On the Cusp of Greatness: Brady Takes Eighth; Several NY Wrestlers Fall Just Short of the Podium (Super 32 Recap)


By Matt Diano

When the Empire State reflects upon this weekend’s collective effort at the Super 32 Tournament in Greensboro, North Carolina, the word “almost” will be a term that gets dropped often in the conversation.   Heading into day two with a squad of six strong, on paper, New York knew it would need to catch some breaks in order to maximize real estate on the podium.  Unfortunately, the cosmos would just never align, as one-by-one, after battling hard against the nation’s best for the past two days, five of the six student-athletes would fall just short of placing in the top 8.

Setting the tone for the kind of day it would be for NYS was Nick Piccininni of Ward Melville (Section XI).  Less than 24 hours removed from pulling the most significant upset of the opening day of the tournament when the 2012 NYS DI champion upended the top-ranked wrestler in the nation, Zahid Valencia of California, everything seemed to be falling into place for the super sophomore who was looking to win his third Flo major in as many weeks.  All that would separate him from the top step on the medal stand would be a pair of wins over nationally-ranked foes.  After all, having already defeated the “best of the best,” many looked at Piccininni as an invincible force.  Unfortunately, the #11 wrestler in the land, Georgia state champion Sean Russell had different plans, as he asserted his offense early and often, halting Piccininni’s trek to title town with a 10-6 decision.  This loss would set up a rematch in the consolation round with Valencia.  And this time, it would be the native of the Golden State reversing the decision, eliminating Piccininni by the slimmest of margins, 2-1.  Valencia would go on to win his remaining matches to finish third, with Russell losing to his high school teammate, Ryan Millhof, in the finals.  By virtue of losing only to the silver and bronze medalists in a loaded 113-pound bracket, Piccininni easily showcased that he is deserving of a spot in the national rankings.

Another wrestler riding a high after an impressive day one performance was Connetquot senior Steve Bulzomi.  Perhaps a bit of a surprise to those outside of Suffolk County, the 120-pounder who finished fourth in section XI in 2012 would find himself closing in on All-America honors this weekend.  Posting a 3-1 record on the first day (with his only loss being a narrow defeat at the hands of #20 ranked Nathan Boston from Kentucky), Bulzomi would take to the mat this morning needing three wins to secure a place on the podium.  Beginning the day on a high note, Bulzomi would win his opening match, 4-2, but would be unable to string together the winning streak he would need as his day was ended one round later via a loss by fall to 2012 New Jersey sixth place finisher, Christian Innarella, at the 4:58 mark.  Innarella would conclude his weekend with an eighth place finish.

Also entering play today with a 3-1 tally was Eastport South Manor junior Travis Passaro.  A runner up at the Journeymen Classic a few weeks ago, no one has ever questioned the talents of the 2011 NHSCA Freshman All-American.  However, having watched as older brother Maverick placed last season at the “Battle for the Belt,” this weekend was about making it two-for-two for the family.  Passaro lost two consecutive bouts to NJ state qualifier Sal Profaci during the lead-up to this tournament.  So when an opening win this morning set up the trilogy, it would have been easy for Passaro to get down on himself.  However, that simply is not the “Strong Island” way; rather, he would use the previous outcomes as a motivation.  It would work, as Passaro controlled the entire match, cruising to the 8-2 victory, putting him one more “w” away from placement.  Again, it would be a familiar foe that opposed Passaro as he would be pitted against the only wrestler to beat him up to this point, Florida’s Jared Prince.  Determined to avenge the loss, Passaro undoubtedly gave 110 percent effort, but much like yesterday, it would be the kid from the Sunshine State pulling out the decision, 5-2.

TJ Fabian, Photo by Boris V

The unofficial award for biggest heart/guts this weekend goes to returning NYS DI fourth place finisher T.J. Fabian of Shoreham Wading-River.  Dropping his opening bout of the tournament, the multiple-time NHSCA All-American would put together one heck of a rally, winning seven straight matches (including a 1-0 victory this morning against 12th ranked Ken Bade of Michigan).  In agreement with the emerging theme, the win over the blue chipper would put the New Yorker a single victory away from pulling off a feat that 24 hours earlier had seemed impossible.  But, as evidence that a higher power has a cruel sense of humor, after all of the blood, sweat, and grit that went into his comeback story, yet again, a NYS representative would see his effort met with humble pie as Fabian would get pinned by Pennsylvania’s Colby Ems, a wrestler who came in as an unknown, but rode a hot streak to a seventh place showing at 126 pounds.  To call this twist of fate heartbreaking would be a gross underestimation of the situation.  If there was a single wrestler this weekend that deserved to go out with a “w”, without hesitation it would be the senior from Suffolk County.

The shutout streak would finally be broken at 182 pounds when 2012 NYS DI runner-up Shayne Brady of Carthage rebounded from a 4-0 quarterfinal loss to Cornell recruit (and eventual champion) Jacob Taylor of Pennsylvania, to reign victorious in his first consolation bout, etching out the 6-5 decision over New Jersey’s Nick Zak.   The win guaranteed that the senior from Section III would finish in the top 8.  Brady would get the short end of the stick in his final two bouts of the tournament, losing a pair of decisions to Ohio’s Alex Belaia and nationally-ranked Keystone Stater (#3) Dakota DesLauriers by respective 4-2 and 5-0 scores.  The loss to DesLauriers was in the match for seventh.

220-pounder Nelson Wymbs of Horace Greeley would be defeated in his only bout of the day, getting bested by 2012 Virginia State runner-up, Eldon Valery, 6-1. Valery would win one more match before dropping his remaining bouts to finish up with an eighth place showing.

New York Middle Schoolers Pile Up Hardware

Yianni Diakomihalis, Photo by Boris V

While the day may not have belonged to the NYS scholastic level athletes, it did prove to be a banner day for the next generation as the Empire State would crown a pair of champions in the middle school tournament.  Sixth-grader Adam Busiello (75 pounds) and 100-pound eighth-grader Yianni Diakomihalis (who competed on the Hilton High School varsity last season), went 5-0 and 4-0 to win their individual weight classes.  In doing so, they became the first New York State wrestlers since 2007 (Joe Booth) to win a Super 32 title at either level of competition. Busiello finished third here in 2010.  90-pounder Peter Pappas would finish second at his weight, compiling a 4-1 record this weekend.

Other middle school top 8 finishes included the following (in weight order):

  • Dylan Ryder: 6th at 70
  • Hector Colom: 7th at 95
  • Vitali Arujau: 3rd at 100
  • Louie Deprez: 7th at 120
  • Michael Spallina: 3rd at 157

Piccininni Prevails Over Nation's #1 Wrestler, Joins Carthage's Shayne Brady in the Quarterfinals

It will be hard to keep him out of the national rankings now.

Nick Piccininni has won a string of tournaments in recent weeks, dominating in most of his bouts, but he didn’t appear in the latest national rankings at 113 pounds.  On Saturday, he stated his case once again with pins in his first three matches before an overtime triumph over the country’s #1 sophomore wrestler, Zahid Valencia of California, to advance to the quarterfinals at the Super 32 Challenge against Sean Russell of Georgia.

Shayne Brady, Photo by Boris V

Also making the quarterfinals was state runner up Shayne Brady of Carthage, who tallied a 3-0 record at 182 pounds to earn a meeting tomorrow morning with Cornell recruit Jake Taylor of Pennsylvania with a semifinal berth on the line.

After dropping his first bout at 126 pounds, Shoreham Wading River’s TJ Fabian navigated a difficult path to the second day of competition, impressively winning five in a row to set up a battle with Michigan’s Ken Bade on Sunday.

In the 120-pound class, a pair of Suffolk County grapplers, Steven Bulzomi of Connetquot and Travis Passaro of Eastport South Manor, moved forward after each compiling 3-1 marks in Saturday’s action. Bulzomi will meet Tommy Ziegler of Ohio while Passaro will take on Zacheri Ulerick of Pennsylvania.

Also continuing in consolation action is Horace Greeley’s Nelson Wymbs, who will face Eldon Valery of Virginia at 220.

The brackets are here.

Additional Results for New York wrestlers

106 Pounds:

Nick Barbaria (New Rochelle) – (2-2)

Christian Briody (Chaminade) – (0-2)

Ryan Burns (Clarence) – (4-2)

Nick Casella (Locust Valley) – (2-2)

Tito Colom (Scorpion/Cobra) – (1-2)

Jon Errico (Byram Hills) – (1-2)

Brandon Fay (Fox Lane) – (0-2)

Andrew North (Pine Bush) – (2-2)

Jack Scurti (Half Hollow Hills East) – (1-2)

113 Pounds:

Joe Nelson (Oxford) – (1-2)

Andrew Flanagan (Holley) – (1-2)

Timothy Johnson (Harborfields) – (0-2)

Ben Lamantia (St. Anthony’s) – (3-2)

120 Pounds:

Travis Alexander (Long Island Lutheran) – (0-2)

Anthony Calvano (Nanuet) – (4-2)

Mike D’Angelo (Commack) – (4-2)

Jeffrey Gould (Pittsford Mendon) – (0-2)

Joe Russ (St. Anthony’s) – (2-2)

126 Pounds:

Freddie Dunau (St. Anthony’s) – (2-2)

Blaise Rufo (Monsignor Farrell) – (1-2)

Ryan Snow (General Brown) – (3-2)

132 Pounds:

Chris Araoz (Wantagh) – (3-2)

Sam Melikian (Fordham Prep) – (1-2)

Conor O’Hara (Sachem East) – (3-2)

Jon Silveri (Arlington) – (1-2)

138 Pounds:

Vincent Deprez (Hilton) – (1-2)

Kevin Jackson (St. Anthony’s) – (1-2)

Sam Ward (Locust Valley) – (0-2)

145 Pounds:

Nick Alessandrini (St. Anthony’s) – (0-2)

Anthony Deprez (Hilton) – (0-2)

Isaiah Riccio (Beaver River) – (1-2)

152 Pounds:

Mike Dusold (Locust Valley) – (1-2)

Matthew Haenel (Half Hollow Hills East) – (0-2)

Joseph Koshakow (Scarsdale) – (3-2)

Connor Lawrence (Duanesburg) – (0-2)

Rowdy Prior (Phoenix) – (2-2)

Matthew Russo (Horace Mann) – (3-2)

Paul Schoenberg (Baruch) – (1-2)

160 Pounds

Joe Mastro (Yorktown) – (2-2)

Andrew Psomas (Monsignor Farrell) – (3-2)

Jun Yoo (Jericho) – (0-2)

170 Pounds:

Johnny Vrasidas (St. Anthony’s) – (2-2)

Austin Weigel (Onteora) – (3-2)

182 Pounds:

Kevin Rodriguez (Patchogue-Medford) – (0-2)

Dan Smith (South Jefferson) – (1-2)

195 Pounds:

Chris Chambers (East Islip) – (1-2)

Collin Pittman (Spencerport) – (2-2)

State Champion Piccininni Looks to Continue His Winning Streak at the Super 32 Challenge

Slowing Nick Piccininni down has proven to be a nearly impossible task for opposing wrestlers, especially in his string of undefeated tournaments over the past month.

In fact, there’s only thing that has come close to stopping him lately — sleep.

“At the Iron Horse, I had the wrong bout number for my next match,” he said.  “I thought I had time so I took a nap.  All of a sudden, I had this gut instinct and woke up, I don’t know why. I looked up and saw that my match was up and I just ran over and wrestled. I had no time to warm up or anything.  I would have wrestled much better if I was more ready.”

He was ready enough to earn a 1-0 victory over Bound Brook’s Craig DeLaCruz, who took fourth in New Jersey in 2012 and who was the champion of his bracket at the Journeymen Classic the previous week.

Photo by Boris V

It was a rare close match for Piccininni.  In his 45-0 state championship campaign as a freshman, he won all but six matches by bonus points.  More recently, he won the Super 32 Qualifier at 113 pounds in Shippensburg, Pennsylvania by a combined score of 46-3 and followed it up with a championship at the Journeymen Classic where his closest match was a 7-0 victory over New Jersey medalist Joe Trovato.  His latest triumph was a title at the Iron Horse (despite his nap).

He even went unbeaten at the Waterway Duals, including a victory over Pennsylvania state placer Zack Fuentes – while wrestling up a weight at 122 pounds.

So, what is Nick Piccininni hoping to conquer next?

For one thing, a national title.

While Piccininni specifically mentioned wanting to win the FloNationals championship next spring, he has another opportunity to make his mark at a big event this weekend when he travels to North Carolina for the Super 32 Challenge.  He said he competed at the tournament as an eighth grader but didn’t place.

However, he has made improvements since then, working with Olympian Brandon Escobar, who he calls a “brother figure who has grown closer and closer to me”, as well as coaches such as the Patrovich brothers, Chris Messina, Kurt Ferrara and Bill DeSario.  He also has spent significant time lifting and working with Eastport South Manor junior Travis Passaro.

“I’ve put in a lot of hard work and so many people have helped me,” he said. “I’m grateful for what I have and the people around me.  If not for my family and my coaches, I wouldn’t be as successful.”

His efforts are not only aimed toward showcasing himself against the nation’s best at the Super 32, but also at the Times Union Center in February on the biggest weekend of the high school season.  Before his state championship in 2012, he was third as an eighth grader.  In that tournament, Piccininni suffered a 6-4 loss in Albany in the semifinals to Kyle Kelly of Chenango Forks, who went on to win the first of his two state crowns. It’s a match the Suffolk County wrestler hasn’t forgotten.

“I definitely would like a rematch,” Piccininni said. “I would like to get revenge.  I was an inexperienced eighth grader in my first time at states.  He had been there before. Now I have a lot more experience and I have much better technique and strength than I did. I remember that match well.”

He remembers all of his varsity losses well, but that isn’t that difficult given how few there have been in his 95-3 career.  However, not included in that record is the “loss” he recalls that occurred when he never even got to step on the mat, all the way back in 2010.

“My school doesn’t allow seventh graders to wrestle on varsity,” he said. “But I went through the Board of Education and got permission to wrestle in tournaments.  I originally was allowed to wrestle at Leagues, but the day before Leagues they said I couldn’t go.  It was hard to watch.  The kid who won, I thought I could have beaten him.  It definitely put a fire underneath me.”

That fire helped lead him to the aforementioned third place finish in New York State the following year and his continued success since then.  It even has catapulted him into the national rankings – for a while at least.

“I think I was in the national rankings recently for about a day,” he said. “The next time I looked, I was out.  I’ve learned not to worry about them. They’re just one person’s perspective. But I still look at them; everyone does.  I just need to wrestle and be myself.”

The way he’s been wrestling, it’s hard to believe his name will be left out of the national rankings for long.

Nick Piccininni, Travis Passaro and Conor O'Hara Win Titles at Super 32 Qualifier in Pennsylvania

Nick Piccininni, Photo by Boris V

Every year, late in the fall, the Super 32 Challenge in North Carolina features huge brackets full of some of the nation’s top high school wrestlers.  This past weekend, a number of New York competitors qualified for early entry into the event by placing in the top four at the Super 32 Qualifier in Shippensburg, Pennsylvania.  Talent from numerous states, including Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia took the mat and at the end of the day, the Empire State boasted three champions (Nick Piccininni, Travis Passaro and Conor O’Hara) as well as several other placewinners.

Piccininni, a 2012 undefeated state champion from Ward Melville, cruised through his five matches, none of which were close, to win the 113 pound title.  Representing 631 Elite, he opened with a 11-2 major over Eric Hunt of Pennsylvania and proceeded to win his next four bouts by the combined tally of 35-1.  He blanked Tanner Shoap, a multi-time state medalist in Pennsylvania, 10-0 in the final.

In the same bracket, St. Anthony’s Ben Lamantia also placed, taking fourth.  The Friar wrestler earned victories in his first three contests before dropping a one-point decision to Bryan Damon of New Jersey to move into the consolations.   Lamantia recorded a fall and two shutout wins in the wrestlebacks before losing to Damon again by a point in the bronze medal bout.

Piccininni wasn’t 631 Elite’s only champion.  Also winning a title from the Long Island club was Travis Passaro, who earned his crown with a 2-0 triumph in sudden victory at 120 pounds.  The Eastport South Manor wrestler was in control throughout the day, yielding only two points in his five matches, while scoring 18 and registering a pin.  Passaro was joined on the podium at 120 by Technical Edge’s Freddie Dunau, whose four victories included a major and a fall.

The third Empire State champion was Sachem East’s Conor O’Hara.  The Suffolk County grappler won his finals bout handily, 9-0, over Dixon Myers of Pennsylvania to top off a 5-0 day in which he won three bouts by two points or less.

Also making the finals was Journeymen’s Austin Weigel, who outscored his first three foes 14-3 before being edged 5-3 in the title bout by nationally-ranked Garrett Peppelman of Pennsylvania at 170 pounds.

The last New York wrestler to make the top four was Christian Briody of Chaminade and he put in quite an effort to get there, winning eight matches to take third at 106 pounds.  He began his day with a 5-4 victory and followed up with another decision, this time 8-1 over Alex Zangrilli of New Jersey before dropping a 5-3 bout to Triston Law of Pennsylvania.  Briody then faced a long road to make the top four and spent little time getting to work, pinning his first wrestleback opponent in 34 seconds before reeling off five more victories in which he outscored his opponents 25-9.

New York Top Four Placers – Super 32 Qualifier

106: Christian Briody (Chaminade), 3rd Place (8-1)

113: Nick Piccininni (631 Elite), 1st Place (5-0)

113: Ben Lamantia (St. Anthony’s), 4th Place (6-2)

120: Travis Passaro (631 Elite), 1st Place (5-0)

120: Freddie Dunau (Technical Edge), 4th Place (4-2)

132: Conor O’Hara (Sachem East), 1st Place (5-0)

170: Austin Weigel (Journeymen), 2nd Place (3-1)