We worked through the spring and summer to get ready.  We had a goal in mind as a team. We also wanted to be unofficial New York dual champions [the team finished second at the Union-Endicott event to Wantagh]. The way we won the County showed our heart.  No one packed it in after the semis.  We were disappointed, but we came back and wrestled even better the second day when we needed every win in a close team race.  My goal was to be a county champ individually.  That was the goal of other guys on the team too, but it winning as a team made it feel better.”

Courtesy of the O'Hara Family

It felt even better when he was officially informed that he had a bid to Albany for the state tournament.  O’Hara won his opening match by major decision before dropping a tight 7-5 contest to a familiar foe – Sayville’s Matt Leshinger – the eventual New York champion.  He was later eliminated in a one-point bout in the consolations to complete his high school career as a five-time all-league and three-time all-county competitor.

There’s no doubt that the future 141-pounder left his mark on Sachem East wrestling.  And he’s now ready to tackle some new goals, on and off the mat, for the Falcons.

“It definitely meant a lot to me to have one more shot at my goal of being a state champion,” he said. “I didn’t get there, but I’ll definitely use it as motivation going to the next level of college wrestling. I am really thankful and excited for the opportunity.”

 ——————————————————

Conor O’Hara wished to thank his uncle (and Sachem East head coach) Sean O’Hara, coach Isaac Ramaswamy, and his dad Dennis O’Hara for all the things they’ve done for him over the years.   He also wished to thank Air Force head coach Joel Sharratt.

No Time to Waste: Michael Hughes Looks to Keep Winning (and Pinning) at Hofstra

 
 
About 50 minutes.  That’s the total time future Hofstra heavyweight Michael Hughes spent on the mat this year on his way to an undefeated campaign and a state championship for Smithtown West.

That’s an average of less than a minute and a half per match (for his 34 bouts, excluding forfeits).  Not too surprising since he wrestled into the second period only six times all season.

“I expected to be really dominant this year,” Hughes said. “After training with the partners my coaches brought in for me, who are bigger than me and tossed me around, it was so much easier in the matches.  I went on the mat thinking there would be no fooling around.  No matter who I was wrestling or how good they were, I wanted to end it as quickly as possible and show everyone I was the best.”

Photo by BV

The best in Section 11?  He demonstrated that with an exclamation point.  It took him less than two and a half minutes to pin his four Suffolk tournament opponents to capture his second straight Sectional title and punch his ticket back to the Times Union Center.

“I guess I was a little surprised at how fast it was,” Hughes said. “I think I was expecting it to take a little bit longer — but not too much longer. When I got after people, they couldn’t stay with me.  I went all out.”

And that’s exactly what he planned to do in his last chance in Albany as well.  As a junior, he took sixth at the state tournament.  In 2013, he was determined to show that he was #1 in the Empire State despite entering as the number four seed.

“I definitely couldn’t wait to go back [to the state tournament],” he said. “I lost my last two matches there as a junior. It was a tough way to finish. I knew that wasn’t who I was as a wrestler.  It made me step up my training. I think taking sixth actually helped me.”

It may have done that, because the road to a title had a number of potential roadblocks, including foes such as 2012 state runner up El Shaddai Van Hoesen of Columbia and Seaford’s James O’Hagan, the only wrestler to go the full six minutes with Hughes prior to the postseason (in a 4-0 Hughes victory).

“After looking at the bracket, I knew I had the tougher half,” Hughes said. “Last year, I had four of the six placers on my side and the same thing happened this year.  I knew I would have a tough match in the semis [which wound up being a 1-0 decision over O’Hagan], but I was confident about the finals.  I told the coaches that when I made the finals I would pin the kid no matter what.”

His prediction came true as he earned the fall against Spencerport’s Austin Coleman in just two and a half minutes.  And he didn’t just accomplish his mission to win it all.  He made some history as well, becoming Smithtown West’s first-ever state champion.

“I thought it was really cool,” Hughes said. “Knowing all the good wrestlers that came from Smithtown before and watching a lot of them when I was growing up, it was great to get the title for myself and for the school.”

The victories kept coming for Hughes.  He pinned Eric Chakonis in the decisive bout of the Pinning Down Autism Charity Challenge to ensure New York’s third straight dual victory over rival New Jersey.  And a few weeks later, he rebounded from an early 4-1 deficit against the previously mentioned Van Hoesen with a late third period takedown to win 5-4 in the Long Island vs. Upstate Challenge, which eventually ended in a tie.

And he still wasn’t done.  Hughes said he wanted to make his mark on the national level and he checked that off the list as well as he made the trip to Virginia Beach to compete at the NHSCA Senior Nationals.

“I wanted to go down and compete against the best in the country to see how I would do,” he said. “I had no clue who anyone was or how good they were. I just thought if I wrestled hard, I could compete with anyone.  My goal at first was to be an All-American.”

He did more than that, going all the way to the championship contest before finishing as the runner up to Will Geary of Kansas.

“Making it to the finals was great.  I couldn’t be any happier,” Hughes said.  “I wish I won the last one, but second place was really great.”

It also spoke to the potential of the three-sport athlete who will fully focus on wrestling in the future after splitting his attention among football, wrestling and track in the past.

“For me, at the start of my senior year, I was trying to figure out what the best fit would be in college,” Hughes said. “I was torn between football and wrestling for a while, but in February, I decided.  I realized then that I didn’t have to ask myself which one I preferred anymore, I just knew that I wanted to wrestle.”

He’ll do that for the Pride after also considering Buffalo, Bloomsburg, Ohio and Sacred Heart.

“I wanted to stay close to home,” Hughes explained. “Hofstra has a great wrestling program and I loved the coaches. They have great personalities and are motivated to push the wrestlers to be the best they can.”

Hughes looks forward to the challenge and said he may add some size as he transitions to being a heavyweight at the college level.  However, he emphasized the importance of maintaining his quickness.  And he expects some other things to stay the same as well.

“I like when things come down to me,” he said. “I don’t want to settle for close matches, I want to keep ending them as quickly as possible.”

 ———————————————————

Mike Hughes had a few people he wanted to thank:  “I want to thank my coaches for everything they’ve done for me, especially bringing people in to work with me and spending time after practice just working on the little things that made a difference.  I also want to thank all my friends and family for coming to watch me and supporting me. It was always a great feeling seeing they were there.”

**All match times taken from the NWCA High School Scorebook