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

 

Section 11 Preview: Four State Champs Graduated, But Plenty of Talent Returns in Suffolk County, Led by Finalists Piccininni, Rasheed and Grimaldi

The dominance of Section 11 at the Division I state tournament last year was obvious.  In the team standings, Suffolk County outdistanced second place Nassau by 79.5 points.  Section 11 boasted nine of the 30 finalists (30%) and more than 25% of All-State wrestlers overall.  Suffolk had at least one placer at 14 of the 15 weight classes (113 being the exception), including five state champions.

Four of those gold medalists graduated as did eight of the others that made the medal stand in 2012 (and Nicky Hall of Longwood moved on to Wyoming Seminary). Both of the Division II All-State wrestlers graduated as well. However, there are still plenty of quality grapplers remaining.  The following is a look at some of the returning superstars, some wrestlers potentially ready for a breakthrough year and teams to keep an eye on as the season develops, both in Division I and Division II.

Division I

Returning Placewinners from 2012

State Champion: Nick Piccininni, Ward Melville (106 Pounds)

Second Place:  Corey Rasheed, Longwood (145 Pounds)

Second Place: Tyler Grimaldi, Half Hollow Hills West (160 Pounds)

Third Place: Alex Tanzman, Westhampton Beach (99 Pounds)

Third Place: Matt Leshinger, Sayville (120 Pounds)

Fourth Place: Joe Calderone, Walt Whitman (99 Pounds)

Fourth Place: TJ Fabian, Shoreham Wading River (120 Pounds)

Fifth Place: Nick Lupi, Huntington (220 Pounds)

Sixth Place: Gio Santiago, Sachem North (182 Pounds)

Sixth Place: Mike Hughes, Smithtown West (285 Pounds)

Other Returning State Qualifiers from 2012

99 Pounds: Steven Lee, West Babylon

113 Pounds: Corey Jamison, Huntington

Tyler Grimaldi, Photo by Boris V

Seniors to Watch

Tyler Grimaldi was highly sought after by many colleges before choosing Harvard, and with good reason. He earned All-America status at both the NHSCA Nationals in Virginia Beach and at Fargo at 160 pounds.  The senior went all the way to the state finals match in 2012 and is a solid favorite to get back to the title bout – and this time come out victorious.

Matt Leshinger won perhaps the most challenging Sectional bracket in all of New York last year when he captured the crown at 120 pounds over state champions Sean McCabe, Mark West and All-State wrestler TJ Fabian.  The Columbia-commit, who took bronze in Albany, will look to climb a few notches higher in his senior year.

TJ Fabian, Photo by Phototrens http://www.phototrens.com

The previously mentioned Fabian, who was fourth in Albany, has entered numerous events in the spring and summer and has gotten his hand raised often in all of them.  He was an All-American at the NHSCA Nationals in Virginia Beach and a dominant winner at the Ken Lesser Memorial Summer Heat tournament.  Fabian also competed well against some of the Northeast’s top foes at the Journeymen Classic and the Iron Horse Invitational before placing in the top 12 at the Super 32 after winning seven in a row in the consolations.  All of his work figures to serve him well in February.

Upperweights Gio Santiago, Nick Lupi and Mike Hughes all participated in the fifth place match in Albany in brackets full of grapplers who have since graduated.  It wouldn’t be surprising to see any or all of them in the gold medal bout this time around.

On the lighter side of the scale, Alex Tanzman had a 46-2 season with 37 pins in which he lost a match in mid December and then rattled off more than 30 consecutive victories before losing to Jose Rodriguez, who has since moved to Ohio, in the state semifinals.  He will be no doubt be one of the contenders to earn another title for Section 11 at the end of the campaign.

That group of seniors is no doubt impressive.  But some believe that the best Suffolk wrestler may be a sophomore or junior.

Corey Rasheed, Photo by Boris V

Eleventh grader Corey Rasheed is already a two-time New York finalist and three-time placer with two full campaigns to go.  He has shown that he can compete with the best regardless of the weight class, as he first was a runner up in seventh grade at 96 pounds, took fifth at 112 as a freshman and then earned silver in 2012 up at 145.  He also was second nationally this spring when he made the finals of the NHSCA Nationals in Virginia Beach.  Fellow junior Joe Calderone of Walt Whitman was fourth at 99 a year ago and will be a threat once again.

Nick Piccininni, Photo by Boris V

Several Suffolk fans believe that the top Section 11 wrestler is sophomore Nick Piccininni of Ward Melville.  Piccininni followed up a third place showing as an eighth grader with a perfect freshman season in which he went undefeated on his way to a state championship at 106 pounds.  While moving up in weight since then, he doesn’t seem to have skipped a beat, winning the Super 32 qualifier, going unbeaten at the Waterway Duals and taking first at the Journeymen Classic and the Iron Horse Invitational.  He also finished in the top 12 at the Super 32, losing only to the second and third place finishers and splitting matches with the country’s #1 ranked sophomore, Zahid Valencia of California.

But that’s not all Section 11 has to offer. Last year, Grimaldi, Leshinger and Fabian were among those who stood high on the podium in their first trips to the state tournament.  Who will make the medal stand in their initial appearance in Albany in 2013? Here are some of the many possibilities:

Let’s start with a very strong group of lightweights.  Jesse Dellavecchia of East Islip racked up 31 wins as a freshman at 99, including triumphs over state qualifiers Steven Lee, Josh Antoine and Hunter Dusold.  He lost two very tight bouts to New York state medalist Calderone (by one point and in sudden victory) and he stayed active in the offseason, winning the Ken Lesser Memorial Summer Heat and taking second at the Journeymen Classic in early October.  But Dellavecchia isn’t the only young lightweight to watch. One of the wrestlers to defeat Dellavecchia last season was John Busiello of Eastport South Manor, who garnered a 26-8 mark as an eighth grader. Huntington’s John Arceri, a freshman this year, picked up 28 wins last season and will be another impact player.

A little bit higher on the weight scale is Mike D’Angelo of Commack.  In his 33-3 season as a freshman at 106 pounds there was only one wrestler D’Angelo couldn’t beat – Nick Piccininni.  All three of the Commack grappler’s losses came against the undefeated state champion from Ward Melville.   He showed dominance throughout the season with 28 bonus point victories.

“D’Angelo had trouble with Piccininni but so did everyone else,” Rocky Point Elite Eagles coach Steven Ketcham said. “He is capable of placing at the state level.”

A few other names to keep in mind are James Szymanski from Shoreham Wading River and Matt Bradice from William Floyd.  Szymanski topped Dellavecchia, Busiello, Lee and CJ Archer a year ago and impressed in the offseason with a championship in his bracket at the Journeymen.  Meanwhile, Bradice, a 2012 Suffolk placewinner at 103, put together a 31-7 campaign as a junior at 113.  If he remains at that weight, contributor John Passaro believes he could make the Section XI finals as a senior.

Steven Bulzomi of Connetquot was fourth in the county as a junior at 113 pounds after posting a 34-5 record.   Three of his losses came against Hauppauge’s Chris Mauriello and another to Suffolk champion Corey Jamison.  He did record solid victories over Mauriello and state qualifier Santo Curatolo of the PSAL.  His 4-2 performance at the ultra-challenging Super 32 tournament in late October showed that he’s ready to go for his senior campaign.

Over the years there have been wrestlers who have made their marks on the national level before achieving All-State status in New York.  That looks like it could be the case with the following grapplers in 2012-13.

Chris Mauriello (Hauppauge) – Mauriello won a national title in the spring at the NHSCA Middle School championships in Virginia Beach after taking third at 113 in Section 11 as an eighth grader.  The Hauppauge wrestler compiled a 37-5 mark a year ago with three of his losses coming to state placers – (two to Mark Raghunandan and one to Brandon Lapi).  He will be looking to break further into the postseason as a freshman, possibly all the way up at 132, according to Ketcham.

Travis Passaro (Eastport South Manor) Passaro has a strong resume.  He was the Eastern States champion in 2011 and has been an All-American at NHSCA Nationals.  He has repeatedly tested himself, winning the Super 32 Shippensburg qualifier event, wrestling well at the Waterway Duals while up a weight class, taking second at the Journeymen Classic and making the top 12 at the Super 32 in North Carolina. In Suffolk, he was fifth in a loaded 120-pound class last year and will look to make a state tournament run like his brother Maverick did in 2012.

Thomas Dutton (Rocky Point) – Dutton made the medal stand at the NHSCA Nationals this year at 138 pounds and was also was an All-American at perhaps the top tournament in the country, when he took eighth in freestyle at Fargo. He’ll be seeking some wins in Albany after a fourth place showing at the County tournament at 132.

“Dutton has been all over looking to improve on last year’s finish,” Ketcham said. “His improvement from year to year has been very good and he can accomplish a lot this year.”

And watch out for the upperweights . . .

Carlos Toribio (Brentwood) – Toribio was third at 160 last year and 41-5 overall at 160 pounds.  He avenged an early season loss to Shaun Gillen and suffered his only other setbacks to state placers Anthony Pistone and Tyler Grimaldi (three times).  He looked dominant in the summer in his victory at the Ken Lesser Memorial Summer Heat tournament.  He will be among the favorites to earn a ticket to the Times Union Center.

Grimaldi is a state championship favorite, but he isn’t the only member of the HHH West squad who could make an impact in the postseason.  Teammates Joe Piccolo and Jagger Rebozo also appear ready for successful senior years.  Piccolo compiled over 35 wins at 170 pounds, including victories over state placers Rrok Ndokaj (twice) and Dylen Seybolt and qualifier Zach Colgan of Section 4.  Rebozo also had over 30 wins at 182 pounds.

Ronnie King (Islip) – As a sophomore 160-pounder, King placed fifth at the Section XI tournament.  This year, Passaro predicts that the Islip wrestler has a great opportunity to make the county finals at 170.

Chris Chambers (East Islip) – Chambers was fifth at 182 at the Section 11 event as part of a 31-7 season.  He looked strong in the offseason, however, winning the Ken Lesser Memorial Summer Heat.  In fact, he recorded an impressive victory over All-State grappler Gio Santiago, who had pinned Chambers last season.

Ryan Hughes (Islip) – Hughes had a strong season at 220 pounds, with just a handful of losses and a number of quality victories.  He topped state placer Nick Lupi in sudden victory in early February and will be a threat to go to Albany this year.

Cristian Nunez (Sachem East) – Nunez knows how to rack up points.  He was 36-3 at 195 pounds a year ago with two wins over state qualifier Dan Choi of Syosset and 30 victories by bonus.  He’ll be looking for a big year.

Don’t Forget About . . .

Mark West (Hauppauge) and Corey Jamison (Huntington) – West was a state champion in 2010 but hasn’t made a return trip to the big show.  He was right there with many All-Staters last year as he defeated three placers – Sean McCabe, TJ Fabian and Matt Leshinger (although he lost to them as well).  He’ll be looking to make a run in his last season.  Meanwhile, Jamison came to the Times Union Center as the number two seed after a season in which he defeated credentialed wrestlers such as William Koll and Brandon Lapi.  However, after advancing to Saturday’s action, Jamison didn’t compete on the second day in Albany.  He looks to take that next step as a junior.

Jackson Mordente (Sachem East) – Mordente went 35-8 in 2011-12 at 138 pounds, with five of his losses to champions/high state placers (Jamel Hudson, James Dekrone and Alexis Blanco).  He did well representing Long Island at the Waterway Duals and looks to carry that success through his senior year.  His teammates Conor O’Hara and Jakob Restrepo should also have a strong seasons.  O’Hara went 29-9 with wins over Mike Lofrese and state placer Gio Sanchez in 2011-12.  Restrepo looked good winning a title at the War at the Shore in the spring and is primed for a breakout postseason.

While many wrestlers have been discussed above, there are many more who could have been profiled.  We fully expect that there will be additional Suffolk wrestlers who excel at the county and state levels in 2012-13.

Team Race:

Sachem East offers a very strong group that looks ready to pile up tournament points.  Conor O’Hara, Cristian Nunez and Jackson Mordente earned All-County honors last season and will be in line to do so again.  In addition, the Flaming Arrows will likely add to their medal haul with wrestlers that came close to 30 wins a year ago such as Mark Tracy, Zach Nobre and Jakob Restrepo. Heavyweight Josh Edmonson will also be a key factor as will Connor Farrell and Anthony Messina.

Brentwood is the returning county championship team and one of the favorites again.  The squad graduated a number of Suffolk medalists, including second place finishers Eric Orellana and Alexis Blanco.  However, the team brings back two third placers – Carlos Toribio and Marc Gonzalez as well as Danny Murray, who was fourth.  In addition, BJ Jackson and Luis Rodriguez appear among those ready to contribute heavily.

Huntington can’t be overlooked.  County champion Corey Jamison will take the mat along with runner up Anthony Puca and All-Stater Nick LupiJohn Arceri will be in the hunt for the Suffolk title at 99 pounds and others are capable of winning some matches at the Section tournament, such as Joseph Puca.

Gio Santiago, Photo by Boris V

Yet another possible contender is Sachem North, which brings back finalists Gio Santiago (Suffolk champ and state placer) along with Section 11 runner up Steven Mills.  A large number of wrestlers also return after notching 20 or more wins last season, including Mike Falcon, Matt Stallone, Stephen Guardino, Matthew Marino, Nick Perez, Alec Ross and James Schreck.

When asked for potential team champions, another handful of squads were mentioned.  It wouldn’t be completely surprising if the county champ is none of the teams above.  That’s how the talent is spread across Section 11 this year.

 

 

Division II

 

Returning State Qualifiers from 2012

99 Pounds: Lucas Webb (9) Mattituck

106 Pounds: Michael Menzer (12) Center Moriches

113 Pounds: Hunter Hulse (10) Stony Brook

120 Pounds: Justin Underwood (12) Bayport-Blue Point

132 Pounds: Ryan Hake (12) Bayport-Blue Point

152 Pounds: Paul Cavanagh (11) Port Jefferson

170 Pounds: Tomasz Filipkowski (12) Mattituck

182 Pounds: Brian Loskamp (12) Babylon

195 Pounds: Chris Baglivi (12) Mattituck

220 Pounds: Kevin Giron (12) Hampton Bays

Both of the All-State wrestlers from Division II graduated (Harrison Desousa and Travis Baskerville), but some tough wrestlers return to try to give Suffolk representation on the medal stand in Albany.

Tomasz Filipkowski of Mattituck came within one victory of placing in February.   The Section 11 tournament Champion of Champions opened with a loss to NSHCA Nationals runner up Troy Seymour of Peru before earning two victories in the consolation bracket.  He then dropped a 3-1 overtime decision to Section 2’s Brad Burns to fall just short of the podium.  After a 34-4 campaign, he looks poised to finish as an All-State wrestler.

“He’s a high quality wrestler who came so close to placing,” Bayport-Blue Point head coach Rich Reilly said. “I don’t seem anyone challenging him in the DII Sections and I think he will be very competitive upstate.”

Ryan Hake of Bayport-Blue Point had 31 wins a year ago, including 18 pins.  He had a victory in Albany, while both of his losses were to placers.  2013 would be his fourth appearance at the state tournament and he hopes to break through to the medal stand.

“Ryan is my best wrestler,” Reilly said.  “He’s been up there three times.  He hasn’t had seeding criteria in the past and we’ve adjusted our schedule this year, which should help Ryan with seeding criteria.  He had an outstanding season last year and the opportunity will be there for him to place. He’s a tough kid who is technical and very smart on the mat. I really believe this is the time for him.”

Michael Menzer of Center Moriches is another wrestler Reilly points to as a threat to make the podium in the state capital.  Menzer went 29-9 overall, including 1-2 in Albany.

“He’s definitely a tough kid who will be in the mix no matter what weight he wrestles,” Reilly said. “He has the experience of being upstate and has a great chance to do very well there.”

Also Keep an Eye On . . .

Lucas Webb, Photo by Boris V

Lucas Webb (Mattituck) – Webb won the 99-pound crown a year ago before heading up to the Times Union Center, where he went 1-2.  He will look for a return visit to the state tournament, while the wrestler he defeated in the Section 11 title bout, Jake Palma of Bayport-Blue Point will look for his first journey upstate.  Palma, who may be at 113 this year according to his coach, has put in significant work and has shown improvement.

Joey Palma (Bayport-Blue Point) and Tristan DeVincenzo (Port Jefferson) – Last year’s second and third place finishers behind Menzer at 106 pounds both have the potential to do big things this year, according to Reilly.

“Joey has really impressed me in the offseason,” the coach said. “He gave up football to wrestle more because he took second two years in a row.  He felt like it was time to get to the next level.  He’s a kid I would bet on having a great year.  Joey beat DeVincenzo both times they wrestled last year, but the score wasn’t indicative of the matches.  They were really tough matches and DeVincenzo is a really tough kid.”

Justin Underwood and Dylan McGovern (Bayport-Blue Point) – Underwood traveled to Albany last year and faced a difficult path, dropping contests to state champion Sam Recco and fifth placer Zach Ayen.  When discussing Underwood, Reilly couldn’t help but mention teammate McGovern.  The two wrestlers battled back and forth last year, with Underwood earning a 6-4 decision in the Section 11 championship.

“Dylan hasn’t stopped in the offseason,” Reilly said.  “He’s tired of taking second. I don’t think they’ll be at the same weight class this year and I think they could both be at the top of the Section 11 podium.  Justin is probably more of a technical wrestler, very slick.  Dylan has that nastiness that you like to see.  We were pretty deep last year and there wasn’t a lot of wiggle room for them to get away from each other.  Things have opened up now and I think they may be at 126 and 132.  I believe both could win matches upstate.”

Hunter Hulse (Stony Brook) – Hulse racked up 30 wins in 2011-12, primarily at 113 pounds.  He lost his opening round match at the state tournament by one point before rebounding with a technical fall victory.  He was eliminated by multiple-time state placer Cody McGregor of Section 6, but looks to capitalize on his postseason experience.

“Hulse kind of came out of nowhere and had a great year,” Reilly said. “He didn’t place upstate but he did a good job.  He’s the kind of kid who will be in the mix because he’s tough and he knows he can compete.  In that same weight last year were two other very good kids, Peter Schneider of Smithtown Christian and Justin Engel from Bayport-Blue Point.  I think those two are capable of going upstate as well.”   

Chris Baglivi, Photo by Boris V

Chris Baglivi (Mattituck) – The state qualifier went 27-11 with 15 pins in 2011-12.  He had a pair of victories over Ryan Lewis of Center Moriches, including a 1-0 triumph in the Section final.  Lewis is someone to keep an eye on in the upperweights as well after a 28-9 campaign.

Returning state qualifiers Brian Loskamp (Babylon) and Kevin Giron (Hampton Bays) will look to return to Albany to pick up a few more victories after going 1-2 on the big stage in 2011-12.  Paul Cavanagh (Port Jefferson) will also aim to make a return trip after winning the 152-pound Section 11 title a year ago.

Team Race

Bayport-Blue Point won the team title a year ago by 17 points over Mattituck.  Those look to be the top squads again this season.  The Phantoms lost some key contributors including All-State heavyweight Harrison Desousa and Suffolk runner up Ralph Fabiani, but the squad returns champions Hake and Underwood and silver medalists Joe Palma, Jake Palma, Dylan McGovern as well as a trio of third placers.

Mattituck graduated only two All-County grapplers and looks to be a threat with returning state qualifiers Lucas Webb, Tomasz Filipkowski and Chris Baglivi as well as county runner up Brian Pelan and third placers Andre Vega and James Rugnetta.

Reilly believes there are a number of schools that will have a say in this year’s team competition.

“I wouldn’t say we’re the favorite,” Reilly said of his Bayport-Blue Point squad. “We have some holes although we return a lot of kids and are solid in the lower to upper middleweights. Mattituck will definitely be in the race.  Port Jefferson and Center Moriches kids have done a lot of work this offseason.  They’re tough and well coached.  You can never forget about Babylon. They’re always right there and won this thing not too long ago.  They’re rebuilding with some good wrestlers.”

In fact, he believes that some of the somewhat lesser known wrestlers may be the deciding factor.

“The way our section is designed, it could always come down to four or even five teams,” he said. “The parity in our division has gotten better over the past few years. A lot of teams will have their two or three champions and then it comes down to the other guys.  If you’re fortunate enough to have another guy in the weight who can take third or fourth, that’s where you win the tournament.  That’s been our success over the past few years, with guys like Dylan McGovern, second guys at the weight that pick up more points.  It should be an interesting tournament.”

Special thanks to all of the contributors to this story, in particular, Steven Ketcham, John Passaro and Rich Reilly.

 

More Season Preview Articles:

Section 1 Preview

Section 3 Preview

Section 4 Preview

Section 7 Preview

Section 8 Preview

Section 9 Preview

CHSAA Preview

PSAL Preview

Features:

Section 1 Feature:  Aslanian and Realbuto, All-State Wrestlers and Workout Partners, Seek to End Their Careers on Top of the Podium

Section 4 Feature: Looking for “Number Nine”: Reggie Williams Aims to Make History at Johnson City

Section 5 Feature: The “Miracle” Continues: The Return of Aaron Paddock

Section 9 Feature: Unstoppable: Vinny Vespa Wrestles Again After Confronting Cancer

Section 11 Feature: Nick Piccininni Looks to Continue Winning Streak

Big 10 Bound: National Champion Anthony Abidin Talks About His Commitment to Wrestle for Nebraska

Anthony Abidin will face top-notch competition when he takes the mat in the Big 10 for Nebraska, at 133 or 141 pounds, beginning in 2013-14.  But it’s unlikely that he’ll be intimidated by the impressive credentials of his opponents.

Last year, while wrestling for Nassau Community College, he finished the season ranked 12th at 133 pounds, but defeated several higher-seeded foes to reach the NJCAA national championship bout against Brandon Wright of Iowa Central.   When it came time for the introductions, Abidin listened while the announcer seemingly went on and on about Wright’s achievements.

“I had a good laugh about that,” Abidin said. “My intro was pretty quick, a few tournament results and a New York state championship.  And then with Wright, it was all these national championships, multiple state championships, open tournament championships.  It was like, is this over yet?”

When it came down to it, resumes didn’t matter.  The match was knotted at 4 in the third period, but the Long Island native earned the key takedown and rideout to prevail 7-4.  He was a national champion.

“I am always in it to win,” Abidin said. “I wasn’t expected to place by most people, but I came into the tournament with a goal of at least being top three.  I promised myself that I worked harder than anyone else in the bracket and if I lost it simply wasn’t meant to be.  I was on my game that whole weekend and I didn’t give up an inch.  I surprised myself in the end.”

His impressive showing a year after completing his high school career atop the podium at the New York States at 125 pounds got the attention of several Division I programs.  In fact, he first was interested in attending nearby Hofstra.  However, after a trip to Cornhusker country this past weekend, he gave his commitment to Nebraska.

“I realized that I don’t want to stay home for college.  I want to get away and experience new places and new things,” he said.  “On my visit to Lincoln, I fell in love with the atmosphere right away.  It was a perfect fit for me.  The coaches were nice and straight shooters.  I got to see the football game, wrestling practice and spent time with the team.  I really like how the team was – everyone’s focus was on getting better and helping the rest of the guys get better.”

There have been several people who have helped Abidin get better over the years.  He mentioned Steve Hromada, who played an integral role in transforming him into a state champion at Half Hollow Hills East High.  And he said he has spent countless hours working with Vougar Oroudjov, both in high school and while at Nassau, improving all aspects of his wrestling.

“I can’t thank Steve Hromada enough for all he’s done for me,” Abidin said. “And I feel the same way about Vougar.  I think I’ve developed so much.  I finally picked up the college wrestling style – being aggressive but being smart and knowing how to wrestle well on top.  I’ve gotten better at all of those things.”

Abidin will redshirt this season at Nassau and have three years of eligibility left with the Huskers.  He will no doubt put the next year to good use, including spending time on an activity that was foreign to him until recently.

“I finally started to do something called lifting,” he said with a laugh.  “I never did it in high school.   I really just started lifting this summer.  I will put in another good year of hard work and will do everything I possibly can.”

He’s known for that.  In his semifinal match against Martin Gonzalez at the NJCAA National Championships, Abidin trailed 7-2 late in the second period.  He was frustrated by his opponent backing up and the fact that there was a 20 minute stop in the action as the referees and coaches tried to sort out a dispute.

“That match just about gave me a heart attack,” he said. “After the long break, I was really aggravated because I felt like my conditioning advantage was going away.  I was down by five and I knew I had a lot of work to do.  I kept attacking and even though I wasn’t scoring off my shots, I got three stalling points.  Finally, I hit a throw-by with one second left and scored two points to win it at the buzzer 8-7. It was amazing.”

Amazing.  Just like going from sixth in the county as a high school sophomore to a scholarship athlete in the Big 10 in just a few short years.