X-Cel is for Excellence: Long Island Team Captures Pop and Flo National Duals Championship

By Betsy Veysman

The most nervous moments for Team X-Cel coach Nick Garone this past weekend, during which the squad captured the championship at the Pop and Flo National Duals, didn’t take place on the mat.  Instead, his most nervous moments took place on the water during the team’s celebration.

“The guys dove into the lake after the event,” he said.  “It was pretty great to see how excited they were.  I took the easy way out, paddling out in a boat.  They were messing with me, telling me they were going to tip me over.  I begged them not to. It was a lot of fun, which is what the weekend was all about.”

It was also about winning, something the team did in all five of its duals, concluding with a 25-24 triumph over New Jersey’s Apex in the title match.  The squads ended the meet deadlocked at 24, but X-Cel earned the crown by virtue of capturing eight of the 15 bouts.

It was a victory that the team felt was for more than just the wrestlers and coaches that made the trip upstate.

“We weren’t just trying to win it for the guys who were there,” said heavyweight Dante Salkey, who went 5-0 on the weekend.  “We went out to make a statement about Long Island wrestling.  We knew that we were in Lake Placid, a place where history was made.  We wanted to bring some of Long Island’s best, upset the top seed (Apex) and win it all.  We wanted to show how tough our wrestling is.”

Some of Long Island’s best started things off on the right foot in the finale.  A pair of state champions from Section 11, Sean McCabe (130) and Maverick Passaro (135), propelled the squad to a 6-0 lead.  McCabe controlled his bout with Apex’s Matt Caputo (an Empire state resident) in a 9-3 decision.

Passaro followed by notching a takedown with less than 30 seconds to go to garner a come-from-behind victory over Richie Lewis.   Passaro’s late heroics didn’t go unnoticed by his coach, especially since the Eastport South Manor senior rebounded from a bonus point loss in the previous round.

“That kid’s a champion,” Garone said. “In the semis, he was beaten by a high score.  Some guys can’t let that go.  It’s like a fighter who gets knocked out – their next fight is the hardest of their life.  Maverick got over it.  He showed fortitude and heart to bounce back and wrestle with confidence and get that late score.  What a great match he wrestled.”

Apex responded with a pair of victories, a decision at 140 and a pin at 145, to take a 9-6 advantage.

In stepped John Glenn’s James Dekrone against a familiar foe, NHSCA National Champion Lenny Richardson.  The two have had some tough, close matches in the past and this was no different.  After neither competitor scored in neutral in the opening stanza, Dekrone rode his opponent for the entire second period.  In the third, it looked like Richardson might return the favor, but Dekrone broke free for an escape and got his hand raised in a 1-0 result, knotting the score at 9.

“It was an unbelievable match,” Garone said. “I knew it would be exciting.  Richardson is so dangerous and scary from every tie up and James is a pressure wrestler that keeps coming after you.  James just wrestled a perfect match when we needed it.”

X-Cel continued putting points on the board with victories in the next two bouts.  At 160, Nicky Hall topped Brandon Keena and at 170 Dylan Palacio bumped up to face All-American Tony Pafumi and came away with an overtime triumph.

“We changed things around a little bit because I thought it gave us an edge,” Garone said. “I knew Nicky Hall was capable of winning at 160 and I thought Palacio could win at either 160 or 170. Obviously, it could have backfired because Pafumi is tough and hardnosed.  Dylan’s match came down to OT and we were biting our fingernails.  But both Nicky and Dylan got the job done.  I thought Dylan might be upset about the change, but he told me it was fine; he’d do whatever it took for the team to win. They were both team players.”

It was a short-lived 15-9 lead for the Empire State group.  Apex came out on top in the next three matches and moved ahead 18-15 as the 285 pounders took the mat.

Dante Salkey attacked his opponent, Mike Spencer, almost immediately, scoring off a low single to move ahead 2-0.  He extended his lead early in the second with an escape and another takedown before withstanding a comeback attempt by his opponent, New Jersey’s fourth place finisher in 2012, for a narrow victory.  After Salkey’s fifth win of the weekend, the score was tied again.

“I knew going in that we were down by the three and I had to get the win,” Salkey said. “I didn’t want it to come down to the last few guys; I wanted to make sure I did my part.  I felt that I was a lot quicker than [Spencer], so I went to my offense for the first half of the match.  It got closer than I wanted late in the match, but it worked out in the end.”

“Dante was unbelievable the whole weekend,” Garone added. “I get a big grin on my face when I think about it because he’s so funny.  He was the team jokester, keeping everyone loose and relaxed by making everyone laugh.  On the mat, he wrestles like a lightweight, taking a lot of shots and moving well.  I think he could be very, very good at the next level because he’s really nimble on his feet for a big guy.  He made huge contributions to the team.”

Also making big contributions were lightweights Jay Rodriguez (105) and Nick Piccininni (113), who came through with wins over Nick Suriano and Joe Travato, respectively to push X-Cel’s lead to 24-18.

Apex fought back, however, capturing the matches at 120 and 126 to deadlock the score until criteria declared the Long Island squad the winners.

“Going to criteria – that’s a true testament to what kind of dual it was,” Garone said. “That’s what you pray for, a battle like that.  The Apex coaches had to like how they fought back and tied it by winning the last two matches.  My hat is off to those guys over at Apex.  They do a great job with those kids every year.  They’re a great club.”

Garone also tipped his hat to several others he said played important roles in X-Cel’s achievement.

“Finally we can tell people that Long Island can compete with the best in the country and have proof.  I really want to thank Darren Goldstein, my right arm, who would do anything for us and Steve Hromada for helping us train.  Anthony Abidin really helped us out, getting the guys warmed up, which is harder for us old guys,” he said, laughing.  “All the coaches who had someone represented should be appreciated – they do a great job with the wrestlers for most of the year.  Most importantly, I need to thank the guys we brought.  Every one of them is great.  But they put their egos aside and were willing to do what was best for the team. That’s not typical for a bunch of studs. We had a great time.”

That was a sentiment echoed by everyone involved.

“It felt amazing,” Salkey said. “We had so much fun, celebrating in the lake and on the ride back home.  We knew we were good coming in and we thought we could win it, but the competition was good too.  We wrestled our best and walked away with the title for us and for Long Island wrestling.”

Team X-Cel, 2012 Pop and Flo National Duals Champions

105 –   Jay Rodriguez

113 –   Nick Piccininni

120 –   Pat Skinner

125 –   Travis Passaro

130 –   Sean McCabe

135 –   Maverick Passaro

140 –   Tommy Dutton

145 –   Louis Hernandez

152 –   James DeKrone

152 –   Sam Schwartzapfel

160 –   Dylan Palacio

160 –   Nick Hall

170 –   Zac Mullen

182 –   Dylan Seybolt

182 –   Colin Gironda

195 –   Nick Weber

220 –   Kenny Drew

285 –   Dante Salkey


Finals: Team X-Cel Over Apex (NJ), 25-24

130 Sean McCabe decision Matt Caputo, 3-0 NY

135 Maverick Passaro decision Richie Lewis, 6-0 NY

140 Jason Estevez decision Thomas Dutton, 6-3 NY

145 BJ Clagon pin Louis Hernandez, 9-6 NJ

152 James Dekrone decision Lenny Richardson, 9-9

160 Nicky Hall decision Brandon Keena, 12-9 NY

170 Dylan Palacio decision Tony Pafumi, 15-9 NY

182 Brian Loughlin decision Dylen Seybolt, 15-12 NY

195 Tyler Rios decision Colin Gironda, 15-15

220 Eric McMullen decision Ken Drew, 18-15 NJ

285 Dante Salkey decision Mike Spencer, 18-18 NY

105 Jay Rodriguez decision Nick Suriano, 21-18 NY

113 Nick Piccinnini decision Joe Travato, 24-18 NY

120 Luis Gonzalez decision Pat Skinner, 24-21 NY

126 Joe Oliva decision Travis Passaro, 24-24 NY

NY Wins on Criteria*, 25-24

*(Most matches won, X-Cel 8, Apex 7)


Semifinals:  Team X-Cel Over Dark Knights (PA), 42-22

105 Jay Rodriguez tech fall Tyson Klump, 5-0 NY

113 Nick Piccininni major Tyrone Klump, 9-0 NY

120 Zach Valley Valley major Pat Skinner, 9-4 NY

126 Travis Passaro dec Mason Bryne, 12-4 NY

130 Sean McCabe dec Chase Zemanak, 15-4 NY

135 Tyson Dippery tech fall Maverick Passaro, 15-9 NY

140 Chris Vasser pin Thomas Dutton, 15-15

145 Shyheim Brown dec Louis Hernandez, 18-15 PA

152 James Dekrone dec Zach Ross, 18-18

160 Dylan Palacio dec Garrett Peppelman, 21-18 NY

170 Elliot Riddick maj Zac Mullen, 22-21 PA

182 Dylen Seybolt pin Nick Sevi, 27-22 NY

195 Colin Gironda win by forfeit, 33-22 NY

220 Ken Drew win by forfeit, 39-22 NY

285 Dante Salkey dec Dawson Peck, 42-22 NY


Earlier Round Results


Round 1: Team X-Cel 65, Apex II (NJ) 0

Round 2: Team X-Cel 66, Iowa Style (NY) 3

Round 3: Team X-Cel 42, Triumph (NJ) 13