Austin Weigel knows the route from Onteora to the Albany area well.
At least three times per week, the Section 9 standout made the 1.5 hour trip after school up to Journeymen Wrestling Club practices. And afterwards, he’d get back in the car for another 1.5 hour drive, typically arriving home around 9 p.m. to start his homework.
However, as Weigel talked about his recent commitment to the University at Buffalo, he had no doubt that all the time on the road was worth it, helping him emerge as a Division I prospect.
“I really got into wrestling after my sophomore year,” Weigel said. “Before that I was a three-sport athlete who wanted to get better but wasn’t totally into it yet. As a sophomore, I lost in the Section 9 finals and it motivated me. Wrestling was what I wanted to do and I wanted to win – not just the Section, but everything.”
He decided that competing in the offseason, in addition to his training with Onteora, would provide him with a boost.
“Working with Journeymen pushed me to more serious tournaments and competition,” he said. “I went to Super 32 and Fargo. I went to a lot of new and different places and got more experience.”
That experience showed during his 38-4 junior campaign at 160 pounds (after a 26-11 mark as a sophomore).
“It took me a few matches to realize how different things were, how much better I was,” he said. “I wasn’t cutting a lot of weight and I felt good the whole year.”
He captured the Section 9 title with ease, winning all of his bouts by bonus points. And he followed up with a pair of victories at the state tournament, falling one win shy of All-State status.
“Being there in Albany wasn’t good enough,” he said. “I wasn’t seeded but I just wrestled hard and was just one match away from placing. It was a close [3-1] loss [to the eventual bronze medalist] and it definitely motivated me.”
Weigel perhaps used some of that motivation at the Journeymen Classic in the fall, winning a round robin bracket full of accomplished wrestlers – fourth place finishers Daesean Johnson (New Jersey, 160), John Messinger (New York DII, 170) and Dale White (New York DI, 160).
“It was a really tough group up at 170,” he said. “I wrestled really well and had a lot of good wins there.”
He had a lot of good wins as his senior campaign began for Onteora as well, including a major over 2012 All-State grappler Andrew Martinez of Liberty. In the earlygoing, Weigel wrestled up at 170 but wasn’t sure where he would finish the season.
“I contemplated staying at 170 with my coaches but we felt that my best shot at a state championship was at 160,” he said. “I committed to 160 at Eastern States and knew that’s where I would be the rest of the year.”
It looked like a solid choice as he made the medal stand at the prestigious tournament held at SUNY Sullivan. After winning his first two contests, he faced nationally-ranked Burke Paddock in the quarterfinals. In a hard-fought match, Paddock came out on top, 1-0, his closest victory of a dominant season.
Weigel then won two of his three consolation bouts, to grab seventh. His setback was to eventual state placer Andrew Psomas in sudden victory.
“I was pretty happy with how that tournament went overall,” he said. “Getting down to weight wasn’t always ideal this year, but I felt pretty good there. I thought I could beat Paddock and wrestled a tough match against him. I was a little shaky afterwards, and had a really disappointing loss to Psomas. I was in on his legs the whole match, but I just couldn’t score. He kept going out of bounds. It was a frustrating loss.”
He rebounded to pin his way to his second straight Section title and picked up his 100th victory during the campaign for good measure.
He began his quest for a state title well, picking up a major in round 1. He then met Greene’s Mike Beckwith, who handed him a defeat in Albany in 2012. One year later, the outcome was the same and Weigel moved into the wrestlebacks where he dropped a 1-0 heartbreaker to Section 6’s Gunnar Van Curen.
“It’s hard to think about, but [Beckwith] just wrestled the better match,” he said. “I didn’t get to do anything I wanted to. He got an early takedown and rode me well. I was really disappointed and tried to get my head straight afterwards. In the next one, I don’t know what it was. It was like the Psomas match because I was in on his legs a lot and couldn’t score. It was one of the worst losses of my career because he escaped with 30 seconds left to win 1-0 and I knew my high school career was over. I didn’t perform like I should have and know I could have. For a while, I felt bad about myself but looking back now, I realize I can’t take away from the rest of my accomplishments because of one disappointing weekend. I’ve beaten kids that did much better at states, but that’s the way it went.”
He got a chance to face some of those that fared better in Albany this spring, at the Journeymen Freestyle Duals. He said he expected to wrestle at 182, but due to team needs, he cut to 170.
In the first dual of the day, Journeymen met Vougar’s Honors Wrestling (VHW), the eventual winner of the event. Weigel was set to face Division I 160-pound state runner up Steven Schneider of MacArthur.
“I was really tired that morning after the cut, but I was excited because we were wrestling a team of Long Island studs first,” he said. “I saw Schneider at Eastern States – he beat Psomas and other guys I lost to. My teammate Jimmy Marquez got a pin at 160 and he came off the mat and slapped my hand and got me all amped up because he lost to Schneider at the state tournament. He told me I could beat him and I got fired up.”
Weigel took the first and third periods to get the victory in what he called an important win for him.
“I was in a funk, still getting over the season and that was a big momentum moment – wrestling to my potential against a great wrestler. I was relaxed and wrestled the match I wanted.”
There wasn’t much time to celebrate, however, as he next faced Matt Fisher, the Sacred Heart-bound senior who earned bronze in the same bracket as Weigel at the state tournament.
“I knew he beat Beckwith to take third at states,” he said. “I was thinking about the win I just had and there wasn’t a time I was worried about giving up points or losing. I got back on track and showed what I didn’t show at the state tournament.”
The future exercise science major hopes to keep showing what he can do at Buffalo, where he believes he will begin at 174 pounds but could go up higher given his six-foot-one frame.
“I took trips to other schools and liked every school I saw,” he said, mentioning Binghamton and Bloomsburg, among others. “I really liked Coach Stutzman when I went to Bloomsburg and when I heard he moved to Buffalo, I felt like I was basically done with the process. I liked everything about Buffalo – the campus, the facilities, the big school atmosphere. I’m really excited to be part of a program that’s going in the right direction and revamping everything. I think Coach Stutzman will rebuild the program strong.”
Austin Weigel had a long list of people he wanted to thank.
“I want to thank my family, friends, coaches and the community for everything. The support for the program is amazing and helped me to get where I am.”
He mentioned the huge contributions of Journeymen’s Frank Popolizio and his high school coaches Lou Chartrand and Eric Pezzello “who are more than coaches – they are second and third fathers to me.” He also thanked Donnie Van Buren, CJ Goldizen and Dustin MacKenzie for being influential workout partners and his “brother” Avery Leighton who “was my best practice partner because we did everything together. I owe a lot to him. He made me the hardest worker I could be and was a huge part of my wrestling career.”