2013-14 Season Preview: With State Champion Rich Sisti Leading the Way, CHSAA Wrestlers on a Quest for Glory

 

BY MATT DIANO

With 10 of the 15 Catholic State Champions from last season having moved on, 2014 marks a year where the opportunity will be there for some new names and faces to surge to the head of the pack and create reputations for themselves. 

However, as great as it is to always infuse new blood into the system to keep the scene fresh, with such inexperience also comes the added responsibility of those with prior NYS tournament appearances to step up and outperform their previous efforts.  While small in number, this group of five veterans is so special that on any given day, I could see any one of them making it all the way to the center mat under the roof of the Times Union Center.

St. Anthony’s 2013 large school State runner up, Johnny Vrasidas (seeded 8th) taught us all last season that it is important to always envision yourself going all the way, because you just never know when the stars are going to align and your ship is going to come in.  That same magic exists in the hearts, souls, and faiths of all five of these student-athletes.  While different in their styles and approaches, all of them are battle tested and prepared for anything that gets thrown their way. Headlining this group will be defending state champion Richard Sisti, the 220-pound Division I titlewinner, who enters his senior season nationally ranked by all major publications. 

 

The Kingdom Of Heaven (Returning CHSAA Champs)

Twomey

John Twomey (St. Anthony’s)—A two-time defending Catholic state champion for the Friars, it is hard to imagine that anything will stand in the way of Twomey earning a third trip to Albany in his senior season.   A winner of 36 matches in 2013 (36-5), the talented lightweight just missed earning his first All-State distinction as a junior by a single victory, falling 4-2 in the blood round to West Babylon’s Steven Lee.  While he would ultimately fall short of the podium, Twomey more than demonstrated the wealth of his abilities when he notched a first round win over eventual 3rd place finisher, Jonathan Haas of Spencerport in Section V. A 12-month a year competitor, what makes Twomey so good is that like several of his teammates, he is never hesitant to test himself against the best in the land.  Last summer, he would make the journey to Fargo and emerge with a 4-2 overall record in Junior Freestyle competition.  Certified as a 113 pounder, Twomey represents the start of a Friar murderer’s row that could very well send four straight kids to the state capital next February.

Ben Lamantia (St. Anthony’s)—An impact wrestler on the varsity level since the 8th grade when he won nearly 20 matches for Commack High School, the defending Catholic league state champion has not slowed down a bit in the two years he has spent competing under the guidance of Antoni Walters.  A 3rd place finisher at the CHSAA tournament as a freshman in 2012 in a loaded 106-pound bracket, Lamantia would secure his first trip to the big dance in impressive fashion last season.  He won the 113-pound CHSAA crown behind a 3-0 record that witnessed him score bonus points in his first two bouts before wrapping up the hardware with a decisive 6-1 decision in the finals over rival Christian Briody of Chaminade.   Like Twomey, Lamantia would put forth a strong showing under the roof of the Times Union Center, but would meet a similar fate as his teammate, advancing to the consolation round of eight before dropping a 7-5 decision to Pine Bush’s John Stramiello.  The loss closed out a sophomore campaign where Lamantia finished 36-5.  A true wrestling junkie, there would be no rest for the weary, as he followed up his strong high school season by earning All-American honors in Virginia Beach, placing 7th at the NHSCA Sophomore Nationals.  Next, he would turn his attention to freestyle, where he would post a 4-2 record in Fargo on the Cadet level.  Most recently, the preseason favorite to win the 120-pound Catholic title would mirror his Fargo finish, going 4-2 at the Super 32 in October.

Joseph Russ (St. Anthony’s)—The last of what I often call the first family of New York State Catholic wrestling, Russ became the third sibling from his family to win an individual CHSAA title when he took home the top prize at 120 pounds last season.  His run to the gold, which saw him go pretty much untested (his closest match being a 14-0 major decision in the finals over Monsignor Farrell’s Austin Addis), erased the memories of having served as a bridesmaid during his freshman and sophomore seasons (both times, the person who beat him went on to make All-State). Should Russ repeat in 2014 (he is the favorite at 126), he would join older brother and decorated U.S. Marine, Stephen (three-time champion; 2005-2007) as a multiple time titlist. Their middle brother, Derick, was the 103-pound champ in 2003, with the oldest of the quartet, William, being a runner-up in 2002. More pressing than the idea of winning a second straight Catholic crown, the youngest of the Russ boys has his sights set on joining Stephen (placed 6th, 4th, and 3rd) as the second member of the clan to earn a spot on the podium in Albany.  In 2013, Joey would go 1-2 in his Times Union debut, losing a heartbreaker in sudden victory to eventual 4th place finisher, John Muldoon of Pearl River in the first round of the tournament. He would rebound with an 11-4 decision over Section IX’s PJ Smoot of Monroe-Woodbury, before being eliminated by the smallest of margins, 1-0 by Tottenville’s Santo Curatolo (PSAL) in a bout where he pushed the pace but was unable to finish from his feet and could not escape from bottom.  His 37 (37-4) wins were tied for the team lead last season with 2013 NYS runner up Vrasidas (currently competing for Sacred Heart University). The Vougar Honors Wrestling Club member will be every bit as good in his swan song following an active offseason where he went 2-2 at both the NHSCA Junior Nationals and the Super 32 Classic.

Freddie Dunau (St. Anthony’s)—The anchor of this year’s Friar squad, when you consider the accolades of the wrestlers listed above, it is a scary thought for the rest of the Empire State that Dunau is actually the best of the bunch.  A two-time NYS placewinner who finished 5th in 2011 (@96) and 2013 (@126), the future University of Pennsylvania student-athlete will be a heavy favorite to win his fourth Catholic state title this season.  Should he succeed (and realistically, only an injury can derail his chances), he would become the league’s first four-timer since 2000 NYS Champion/3x finalist Lucas Magnani accomplished the feat from 1999-2003 for St. Anthony’s.   In addition to joining the CHSAA 4xer club, Dunau enters this season with an even grander goal, to become just the fourth Friar wrestler to hoist the hardware in the state capital (current Hofstra 133-pound starter, Jamel Hudson, being the last to do it when he went all the way in 2012).  St. Anthony’s has put at least one wrestler into the NYS finals every year since 2010. With Dunau being the highest returning placewinner from a deep 126-pound weight class, if there was a best bet to continue with this tradition, he would be it. Known for his highly unorthodox style, the Ascend Wrestling Club/Craig Vitagliano protégé went 24-3 last season with all his losses coming at the hands of elite opponents (2012 NYS Champion Dylan Realbuto, 2013 State Champion TJ Fabian, and 2013 National Prep runner-up, Judson Preskitt).  In similar fashion to his teammates, Dunau is another in that breed of wrestler that is looking to always measure himself against the best in the land.  Last summer, he would represent New York at the USAW Junior Duals and in Fargo.  While his 4-12 record would leave something to be desired, it should be noted that the utilization of his background in acrobatics/gymnastics has always been better suited for folkstyle than it is for either international style.  Dunau is the kind of opponent who is dangerous for every one of the 360 seconds of the match.  More times than I can count on my fingers, I have seen him hit a move out of left field that left the opposition in a danger position.  He is the kind of foe that if you do not have a comprehensive scouting report ahead of time, will make you look silly in quick order.

Rich Sisti (Monsignor Farrell)—Nicknamed the “manchild” for good reason, the very sight of Sisti is enough to induce anxiety and fear in the hearts and minds of those who line up opposite him.  The lone returning NYS Champion from the Catholic League, Sisti became the first wrestler in Lion program history to win a NYS title when he went 4-0 in Albany at 220 pounds.  He finished his junior campaign at an unblemished 29-0 with 20 pins.  Armed with an unstoppable power-double and a wicked bar series, Sisti has clear NCAA DI potential if he is interested in competing at the next level.  A phenom since his youth days when he won the 2010 NYS schoolboy title, many inside the Farrell program were predicting a state crown for Sisti years in advance of it actually happening.  They would speak of the subject in a matter of fact manner that suggested that it was a question of “when” and not “if.”  Now that he is the king of the mountain, it will take a Herculean effort to dethrone him because pound-for-pound (and all 200+ pounds of him are chiseled granite) he may be one of the most dominant wrestlers in all of the “evil Empire” this season.  Ranked 15th in the nation per Flo, Sisti already put the rest of the field on notice when he cruised to his second straight Journeymen Classic title at the end of September. Putting the wins aside for a second, what makes Sisti stand out in my opinion is the fact that regardless of what he has done in the past, he refuses to allow himself to become complacent.  He is an individual who is driven to actually be the best version of himself.  An example of this is that rumor has it that when he discovered that he no longer was getting challenged in the room by any of his teammates or coaches, Sisti decided to start training one-on-one with the #1 wrestler in the Country (@182), two-time  New Jersey state champion, Johnny Sebastian, who he works out with routinely at the Apex Wrestling Club. As much of a lock to win yet another CHSAA title as Dunau, it is not a question of if Sisti will pin his way through the tournament, as much as it is a question of whether or not anyone can make it out of the first period against him.  Last season, he pinned all three of his Catholic opponents in an average of just over 48 seconds.  In 2012, he was on track to do it, but needed 3:15 in the finals.

 

At The Pearly Gates Looking In (Non-Champs who may break through in 2014)

Brian Kelly (St. Anthony’s)—A diaper dandy who is quickly drawing the praise of the Friar coaching staff and his teammates, Kelly comes to St. Anthony’s with quite the list of credentials as a youth competitor.  A 2012 NYS Schoolboy state champion, who also took 3rd in 2011 and was a Novice level state runner-up in 2010, if you needed any more convincing that this is a kid who is destined for great things, you need look no further than his performance at the 2013 Pop & Flo Mini Men Nationals where he was the 90-pound Intermediate level champion.  Kelly was also the Battle in the Coral Middle School Champion in March (91 pounds) as well as a 2013 NYS Cadet freestyle gold medalist at 94 pounds in May of this year. Most recently, he took home the top prize at the Wantagh Fall Brawl (three-way tie).  The only thing that may hinder this fab frosh could be his weight.  Certifying at 97 pounds, he will likely be giving away some size to his foes.

Stefan Lindbolm (Fordham Prep)—The only returning Catholic state placewinner (5th) from the 99-pound weight class in 2013, Lindbolm actually owns a head-to-head victory over Kelly, beating him 5-4 in the round-robin of the Wantagh Fall Brawl…As a freshman, the Ram won close to 20 matches, rotating between 99 and 106 to accommodate his teammate, 2013 CHSAA runner-up, Chris Martorello, who was at the same weight class last season.  With the experience factor working in his favor, Lindbolm could prove to be a difference maker for Coach Kernochan as he looks to replace the points that were scored last season by three-time Catholic Champion/2013 NYS bronze medalist, Sam Melikian.

Christian Briody (Chaminade)—The wrestler that likely poses the biggest threat to Russ at 126 pounds. Briody is a seasoned veteran who has been competing on the varsity level since 2010 (7th grader at Locust Valley) and more than possesses the experience and polish to pull the upset.  Injured during his freshman year at the Mineola based school in 2012, Briody would make up for lost time last season, pinning his first two opponents at the Catholic state tournament to advance to the final, where he dropped the previously cited decision to Lamantia.  Now, with a different Friar standing between him and a trip to Albany, Briody will need to elevate his game if he hopes to improve upon last season’s runner up finish.  Victorious in 33 matches (33-7) with 13 falls to his name, Briody trains at Ascend Wrestling Club and is active on the offseason circuit, joining most of the elite Catholic wrestlers in making the rounds at the various regional and national events.  A double Cadet NYS runner-up in the international disciplines in 2013, Briody competed in Virginia Beach (2-2 at NHSCA Sophomore Nationals) Fargo (going 1-4 combined), and Greensboro (2-2 at the Super 32) among his many road trips in a pursuit of wrestling excellence.  During his sophomore campaign, the Lattingtown resident would also just miss placement at the Eastern States Classic, which demonstrates that when at his best, Briody can not only win the Catholic gold, he can also threaten for a spot on the podium at the NYS Tournament.

Ralph Maio (Monsignor Farrell)—A two-time Catholic state placewinner who is on track to be an Ironman Award recipient (given to those wrestlers who place all four years at the CHSAA tournament), Maio continues to make huge leaps from one year to the next.  In 2012, he finished 4th at 113, losing to St. Anthony’s Nick Ronan by major decision.  By the end of last season, not only did Maio raise his game to the tune of a runner up finish, he did so by beating Ronan in the semifinals.  In speaking to the Farrell coaching staff, the consensus is that if there is going to be a breakout star for them during this season, it very well could be Maio.  The talent is certainly there for him to make his way to titletown in 2014 if the Farrell coaches are able to get him at a weight class that allows him to avoid the logjam that seems to exist at 132/138.  Depending on where some of the other budding stars end up, it is very feasible to see Maio making a run at anywhere from 138 all the way up to 152.  A winner of 20+ matches in 2013, Maio’s success this season will very much impact the team race.  He is one of the horses that coaches Phil Squatrito and Rob Pavis will need to score beaucoup points in order to keep pace with the firepower being brought by St. Anthony’s.  During the offseason, Maio took the trip to Pennsylvania to participate in Flo Nationals, picking up a win.

Danny Jones (Chaminade)/Kevin Jackson (St. Anthony’s)—The reason these two talented studs are being packaged together is that early talk suggests that their individual fates will be intertwined again for the second consecutive season.  Whether it be at 138 or 145, one of these two Long Islanders will likely be bound for the state capital in 2014.  Last season, it was Jackson getting the better of the head-to-head match-up, beating Jones in the Nassau/Suffolk League finals by a score of 3-0.  However, as it pertains to bullet points, Jones, who had a one year head start, is the only one of the two that has made the Catholic State finals, which he has done in each of the last two years, losing both times in the title match.  Jackson on the other hand has had to settle for a pair of fourth place outcomes in his two years on the Friar varsity. Jones, who not so long ago announced that he had committed to wrestle for Davidson University in North Carolina, posted a 34-8 record last season versus the 23-14 record of compiled by Jackson (against a more challenging non-league schedule).  In terms of offseason activity, Jackson had a runner up finish at the Journeymen Classic (in the “C” bracket), and also took the trip down South where he went 1-2 at the Super 32.  Both participated in their respective NHSCA National tournaments, with Jones picking up a win all the way up at 152 pounds in the Junior division, whereas Jackson remained at his seasonal weight, going 3-2 in sophomore competition. Having both trained at Ascend during their scholastic careers, these two combatants know each other so well that, on any given day, the outcome could shift with the tiniest of adjustments.

Jones, Photo by SJCI Wrestling Club

Richie Jones (St. Joseph’s Collegiate Institute)—Speaking of gems named Jones, there may not be a student-athlete that I am pulling more for in 2014 than this junior Marauder.  A two-time CHSAA placewinner for the school from the Buffalo region, Jones took 5th as a freshman at 145 pounds and appeared to be well on his way to picking up his first crown when he led Chaminade senior, Declan Gray, late in the 152-pound championship bout last season.  Unfortunately, the honor of hoisting the hardware would not be in the cards for Jones as Gray (currently wrestling for Hunter College) would rally in the last half minute to emerge with the “W”.  When you consider that Gray would later go on to just miss All-State recognition, it puts into perspective how good Jones is. With returning Catholic state gold medalist Garrett Baugher (champ at 99 in 2013) believed to be stepping away from the mat to focus on a promising future on the baseball diamond, Jones instantly became coach Pete Kennedy’s best bet to have an individual titlist in 2014.  Now an upperclassman, the pressure will be on him to lead by setting the example of what it takes to get into the winner’s circle.  Approaching the 40-win plateau as a sophomore (39-10), Jones certified at the 160 pound weight class but most of his recent activity has been up at much higher weights (competed at 182 for the Journeymen Classic).  Given his pedigree that includes an All-American showing (6th @160) at the 2013 NHSCA Sophomore Nationals, Jones would have to be considered a strong candidate to win at 160-182.

Jacob Braunscheidel (Saint Francis High School)— Braunscheidel perhaps gets overlooked by many Catholic wrestling enthusiasts because they do not get to see much of him with St. Francis competing in Buffalo.   Last year, in only his sophomore season, Braunscheidel really put himself on the CHSAA map when he wrestled his way into the 170-pound semifinals before eventually taking home third place honors.  Just missing the opportunity to compete again at this weight class (certified at 175), if Jones elects to drop down to 170 for the postseason, his fellow upstater could definitely reap the benefits by sliding into the #1 spot at 182.  Braunscheidel won 25 matches last season versus only seven losses.  A multiple-sport athlete, Braunscheidel also excelled on the defensive side of the ball for the Red Raider football team.

Connor Watson (Chaminade)—Another wrestler whose lot in life (or at least on the mat) would be greatly enhanced if Richie Jones moves down to 170 would be returning 182-pound Catholic runner up, Connor Watson of the defending team champion Flyers. A two-time placer who in addition to his silver medal effort last season also took home 5th as a sophomore at 170, Watson is said to have really turned up his intensity in the practice room over the course of the last few months.  While I have not seen him with my own two eyes, reports coming out of the Ascend Wrestling Club is that he is much improved and is ready to make a serious run at a title in his final season of scholastic eligibility. The senior from Wantagh went 33-5, losing in last year’s finals to eventual NYS 6th place finisher, Matthew Roberts (formerly of Monsignor Farrell).  As a follow up to a solid junior campaign, Watson would compete at the NHSCA Junior Nationals, where he went 1-2.  This past October, he would take the top honors at the Wantagh Fall Brawl.

Photo by Phillip Rufo

Mazen Hassan (Monsignor Farrell)—In only his third year as a wrestler, the Lion big man is one to watch simply because most other programs cannot put out an opponent that can match his size and strength.  A lineman on the Farrell football team, you know you are one big dude when you actually have to cut in order to make the 285-pound maximum.  Per MSG Varsity’s CHSAA football rosters, the two-time Catholic State placewinner (3rd in 2012; runner-up in 2013) tipped the scales at an even 300 pounds.  Hassan has already successfully made the cut and is off to a fast start, dominating all of his matches in the recently concluded PSAL/BTS Holiday Dual Tournament.  With arch-nemesis, Chris Alianakian (last year’s Catholic Champ from Kellenberg) having now graduated, the heavyweight title is finally Hassan’s for the taking.  The owner of a 22-12 record last season, Hassan pinned his way into the finals before dropping a hard fought 2-0 decision to his Firebird foe.  While he remains raw in many ways and will take the occasional head-scratching loss, when this gentleman is on his “A game”, he is a bad draw for anyone.  This was very evident when in the finals of last year’s Mayor’s Cup, Hassan came very close to pinning 2013 Eastern States placewinner/PSAL Champion, Shaq Williams.  However, his inexperience would cost him and he would get reversed to his back.  Now that he has more time under his belt, it is an error that he will not make in 2014.

 

Not Cain, but Able (Younger Brothers who Could do Big things in 2014)

Nico Francolino (St. Joseph’s by the Sea)—The younger brother of Ironman Award winner (5th, 3rd, 2nd, 1st)/2011 Catholic State Champion, Joe, this 99-pound freshman started earlier in the sport and is expected to exceed the accomplishments of his older brother by the time his scholastic career comes to an end.  Considering what his sibling did for Monsignor Farrell from 2008-2011, Nico will have his hands full trying to live up to the family name.  Perhaps helping to take some of that pressure off his shoulders is the fact that little bro will have the freedom to carve out his own legacy at a different school.  Rather than competing for the perennial NYC Catholic powerhouse, the younger Francolino will be cultivated under the watchful eye of Jeff Vetrano at St. Joseph’s by the Sea. A 2012 NYS Schoolboy runner up at 70 pounds, Francolino also finished 6th as a Novice in 2011.  Certifying at only 82 pounds, to a much greater extent, Francolino may very well run into the same size problems that could affect Kelly.  Because of this disadvantage, Francolino may still be a year away from being the impact performer that we know he can be.  But alas, we believe in his potential to such a degree that we wanted to get his name out there as soon as possible so the rest of the CHSAA aficionados can track his progression.

Steven Roberts (Monsignor Farrell)—Just when the rest of the Catholic League thought they had rid themselves of the Roberts name, Steven came into the picture.  Similar to his brother Matthew, a two-time CHSAA champ/2013 NYS placewinner (6th @182), Steven is known for his endless gas tank and will often take control of matches in the third period when he has his opponents fatigued.  A freshman in a 132 or 138 weight class that will include many upperclassmen, Roberts may not make it three titles in a row for the family, but he will most definitely be in the equation when it comes to making the medal stand in 2014.  A product of the Lions’ Club that has developed all of the Farrell greats over the course of the past decade, former Lion assistant coach, Jason Bross, is already predicting that Steven will have a better career than Matt.  Roberts picked up a win (1-2) in the Schoolboy division of the 2013 NYS Youth Tournament, but we are putting him on this list because of the adulation he has received from his coaches.

Alex Melikian (Kennedy Catholic)—Alex will be following in the footsteps of his three-time CHSAA crown winning/2013 NYS placewinning brother, Sam.  He very likely would have been among the newcomers to watch in the CHSAA last season if not for a season ending injury that he suffered prior to the start of 2012/2013. Like Francolino, Melikian will have luxury of not having to walk in the shadow of an incredibly successful older brother.  After starting his career at Fordham Prep and watching from the seats as Sam wrapped up his legendary (for CHSAA standards) career, Alex made the decision during the offseason to follow his Iowa Style Wrestling Club coach, John Degl, to Kennedy Catholic, which will be celebrating its inaugural season in 2013-2014. A 2012 NYS Schoolboy 4th place finisher at 152 pounds, Melikian has been a known commodity in CHSAA circles for years.  Now that he is healthy and ready to go, we look forward to seeing him make noise.  Posting a 4-1 record at the Columbus Day Duals for ISW, Alex could very well be the one who quickly puts Kennedy Catholic on the map.  As someone who is bigger than your traditional high school sophomore, he will likely have to tangle with many upperclassmen, but his internal drive and desire to get his hand raised with make him a bad draw for anyone in the Catholic League and beyond.

Michael Newman (Monsignor Farrell)—A wrestler whose stock is on the rise after crushing the competition while winning titles at the Steeplechase and Lions’ Club Opens (predominantly consisting of wrestlers from the five boroughs), the 2013 170-pound CHSAA 4th place finisher has enjoyed a nice growth spurt and is being looked at as a potential title threat at 195 pounds. The sibling of 2008 Catholic state champion, John, one Farrell insider gone on the record to say that Michael has made such progress from the end of last season to the beginning of this one that he may have already surpassed his older brother in terms of overall talent level.  Referred to as an “Ox” by Bross, Newman has such pure horsepower that he can often dictate terms to his opponents by throwing them all over the mat.  Last season, he finished his sophomore season with a record of 19-8, including an 8-4 decision over 160-pound CHSAA runner up, Chris DelGatto (Chaminade) at the CHSAA Duals.  With the way momentum is moving in his favor, it would come as a surprise to no one if Newman ended up making his family the first in program history to have siblings each go all the way.

Peter Corbett (St. Anthony’s)—The younger, but bigger brother of 2013 NYS 182-pound runner-up, James (competed for Wantagh High School in Section VIII), Corbett has placed in the top-4 at the Catholic state tournament in each of his two years competing for the Friars.  A bronze medalist as a freshman, Corbett would take a small step backwards, finishing 4th last season.  A starting defensive lineman on the 2013 NYSCHSFL Champions, Corbett has never been misleading in stating that the gridiron is his preferred place of work.  However, while his heart may belong to football, one cannot overlook the fact that he has more than held his own on the mat.  After being a little non-committal about whether he intended to compete last season, Corbett seems more intent on continuing as a multiple sport star.  If this new attitude is accompanied by an unrelenting will to win, the rest of the league should watch out.  Projected at 195 pounds, one would have to think that Corbett would join Newman as the co-favorites to represent the Catholic league in the state capital at this weight class.

 

Team Race

1. St. Anthony’s—Led by that quartet of defending champions, not only will St. Anthony’s be hungry to regain the CHSAA team title, the squad will also be excited at the possibility of making a run at the NYS title.  With the possibility of sending upwards of six or seven guys to Albany this year, the numbers alone will make the Catholic power a team to watch.  While Twomey, Lamantia, Russ, and Dunau are the ones that get the most press, the reality is that this Friar squad has talent all throughout the lineup.  In fact, in some cases, the reserves could be quality starters for other CHSAA teams.  With 10 total All-Catholic wrestlers back from 2013, what I feel will ultimately enable them to be the crème de la crème of CHSAA programs in 2014 are the guys who are going to quietly sneak up on you and put up points.  In other words, it is the contributions of Brian Flynn (4th @99), Rich Antonacci (3rd @120), Marshall Winston (3rd @126), and Andrew Pryor (2nd @145), as well as Kelly, Jackson, and Corbett that put this team over the top.

2. Monsignor Farrell—Fresh off of an impressive victory over Brooklyn Tech in the finals of the PSAL/BTS Holiday Dual Tournament, the Lions are riding a high.  While their victory in the World’s Most Famous Arena was not surprising, the margin of the win did not go unnoticed.  To be able to go in and post a 20-point win over another solid team in the B’Tech Engineers means that this might be a Farrell squad that is prepared to do whatever it takes to overachieve.  On paper, the potential is there for the Staten Island school to match the firepower of the Friars.  Sisti is pretty much a sure thing to three-peat as a champion and if Maio, Newman, and Hassan also ascend to the top spot, it would go a long way towards keeping Farrell neck-and-neck with the Long Island rivals.  Complementing this group of front runners will be the likes of Austin Addis (2nd @120), Karl Weisner (6th @138), Brian Morales (3rd @152), and lightweight extraordinaire, Matt Seitz, who was considered a likely top-4 placewinner as a freshman last season before the injury bug sidelined him just prior to the start of the postseason.  Will this be enough to outpoint St.Anthony’s? I honestly do not know, but I can promise that however things turn out, it will be war where every win and bonus point will be worth their weight in gold.

3. Chaminade—The defending Catholic School champions find themselves in something of a transition year.  After 40 years at the helm of the Marianist school, Hall of Fame head coach George Dlugolonski has stepped away and left the program in the hands of longtime assistant, Scott Cole.  In addition to the change at the top, there will also be some fresh faces on the bench in the assistant roles as 2012 NCAA All-American Justin Accordino and his former Hofstra teammate Daniel Manley will join 2012 EIWA champion Dave Foxen (Brown University) in making up one of the deepest benches in CHSAA history.  Adding to the period of adjustment will be the fact that the Flyers graduated both of their 2013 CHSAA champions, with the previously mentioned Gray being at Hunter and 195-pound champ, Danny Fowler, trading in the headgear for a lacrosse stick at Duke University. Still, just going by the talent that returns from last year’s team, there should be more than enough big guns to keep Chaminade as a top three program in 2014.  Led by Briody, Jones, and Watson, the Flyers are counting on solid efforts from Sean Watson (2013 league champion at 99 pounds; did not place at CHSAA States), Andrew Hotton (6th @99), Sean Richards (3rd @160), and Charles Pederson (4th @220).  Unfortunately, the season has not even commenced yet for the Flyers and they already have suffered a major loss when it was revealed that 2013 CHSAA 3rd place finisher, Joseph Boccardo (106) will be out for the year with an eye injury.  Another potential Catholic finalist for Chaminade, this is the second time in three years that Boccardo has been shelved with an injury.  As a freshman, he looked to be well on his way to challenging Twomey for the 99-pound title, only to go down a week before the postseason.

4. Fordham Prep—The 7th place finisher in the 2013 standings, Fordham Prep finds itself in a top-5 position by virtue of returning five All-Catholic wrestlers from last season.  As noted above, the graduation of Sam Melikian certainly leaves the Rams without a marquee superstar, but short of that, they are a complete team that will possesses many under the radar guys who are capable of rising to the occasion and pulling off significant victories.   Just last weekend, they gave us a preview of how tough they can be when they finished 3rd at the PSAL/BTS Holiday Tournament, despite being seeded lower.  Serving as the catalysts for the team this year will be Martorello (2nd @99), sophomore sensation Adam Santoro (the 2013 runner up at 126 to Dunau who if not for all of the talent in the middleweights would have been a featured student-athlete in this preview), Gabriel Papadatos (3rd @182), and Conor O’Brien (6th @152).  Lindbolm is likely the best bet for a champ in 2014, but the collection of talent in this paragraph shows that he will have plenty of support.

5. St. Francis—The team that took 4th place honors last season when all was said and done, like Fordham Prep, the Red Raiders bring back five All-Catholic wrestlers in 2014.  Sitting at the head of the table for Mike Messore’s team will be Braunscheidel who will be in pursuit of the program’s first individual title since Jim Widger won the 119-pound class in his own gym back in 2009.  Joining Braunscheidel in making up the nucleus of Buffalo’s top Catholic school will be Travis Bittner (5th @113),  Matt Muffoletto (5th @120), Mike Miller (6th @126), and Jim Canterbury (4th @160)

 

Returning NYS Tournament Qualifiers from 2013:

John Twomey (St. Anthony’s): 2-2 @106 pounds

Ben Lamantia (St. Anthony’s): 2-2 @113 pounds

Joseph Russ (St. Anthony’s): 1-2 @120 pounds

Freddie Dunau (St. Anthony’s): 5th @126; 5th @96 in 2011

Richard Sisti (Monsignor Farrell): State Champion @220 pounds

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St. Anthony's "Renaissance Man" Freddie Dunau, a Two-Time State Placer, Chooses Penn

Freddie Dunau is a national champion.

In 2011, he and his cousin captured a title at the Hershey Nationals – in hip hop dancing.

That’s the just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to extra curricular activities for the St. Anthony’s senior, a student with a weighted average over 100 and a 2220 SAT score.  He coaches a breakdancing team and a gymnastics squad.  (Dunau is a gymnast as well).  He rides unicycles.  And, of course, he’s an accomplished wrestler.

“He’s a very special kid,” said his club coach, Craig Vitagliano of Ascend. “He’s a Renaissance man.”

Indeed he is.  A number of elite schools noticed his impressive resume during the recruiting process.  However, he’s now off the market as he announced recently that he will attend the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania after considering colleges such as Columbia, Harvard and NYU.

Photo courtesy of Freddie Dunau

“After my visit to Penn, I felt like I knew where I wanted to be,” the future Division I 149-pounder said. “Everyone was very welcoming and it seemed like a really good environment for me. It’s nice to know where I’m going.  Now I have a lot of pressure off for the rest of the year.”

Dunau will be joining another CHSAA alum, Andrew Lenzi (Fordham Prep), in Philadelphia. Lenzi was a New York State champion, an accomplishment that Dunau hopes to repeat.  But first, he has another goal in mind.

“I want to be a four-time Catholic [CHSAA] state champion this year,” Dunau said. “A few people placed four times, but not many have won it all four years.  I would be part of a select group to accomplish that.”

He’ll be the favorite to do so, likely at 138 pounds.  He won his first CHSAA title as a freshman 96 pounder and then went on to make an impact at the state tournament.

“I knew I wanted to wrestle in Albany,” he said of his ninth grade campaign. “Getting there was awesome.  When I first got there, I was a little bit nervous, but once I was on the mat, I blocked everything out and it was just like any other match.  I didn’t pay attention to the crowd.”

It’s no surprise that a loud arena didn’t faze Dunau. After all, he performed in front of larger audiences at Madison Square Garden as a four-year member of the Knicks City Kids.

“I was on the dance team that performed at Knicks home games until I was 13,” he said. “We’d do hip hop routines, flips and all kinds of tricks.”

No tricks were needed by Dunau in that first appearance in the state capital in 2011 as he took fifth place at 96 pounds as a freshman with three wins, including a major and a pin.

He expected to achieve more as a sophomore at 106 pounds.  However, Dunau’s return trip to Albany didn’t quite go as planned.

“I thought I had a really good shot to win the state championship that year,” he said. “I wasn’t feeling well and when it came time to weigh in, I had 102 fever.  It was extremely challenging to make weight.”

He did, and actually pinned his first opponent.  However, he lost his next two bouts and went home without a second medal.

“One of the things I always pride myself on is good endurance,” he said. “I don’t think up to that point I had ever lost a match because I got tired. But I felt like I had no energy whatsoever.  When I watch the videos of myself, it was like I was crawling to the center of the mat.  It was disappointing. It made me angry that I didn’t wrestle the way I knew I could. It definitely motivated me.”

That motivation paid off in a 24-3 record as a junior in 2012-13 at 126 pounds.

When the brackets were released for the New York championships, Dunau saw that he was set to face former NYS champion and fourth seed Mark West of Hauppauge in round one.  West was one of the favorites after capturing the Suffolk County crown in a loaded bracket in which eventual state champion TJ Fabian (now at Sacred Heart) took third.

“At first, I was a little bit nervous, but then I figured if I was going to wrestle [West] at some point, it might as well be first,” Dunau said. “I found that my style works well against his because he did a lot of moves that I have counters for. It worked out well.”

It did, as Dunau came out on top by a 7-3 score.  He continued on with a 1-0 victory over Mike Raccioppi of Minisink Valley before losing in the semifinals to Fabian.  Dunau then split a pair of bouts in the consolations to earn fifth place for the second time in his career.

But despite the podium finish, that contest against Fabian remains fresh in his mind.  Especially since he estimates that he’s viewed it at least 60 times.

“I watched that match over and over and over again and I know what mistakes I made,” he said. “I’ve been working hard to correct them and hopefully that leads me to win it this year.”

Adding a state title to the resume?  It would just be another achievement for a “Renaissance Man” heading to the Ivy League.

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Freddie Dunau wanted to thank the members of his family.  He said “they take me everywhere I need to go, support me at all my matches, whether they’re in Ohio or Long Island, and are just great people.”

St. Anthony's to Sacred Heart: State Runner Up Johnny Vrasidas Chooses the Pioneers

 
 
As he looked back at his high school career, Johnny Vrasidas said what was most memorable was the leap he made from his freshman to sophomore seasons for St. Anthony’s.

“I went from being a backup and sitting all season to winning my first Catholic State title,” he said. “That was huge – making so much progress. I got to go to the state tournament for the first time and winning a match there was a building block for me.”

On Thursday, Vrasidas said he was ready to become part of another building process. The standout senior committed to Sacred Heart University, a wrestling team that is looking to make a jump in its second year under head coach Andy Lausier.

“Sacred Heart is almost like a new program, really getting a new start,” he said. “Coach Lausier talked to me about what he’s trying to build and I want to be part of it. I had a great visit there and I’m happy to spend the next four years there with a really good group of recruits.”

The class assembled by Lausier has a strong New York presence. In fact, according to Intermat’s recruiting list, seven of the 11 wrestlers heading to the Connecticut school next fall are from the Empire State. That list includes several grapplers Vrasidas already knows, including his current teammate Nick Allesandrini and Shoreham Wading River’s Zak Mullen and TJ Fabian.

Photo by BV

“Having those wrestlers going was definitely a factor for me,” Vrasidas said, noting that he was also strongly considering Hofstra and American. “Knowing someone like TJ [Fabian, the NHSCA Senior Nationals champion at 126 pounds] will be in the room will be a huge motivation.”

Motivation wasn’t a problem for Vrasidas coming into his senior campaign. After finishing one win short of All-State status in 2012, he was determined to end his career with a spot on the podium.

“When I lost my last match at the state tournament as a junior, I knew I was so close,” he said. “I literally started training right away. I went to all the clubs on Long Island and wrestled some of the best kids in the state. I did some freestyle. I started lifting weights. I realized what I had to do to get to that next level. It was two or three practices a day – going to school, going to school practice, then club practice and then to the gym to lift. Some nights I didn’t get home until 11, but that’s what you have to do to become a champion.”

He was favored to win his third straight CHSAA championship – and he did that. But after a 22-14 record as an 11th grader, Vrasidas brought a 34-1 mark into Albany and although he was the eighth seed at 170 pounds, he fully expected to do far better than that.

“My expectations were that I would be a state champion,” he said. “I wrestled at clubs with some of the top guys at that weight and I knew I could compete with them. I lost in the Summer Heat tournament to Carlos Toribio in a pretty close match where I felt I made some stupid mistakes. I expected to win the whole thing.”

He started off with a 7-6 decision over Kyle McGuire of Newburgh and then was set to meet another familiar face – top seeded Danny McDevitt of Wantagh. Vrasidas said they practiced together in the offseason.

“I went into the match really focused,” he said of wrestling McDevitt. “I thought if I could just get past him, I could win it all. He was the favorite but I went in there and wrestled my match.”

He certainly did that, taking an 8-2 decision in the process of handing McDevitt his only loss of the campaign. After a pin in the semifinals over Monroe Woodbury’s AJ Voelker, Vrasidas squared off with Toribio in the title bout.

The Brentwood senior came away with a 4-3 triumph, sending Vrasidas to a state silver medal.

“I wasn’t happy, but it’s something I have to accept,” Vrasidas said. “I wish I came out on top but I didn’t wrestle the match I wanted to.”

However, the performance did put him on the medal stand for the first time in New York. And a few weeks later, he picked up another honor – on the national level.

At the NHSCA Senior Nationals in Virginia Beach, Vrasidas took eighth place at 170 pounds.

“Last year at that tournament, I was one win away from being an All-American,” he said. “So I definitely went in wanting to be an All-American this time. I was really proud to do it because I’m only the second person ever in my school to accomplish that as a senior.”

Now it’s on to a new set of goals. One is to graduate with a degree in criminal justice from Sacred Heart. But before that, he’s looking to make an impact on the mat in the EIWA, something he hopes to do at 165 or 174 pounds.

“Coach Lausier said I should be looking to wrestle right away,” he said. “Going out there as a freshman should be a great experience.”
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Johnny Vrasidas wished to thank his parents for everything they’ve done for him, including all the hours of driving and traveling. He said he “wouldn’t be where I am right now if not for them.”.

With His Brother Tuning In from Afghanistan, Joseph Russ Wins Tournament Title

Joseph Russ, Photo by Phototrens http://www.phototrens.com

While he was wrestling his way to the championship at 123 pounds at the Ken Lesser Memorial Long Island Summer Heat Tournament, Joseph Russ could hear his brother William in his corner, coaching him.  He knew his mother, Marylou, was looking on in the stands.  And he was well aware that he had another fan shouting words of encouragement … from halfway around the world.

Joseph’s older brother Stephen Russ, a former competitor for St. Anthony’s, has been in Afghanistan since April, serving in the Marines. But he didn’t want that to stop him from watching his sibling compete.

“We decided we would try to FaceTime him and bring the tournament to him in Afghanistan,” Marylou Russ said before the event began on Saturday morning.  “We knew he would love to see his brother do really well.”

The St. Anthony’s junior delivered, beginning with a 13-3 major decision and a 18-2 technical fall in his opening two bouts before winning 9-3 in the semifinals over Shoreham Wading River’s Jack Taddeo, the eventual third place finisher.  In the title bout, he edged Ascend’s Simon Greebel, to earn a 4-3 triumph and the top spot on the podium.

Russ hopes his performance will give him momentum going into the high school season.  He took second in the CHSAAs a year ago at 113 pounds, losing to Patrick Skinner of Kellenberg, the eventual bronze medalist at states.  He completed his sophomore campaign with an 18-9 record and, according to Marylou, is looking to win a Catholic League title and make the medal stand at the state championships in 2012-13.

Performances like that would fit right into the Russ family.  Before joining the military, Stephen Russ made a habit of getting his hand raised for the Friars, capturing three CHSAA crowns while compiling a 132-15 record.  He was a three-time All-State performer, grabbing sixth, fourth and third at the state tournament.

And the sport still holds significance for him.

“Stephen definitely misses wrestling,” Marylou Russ. “He misses working out with his brother.”

While it wasn’t possible for the brothers to train together on the first weekend in August, the Russ family got perhaps the next best thing.

“We got to FaceTime Stephen from the tournament,” Marylou Russ said.  “And he looked great.”  He also got to be involved in Long Island wrestling and his brother’s title from the other side of the globe.

 

NY Wrestlers Clinch Spots on the Podium During Day 1 of Cadet Greco Nationals

After watching his sister Alexis win a National Championship on Saturday, Jesse Porter went undefeated as well during the first day of Cadet Greco Roman action at Fargo, North Dakota.  Porter was 5-0 at 132 pounds, as was fellow New Yorker Sam Ward of St. Anthony’s.  Both Porter and Ward have clinched spots on the podium and will face each other in the next round on Monday.

Two other New York wrestlers are guaranteed All-America honors. Chris Cuccolo, who took fifth in this event in 2011, notched four victories and will place no lower than sixth at 94 pounds.  Meanwhile, Benjamin Honis of Jamesville-Dewitt will wrestle for seventh place against Wyatt Richardson of Minnesota at 182 pounds tomorrow.

Eden’s Alexander Smythe tallied a 4-1 record on the day at 152 pounds and will take on Ricky Regas of Texas in his next bout.

For full results on these Empire State grapplers for the Cadet Greco Roman competition, see below:

94 Pounds: Chris Cuccolo (Pine Bush)

Match #1 Chris Cuccolo (New York) over Tanner Tidswell (Tennessee) Fall 2-0,1:15
Match #2 Paul Fitterer (Minnesota) over Chris Cuccolo (New York) Dec 3-0,3-0
Match #3 Chris Cuccolo (New York) over Bridger Carpenter (Idaho) Dec 1-0,4-0
Match #4 Chris Cuccolo (New York) over Jacob Gardiner (California) Fall 3-0,1:12
Match #5 Chris Cuccolo (New York) received a bye.
Match #6 Chris Cuccolo (New York) over Jon Gabriel (Pennsylvania) Dec 1-1,6-4

132 Pounds: Jesse Porter (Shenendehowa)

Match #1 Jesse Porter (New York) over Brandon Arteaga (Illinois) Dec 1-2,4-0,2-0
Match #2 Jesse Porter (New York) received a bye.
Match #3 Jesse Porter (New York) over Grant Bolduan (Minnesota) TF 6-0,6-0
Match #4 Jesse Porter (New York) over Austin Kraisser (Maryland) Dec 6-0,2-1
Match #5 Jesse Porter (New York) over Troy Wilson (Washington) Dec 6-0,5-1
Match #6 Jesse Porter (New York) over John Kenyon (Idaho) Dec 4-0,1-0

132 Pounds: Sam Ward (St. Anthony’s)

Match #1 Sam Ward (New York) over Jacob Johnson (Minnesota) Dec 1-0,6-
Match #2 Sam Ward (New York) over Griffin Rose (Illinois) Fall 1-0,1:12
Match #3 Sam Ward (New York) over Maxwell Meddings (Ohio) Dec 3-0,3-1
Match #4 Sam Ward (New York) over Joseph Hayek (Nebraska) Dec 1-0,3-0
Match #5 Sam Ward (New York) over Troy Vandall (Arizona) Dec 2-0,1-0
Match #6 Sam Ward (New York) received a bye.

152 Pounds: Alexander Smythe (Eden)

Match #1 Alexander Smythe (New York) over Andy Hinrichs (Virginia) Dec 6-0,4-1
Match #2 Alexander Smythe (New York) over Jeric Kasunic (Pennsylvania) Dec 2-0,1-0
Match #3 Alexander Smythe (New York) over CJ McKinnis (Oregon) Dec 2-0,3-0
Match #4 Bobby Reece (Washington) over Alexander Smythe (New York) Dec 3-0,3-2
Match #5 Alexander Smythe (New York) over David Witczak (Illinois) Dec 5-0,1-0

182 Pounds: Benjamin Honis (Jamesville-Dewitt) – will be in the 7th place match vs. Wyatt Richardson (Minnesota)

Match #1 Benjamin Honis (New York) over Andrew Fenton (Ohio) Dec 2-1,3-1
Match #2 Benjamin Honis (New York) over Hunter Dunn (Michigan) Dec 4-2,2-1
Match #3 Benjamin Honis (New York) over Samuel Colbray (Oregon) Dec 3-2,0-6,1-0
Match #4 Tim Grote (Illinois) over Benjamin Honis (New York) Dec 0-1,1-0,3-0
Match #5 Benjamin Honis (New York) received a bye.
Match #6 Nick Osowski (Wisconsin) over Benjamin Honis (New York) Dec 2-1,4-1