Section 9 Preview: Five State Placers Return, Looking for More in 2013-14


Section 9 is the home of the top in-season tournament in New York – the Eastern States Classic.  However, it’s also the home of a number of wrestlers who made the medal stand in 2013 and have the potential to do even more this upcoming campaign.  Read on to find out more about what the Section has to offer in 2013-14.

Division I

Four Division I wrestlers return after reaching the podium in Albany a year ago — the Port Jervis duo of Dylan Booth and Dan DeCarlo, as well as Monroe Woodbury’s Vinny Vespa and Pine Bush’s John Stramiello.  Let’s take a look at those wrestlers, plus some others to watch in 2013-14.

Vinny Vespa (Monroe Woodbury) – After battling cancer, Vespa made an incredible return to the mat for the Crusaders, winning 40 matches and taking fifth at the state tournament at 99 pounds.  We’ll see what he can do for an encore, likely at 106.

John Stramiello (Pine Bush) – Stramiello, a four time state qualifier and three-time Section 9 champion, made his second appearance on the podium last February, taking sixth at 113 pounds.  (He was sixth at 106 as a sophomore).  In his senior campaign, Stramiello is looking for his highest finish, likely at 113.

Photo by Josh Conklin

Dylan Booth (Port Jervis) – Booth topped Stramiello three times last season, including in the fifth place bout at the Times Union Center.  After a strong season in which he racked up 34 victories, Booth will be looking for another All-State showing, either at 113 or 120 pounds.

Dan DeCarlo (Port Jervis) –  Like his teammate Booth, DeCarlo nabbed fifth in Albany last year (at 152 pounds).  A two-time Section 9 titlewinner, DeCarlo, who also was fourth at the Eastern States Classic, will move up to 160 this year.

Other than those returning placers, who is ready to make an impact?

From Monroe Woodbury, Evan Barczak and Rob Kelly are good candidates.  Barczak, now a freshman, was a Section champion as an eighth grader at 106 pounds and won a match at the state tournament.  In fact, his two losses in Albany were to the second and third place finishers, one of them in overtime.  He’s projected at 120 pounds this year.  Senior Rob Kelly was the runner up in Section 9 to NYS fourth placer Josh Bonneau at 220 pounds.  Kelly, who had 30 wins last year, will be a factor at either 220 or 285.

Minisink Valley’s Mike Raccioppi and Chris Truglio will be wrestlers to watch as well.  Raccioppi, a two-time state qualifier, was sixth at the Eastern States in a 43-victory campaign in which he defeated All-State wrestler Ryan Snow and won twice in Albany.  He’ll be a podium threat, likely at 138, this year. Truglio is expected to be back at 132, where he notched a win at the state tournament. Their teammate Gerard Daly was the Section 9 champion at 99 pounds in 2012, but missed last season with an injury.  He’s back and will surely be a factor at 113 or 120.

Warwick Valley junior Thomas Wightman dropped an overtime decision to All-State wrestler Matt Caputo in the opening round in Albany last year. The Section 9 champion won 28 bouts in 2012-13.  Look for him to make waves at 145.

James Bethel of Saugerties won 38 matches last year and really boosted his stock with a great offseason, including an undefeated showing at the Cadet Freestyle National Duals and an All-American performance at Fargo in Greco Roman (third at 220).

[2013 Eastern States champion at 99 pounds, Chris Cuccolo of Pine Bush, is now attending school in New Jersey.]

Team Race

Monroe Woodbury and Minisink Valley are the two teams everyone is looking at, but Section 9 will have a bit more depth this year than in the past few seasons.  Monroe Woodbury finished 2012-2013 ranked eighth in the New York State Sportswriters Association poll and they return a state placer (Vespa), two qualifiers (Barczak and PJ Smoot), and three other 20+ win wrestlers.  Meanwhile, Minisink Valley ended last season ranked 17th in New York and the squad returns Raccioppi, Truglio, and multiple other 20+ win wrestlers.

Warwick Valley will once again be in contention with an extremely strong middle of the line up featuring Wightman, Ryan Ferro, and AJ Aeberli.  Cornwall, with NYS Wrestling Hall of Fame coach Don Blaine, should never be overlooked and will have a few wrestlers with a legitimate shot at going to Albany.  Speaking of Hall of Fame coaches, Jeff Cuilty and Wallkill will surprise a lot of teams this year as a program on the rise.  We can also anticipate significant improvement out of Port Jervis, Middletown, Saugerties and NFA as the squads feature several wrestlers who have put in a lot of offseason work.

Division II

Ingraham, courtesy Skip Dickstein/Times Union

Highland’s Austin Ingraham earned sixth place at 113 pounds last year in Albany after coming one win from placing as a sophomore.  The senior will look to end his career in style, possibly at 113 but more likely at 120.

Who Are Some Other Wrestlers to Watch?

Matt Rauch (Red Hook) – The senior was undefeated going into the state tournament last year and had a solid performance in the state capital, finishing one win from placing at 126 pounds.

Sean Cramsie and Troy Grant (New Paltz) Like Rauch, both Cramsie and Grant represented Section 9 in Albany last year.  Both won a match at the Times Union Center, Cramsie at 132 and Grant at heavyweight.  Can they notch a few more victories this time around, likely at 138 and 285, respectively?

Dustin Mackenzie (Onteora) One of the most improved wrestlers in small school Section 9, the senior was a state qualifier last year at 195 pounds.  Look for him to build upon the 33 wins he compiled as a junior.

Edon Lulanaj (Eldred/Fallsburg) – The 2013 Section 9 finalist lost 1-0 to the previously mentioned Grant.  The senior is new to the sport, however, and has a lot of upside for his final high school campaign after going 20-3 last season.

Team Race

Onteora, Red Hook and Highland will be the teams everyone is gunning for this year in Division II.  All three squads are traditionally among the best in the Section and each also has five returning Section 9 medalists returning this year.  Ellenville could be the surprise team of the year, as the Blue Devils also bring back five Sectional placers, including finalists Nick Disessa-Leon and Javier Cortes.

[Aidan Mathews of Marlboro, a qualifier last year at 170, has moved to Wyoming Seminary].

Division I

Returning State Placers from 2013

Vinny Vespa (Monroe Woodbury) – fifth at 99

Dylan Booth (Port Jervis) – fifth at 113

Johnny Stramiello (Pine Bush) – sixth at 113

Dan DeCarlo (Port Jervis) – fifth at 152

Returning Qualifiers from 2013

Evan Barczak (Monroe Woodbury) 106

PJ Smoot (Monroe Woodbury) 120

Mike Raccioppi (Minisink Valley) 126

Chris Truglio (Minisink Valley) 132

Thomas Wightman (Warwick Valley) 138

Kyle McGuire (Newburgh) 170

Division II

Returning State Placer from 2013

Austin Ingraham (Highland) – sixth at 113

Returning Qualifiers from 2013

Taylor Benson (Red Hook) 99

Mike Felicano (Highland) 106

Matt Rauch (Red Hook) 126

Sean Cramsie (New Paltz) 132

Dustin Mackenzie (Onteora) 195

Troy Grant (New Paltz) 285

For more on Section 9 wrestling, see here.


For other Section previews see (more to come):

Section 3

Section 10


U-E Duals Recap: Wantagh Rallies to Capture the Title . . . Plus Other Dominant and Inspiring Performances

Wantagh entered the Union-Endicott Duals as the top team in the Empire State, and after two intense days of wrestling, the Warriors left with that number one ranking intact.

But it wasn’t easy.

After two blowout victories on Day 1 of the event, Sunday brought semifinal and final matches that came down to the wire.  Wantagh prevailed in both, rallying to defeat the number two seed, Sachem East, 35-27 for the championship.

“I’m really happy for our coaches, the guys and the fans,” said 220-pounder TJ Ragusa who has spent much of the season at 220 but wrestled at 285 at times this weekend. “A lot of times these duals are won by the guys who don’t get pinned; who don’t give up bonus. It was a total group effort.”

The finals began at 120 pounds and Sachem East controlled things early, winning six of the first eight bouts and earning a 24-10 lead after Zac Nobre’s decision at 170.

Despite trailing by a sizable margin, members of the team said they believed they would turn things around.

“Our confidence never wavered,” Ragusa said. “We never lost it. I was having a conversation with Danny McDevitt during the dual when we were losing and we were saying that we knew we’d keep fighting and win. One of the keys for our team is that we’re always confident.”

That appeared to be the case, as Wantagh took over from there, capturing six of the remaining seven matches, beginning with a pin from McDevitt at 182.

Afterwards, Wantagh received wins from James Corbett (195), Ragusa (285) and Jonathan Loew (99) to trail by just a point – 27-26.

The Section 8 power then regained the lead in emphatic fashion when 106-pounder Kyle Quinn earned a first period fall to push his squad ahead 32-27. Joe Hill then closed out the championship with a decision at 113.

“Before the match I was thinking I had to get a pin for the team,” Quinn said. “It means a lot for us to win – it gives us something to go home with. I think Wantagh just did a great job as a team.”

The excitement wasn’t limited to the finals.  The third place dual between Islip and Shenendehowa as well as both semifinals (Shenendehowa vs. Sachem East and Wantagh vs. Islip) all were decided in the very last bout.

In the battle for the bronze, the Plainsmen got out to a fast start and following a major decision for 195-pounder Levi Ashley, the Section 2 school was in front 31-15 with five matches to go.  However, Islip took the next four (including two by Shenendehowa forfeit and a huge pin at 106 pounds by Johnny DiPalma) to win 36-34.

Close matches were on tap in the semifinals as well, which started at 106 pounds. Going into the last match at 99, both duals had two point differentials – Sachem East led Shenendehowa 32-30 and Islip was ahead of Wantagh 27-25.

The wrestlers from Sachem East (Bobby Fazio) and Wantagh (Jonathan Loew) both trailed early in their respective matches.

Fazio was behind 4-1 in the second period before notching an escape and a takedown late in the stanza to tie things up going into the third. And he took over from there, earning a technical violation point, an escape, a takedown, near fall and eventually, the pin, to push his team to a 38-30 triumph.

Wantagh’s Loew faced a 2-0 deficit heading into the third but got on the board with a takedown early in that final stanza and rode his opponent out for the last minute and a half to force overtime.  In that extra session, Loew immediately went on the attack, getting the winning takedown and a 28-27 Warrior win.

In other placement matches, Clarence topped Monroe Woodbury for fifth, 34-28, and MacArthur beat Spencerport, 33-29, for seventh.

For full results from all 15 teams see:  Full results here.

A Few Additional (Random) Notes:

Dominance from the Binghamton Trio:  There was some talk at the event about who the most impressive wrestler was for the weekend.  While there was no absolute agreement, two names came up numerous times – Nick Kelley of Shenendehowa and Kyle Kelly of Chenango Forks. Both cruised through the competition.

Their future Binghamton teammate, David Almaviva of the Plainsmen, also was outstanding, including controlling a 2-0 bout with the tough Jackson Mordente of Sachem East in the semifinals.

Long Island Looking Good: Suffolk squad Rocky Point, currently ranked #2 in the state Dual Meet poll, wasn’t at U-E this weekend, but Long Island did just fine, taking the top three spots at the event. In addition, MacArthur was seventh despite missing some key contributors such as Justin Cooksey.

Look Out for Clarence:  The Section 6 team didn’t come in as one of the tournament’s most talked about groups, but was very impressive in racking up a 4-1 record on the way to fifth place.  The Red Devils defeated the teams listed #4 and #5 in the first New York State Sportswriters Dual Meet rankings, North Rockland and Monroe Woodbury, by eight and six points, respectively.  (The one loss was to Sachem East).  The lineup’s bookends, heavyweight Nate Ward and 99-pounder Dylan Arena were among those who looked good over the weekend and the team is solid throughout.

And One Last Thing. . . : It’s always a pleasure to see such high level wrestling, but one of the standout performances came from Monroe Woodbury’s Vinny Vespa. Many New York wrestling fans know about Vespa’s fight with cancer this spring and summer. From the start, he and his family were confident that he would not only beat cancer, but also get back on the mat and win. Watching him do that in person was inspiring.

Unstoppable: Vinny Vespa Wrestles Again After Confronting Cancer

When Vinny Vespa was first diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer, doctors told his mother Lisa Vespa that he could need treatment for up to a year.

Instead, five months later, almost to the day, Vinny Vespa returned to live wrestling with his teammates at Monroe Woodbury High School.

“I’m working really hard,” he said. “I definitely missed it. I’m really happy to be back on the mat.”

The truth is, he never really left.  While Vespa wasn’t allowed to go live during the treatment process, partially because of a port he had in his chest, he never stopped training and lifting.

And he certainly never lost connection with the wrestling community.

Vinny and his mother Lisa were amazed by the many contributions and well wishes they received, not only in Section 9 but throughout New York State and even beyond.

While they appreciated everything that was done for them, the Takedown Tournament held at Monroe Woodbury High School on June 30 was the highlight.  Over 350 wrestlers competed in the event, which also featured carnival games and other family entertainment.

“It was really fun to watch everyone come out that day not only to wrestle but also to support me,” Vinny Vespa said. “I even got to see my brother Michael wrestle again, which was really cool to watch.  I was surprised that people came from all over.  I knew there were a lot of people supporting me, but I didn’t expect that many people to be there.  I was really grateful.”

“It was surreal for me,” Lisa Vespa added. “It was so heartfelt and it showed the tremendous commitment that the wrestling family has.  I was taken aback by the level of support and I was so appreciative.  It was amazing.”

It was a high point, followed by a summer filled with treatment regimens and hospital visits.  A few days receiving chemotherapy.  A few days at home.  More chemotherapy.  Then a few weeks off and the process started all over again.

“The whole summer was a blur,” Lisa Vespa said. “It was definitely rough, but Vinny was an amazing patient.  He never complained.  He just did what he needed to do.  He was never looking for pity or praise.”

In September, even when in the midst of radiation treatments (and attending school again), Vinny felt like he had turned a corner.

“I really started to feel better,” he said. “I felt less nervous about things – like I knew I was going to be alright.  I started thinking about wrestling and getting back to it as soon as possible.”

A few weeks later, in October, Vinny had a PET scan and the doctors shared good news.

“I’m grateful to say that he’s in remission now,” Lisa Vespa said.  “We know it’s a long haul.  He’ll have another PET scan in January.  But we don’t have to go back to the doctor until then.  There aren’t any restrictions on him now, he just has to listen to his body to figure out what he can and can’t do.”

It took no time at all for Vinny to join Monroe Woodbury practice.  In fact, he participated the same day he was cleared.

“I started right away,” he said. “It’s been really cool, being around the team and wrestling with my teammates.  I think I’m starting to get fully back into it, but I’m definitely already better than last year because of how I feel.”

How he felt last year during matches was tired and out of breath.  He was unable to do what he wanted to late in matches and he was often unable to escape when he was in the down position.

“We couldn’t figure out why he couldn’t get out on bottom when he wrestled,” Lisa Vespa said. “I actually took him out of practice on a Saturday morning in January and asked his coach’s permission to send him to a clinic focusing on that.  Looking back now, it was insane.  Vinny had been wrestling since he was three or four years old — of course he knew how to do it. We were just grasping at straws, trying to come with any reason why he was having trouble.  I knew something was wrong, I just couldn’t figure out what.”

The Vespa family explored a number of options, including a new mouthpiece, asthma and bronchitis.  In addition, Lisa Vespa said she considered cancer back in November of 2011 when Vinny complained of terrible itching, which was the only symptom a friend of the Vespa family had when diagnosed with cancer.  However, after a doctor’s visit and some blood work, the Vespas came home with cream for the itching and went back to the drawing board.

It was months later, after Vinny struggled while winning the New York State Freestyle championship in May, that a tumor was found in his lungs that indicated that he had Stage 4 Lymphoma.

Having overcome so much, some people would be satisfied with simply putting on a singlet and getting on the mat again.  Not Vinny Vespa.

“My plan is to wrestle every chance my coach gives me to wrestle,” said the 2012 state qualifier. “As long as it benefits the team, I will go out and wrestle, even I have to bump up a weight.  But for Sections and the end of the year, I’m planning to go 99 pounds again.  I’m still light.  I was at the state tournament and I want to be there again.  This time I want to get to the finals and try to win it.”

That would be a fitting ending for a wrestler who has already won significant battles.

“For me, the most important thing is to look at him and know that he feels 100% again,” Lisa Vespa said.  “Because it was obvious last year that he didn’t feel anywhere near 100%.  Getting back on the mat five months after starting treatment says so much about Vinny.  But I also attribute a lot of it to the tremendous support from the wrestling community and to the sport of wrestling itself.  From wrestling, Vinny has learned an inner strength and perseverance.  He learned that you don’t give up and you dig deep when things get tough.  Wrestling gives you a level of confidence that no other sport can give you. I have no doubt that wrestling has helped him get where he is now.”


More Season Preview Articles:

Section 1 Preview

Section 3 Preview

Section 4 Preview

Section 7 Preview

Section 8 Preview

Section 9 Preview

CHSAA Preview


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 11 Feature: Nick Piccininni Looks to Continue Winning Streak

Section 9 Preview: Stramiello and Martinez Look to Make All-State Again, While Fans Await the Return of Vinny Vespa


By Mike Carey,


Division I

Returning State Placewinner:

Sixth Place: Johnny Stramiello, Pine Bush, 106 Pounds


Additional Returning State Qualifiers (from 2012)

99 Pounds: Gerard Daly, Minisink Valley

99 Pounds: Vinny Vespa, Monroe Woodbury

106 Pounds: Michael Raccioppi, Minisink Valley

160 Pounds: Dan DeCarlo, Port Jervis

195 Pounds: Deon Edmond, Kingston

220 Pounds: Connor Leavell, Warwick

Wrestlers to Watch . . .

Johnny Stramiello, Photo by Boris V

Johnny Stramiello, Pine Bush – The three-time defending Section 9 champion placed sixth at the state tournament last season.  His offseason work at Apex Wrestling plus his appearance at tough events such as the Journeymen Classic will greatly improve his chances of ascending up the podium.

Michael Raccioppi, Minisink Valley – Raccioppi is as tough as they come.  Last season, he finished 39-7, was a state qualifier and took seventh at the Eastern States Classic.  His “offseason” has included a fourth place finish at the MAWA Eastern Nationals, a 10-day J. Robinson Intensive Camp and an appearance at the Journeymen Classic.

Dan DeCarlo, Port Jervis – DeCarlo is as strong and athletic as any wrestler in the state but he typically only wrestles four months of the year.  His skill and technique are improving each season, so don’t be surprised if you see him on the podium in Albany.

Gerard Daly, Minisink Valley – As a first year varsity wrestler, Daly recorded impressive wins over state qualifiers Steven Sewkumar of Long Beach (Section 8), Kevin Parker of Shenendehowa (Section 2) and Josh Antoine of the PSAL.  He also earned sixth at the Eastern States Classic.  Daly went 1-2 at the state tournament and was eliminated when he dropped a closely contested 8-5 bout to fourth place medalist Joe Calderone of Walt Whitman (Section 11).

Deon Edmond, Kingston – Edmond is talented, hard working and well coached.  He was one win from making All-State last year when he went 2-2, including an impressive victory over Mike Spinelli from Mahopac in Albany.  Edmond has set his goals very high for his senior campaign.

Also Keep an Eye On . . . 

AJ Voelker, Monroe Woodbury – Talented and self-motivated; he can “taste” it

Travis Edwards, Port Jervis – Wrestled hard all summer; very athletic

Terrence Cheeks, Newburgh Free Academy – Has the ability; defeated Ethan Stanley (New York State fourth placer) in 2012

Brett Johnson, Cornwall – May surprise some opponents; on the cusp of the next level

Donald Brown, Middletown – Explosive wrestler with lots of “upside”

Bryan Mongiello, Washingtonville – 2012 Section 9 finalist looking for his first trip to Albany

Dylan Booth, Port Jervis – Will his 10-day stint at the J. Robinson camp put him over the top?

Team Vinny V

In the hearts and minds of the entire Section 9 wrestling community, the most anticipated moment of the upcoming season will be when Monroe Woodbury sophomore Vinny Vespa steps on the mat for the first time.  Vespa, a New York state qualifier last season, was diagnosed with Stage 4 Hodgkins Lymphoma this past spring and has been undergoing treatments for several months. Those who know Vinny can attest to the following statement — it’s a matter of “when”, not “if” he returns to the mat in a Monroe Woodbury singlet.

Team Race

Although they graduated five state qualifiers, two-time defending tournament champions Warwick Valley cannot be discounted. However, on paper, Monroe Woodbury and Minisink Valley seem to be the favorites going into the 2012-2013 season.

All three teams finished last season ranked in the top 20 in New York State.  Monroe Woodbury, the 18th ranked team a year ago, returns nearly its entire lineup.  Expect the Crusaders to be led by AJ Voelker, Vinny Vespa, PJ Smoot, Rob Kelly, JP Vandercliff and Drake Barczak.

Minisink Valley also returns the majority of last year’s team which finished the season as the 20th ranked team in the state.  The Warriors are expecting big things from qualifiers Gerard Daly and Michael Raccioppi as well as returning starters Chris Truglio, Nick Truglio, Nick Wentland and Josh Bonneau.

Although hit hard by graduation, last year’s 19th ranked team, Warwick Valley, is expecting another solid year.  The Wildcats will be led by returning state qualifier Connor Leavell as well as Joe Ginley, Thomas Wightman and Andy Sliter.

Several other teams have the potential to be in the hunt for the team title in Section 9.  Cornwall, led by New York State Wrestling Hall of Fame coach Don Blaine, is always tough.  This year’s squad will be no different and has several wrestlers who can make a splash at the sectional tournament including Brett Johnson, Sean Sweeney, Luke Zsido and Quinn Zsido.  NFA is always a solid team, however this year’s squad will have to contend with the loss of Hall of Fame coach Jeff Cuilty, who stepped down from his position in August. Port Jervis, Middletown, Valley Central and Washingtonville are ever-improving and may surprise some teams.


Division II

Returning State Placewinner:

Sixth Place: Andy Martinez, Liberty, 182 Pounds


Additional Returning State Qualifiers (from 2012)

99 Pounds: Dean Stanton, Tuxedo

106 Pounds: Austin Ingraham, Highland

113 Pounds: Declan Dwyer-McNulty, Red Hook

120 Pounds: Eric Januszkiewicz, New Paltz

160 Pounds: Austin Weigel, Onteora

170 Pounds: Mike Rauch, Red Hook

195 Pounds: Dustin Mackenzie, Onteora

285 Pounds: Anthony Tufano, New Paltz

Wrestlers to Watch . . .

Andy Martinez (12) Liberty – Martinez is determined to prove that last season’s sixth place finish in Albany was no fluke.  The gritty and talented senior went 2-3 at the Times Union Center including a 7-5 victory over eventual fourth place finisher Tyler Morris of Section 2’s Salem.

Austin Weigel (12) Onteora – The senior was 2-2 at the state tournament last year.  His hard fought 3-1 loss to eventual third place finisher Hayden Wagner of South Seneca prevented Weigel from making it to the medal stand.  A busy offseason schedule including frequent trips up the Thruway to Journeymen Wrestling Club have continued his progress.  At the Super 32 qualifier in Shippensburg, Pennsylvania, Weigel took second at 170 pounds, outscoring his opponents 14-3 to make the finals where he dropped a two-point decision to nationally ranked Garrett Peppelman.  He followed that up by winning his bracket at the Journeymen Classic. The podium is looking like a solid possibility this year.

Austin Ingraham (11) Highland – Prior to the beginning of last season, Ingraham made a commitment to improve his skills and become a competitive wrestler at the state level.  His work paid off.  The Highland junior had a great regular season and was one victory away from placing in Albany.  This year, he has his sights set on the podium.

Eric Januszkiewicz (12) New Paltz – Januskiewicz almost pulled off a huge upset in the first round of last year’s state tournament when he narrowly lost 4-3 to finalist Jeff O’Lena of East Rochester.  The New Paltz senior plans to take home his fourth Section 9 title this year and then cap off his high school career with a trip to the medal stand.

Also Keep an Eye On . . . Jesse Corcoran (12) Eldred – Placed at Eastern States, season ended early due to injury

Team Race

Expect a three-way race in Section 9 D2 between Onteora, Red Hook and Rondout Valley.  Onteora and Red Hook both return two state qualifiers from last year’s squads and neither team was decimated by graduation.  Rondout Valley graduated three Section 9 champs, however coach Dave Hodes always seems to have a competitive team take the mat.  New Paltz returns two state qualifiers and may sneak up on some teams.


More Season Previews:

Section 1 Preview

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

Section 3 Preview


"Riot" Recap: NY Wrestlers Excel, Superior Takes Second and Vinny Vespa Recognized at Northeast Youth Duals

The rain came down in buckets on the roof of the open-air venue in Hoosick Falls on Saturday.  But it didn’t stop the intensity of the wrestling for a second nor did it take away from the experience at the Third Annual Northeast Youth Duals, otherwise known as, “The Riot at the Rink.”

“It was like the end of the year bash,” said Superior Wrestling Academy coach Ed Schafer. “You couldn’t pick a better place and it had everything you need for a great tournament.”

According to event director Michael LaPorte, everyone remained dry and the 12-team dual meet competition featuring wrestlers from more than 10 states continued without interruption, with NJ Elite emerging as the championship squad.

The Garden State-based team swept its contests in convincing fashion.

“NJ Elite went undefeated and no one really even came close to them,” LaPorte said. “They were well coached, very deep and had no holes.  It was obvious that every one of those wrestlers has been on the mat for a long time. They were really tough.”

Also very tough was Superior Wrestling Academy, which finished in the runner up spot with a lineup full of wrestlers from the Empire State.

The top two teams met in the opening round on Saturday and it wasn’t quite the start Schafer and his team desired.

“We lost our first dual to NJ Elite right off the jump,” Schafer said.  “If you looked at the score, you’d think we got shellacked. But there were some overtime matches and a bunch of one-point matches that didn’t go our way.  A lot of kids that age could have bagged it mentally and said ‘we’re done.’  But they held their composure and responded.”

Indeed, the Superior wrestlers did.  That first loss was the only setback of the weekend, as they came back to take the silver medal.

“We felt we could make a run at the title coming into the event with the team we had,” Schafer said.  “The level of the competition was over and above what we expected.  But the way the kids competed after the first dual and took true second, that was the best part of the weekend for me.” (See team roster below).

Leading the charge for Superior was a trio of unbeaten wrestlers – Freddy Eckles, Bryce Bailey and Dakota Gardner.  Gardner took sixth place at 120 pounds at the New York state championships this year as an eighth grader.

“When that whistle blows, Gardner is like a little hand grenade out there,” LaPorte said.  “He’s an exceptional athlete.  He was one of many tremendous wrestlers on the mats this weekend.  I felt that the level of wrestling this year was unbelievable — some of the best youth wrestling I’ve ever seen.  The referees were telling me that they were in awe of the abilities of some of these kids.  Sometimes when I watched, I lost track of the fact that they are just young kids.” (The tournament was limited to wrestlers 14 and under).

Photo by Dave Gilchrest

The coaches mentioned a plethora of grapplers who impressed, including Joe Manno of Apex and Peter Del Gallo of Mercury Rising, who according to LaPorte, didn’t yield any points during the weekend.

In fact, when the coaches were asked to vote for the Most Outstanding Wrestler, there were many nominees.  But the trophy went to Brian Courtney of the New York-based G2 World Wrestling Academy for his outstanding efforts.

“Brian Courtney is a great young man in addition to being a great wrestler,” LaPorte said.

Photo by Dave Gilchrest

Courtney and his G2 teammates (see roster below) had a successful weekend, taking fourth place overall in the team race and according to coach Adam Burgos, they’ll be back for another run in 2013.

Superior and G2 were joined by a third Empire State squad in the championship pool.  Team New York, headed by LaPorte, took sixth.

“I couldn’t have been happier with the way our team wrestled,” LaPorte said. “We had at least four kids on our team that had just one loss.  That was tough to do here where there were so many champions and placers from state and national events.”

While the wrestling was the centerpiece of the weekend, the highlight for LaPorte came away from the action, during the awards ceremony.

Many New York wrestling fans are supporting Monroe Woodbury’s Vinny Vespa in his battle with cancer.  (For more on Vinny Vespa, see here). Vespa, a state qualifier in 2012, participated in Riot at the Rink for the Olympic Wrestling Club a year ago and returned this weekend to watch his team and his younger brother Marco.

However, Vespa became more than a spectator after the competition was over.  He was called to the mat to receive donations collected throughout the weekend as well as a card and “Riot at the Rink” banner signed by all of the athletes, coaches and fans.  And then, Vinny Vespa was asked to hand out an award, named after him, to a wrestler determined by the Olympic Club.  That recipient was Marco Vespa.

“I felt horrible that I couldn’t make it to the Victory 4 Vinny Takedown Tournament a few weeks ago,” LaPorte said. “We were glad to do a small fundraiser and have everyone sign a card and banner for Vinny.  It was extremely surprising and gratifying that Vinny came to the event.  When he came out on to the middle of the mat, it was a little bit of a tearjearking moment.  I felt like we did a little bit to make a difference and that was the highlight of the weekend for me.”

It wasn’t the only highlight.  While the planned swimming, golf and live band on Saturday evening couldn’t take place due to the inclement weather, LaPorte found different ways to put smiles on people’s faces that night.

“On Sunday, we were able to get in the pool and there was a barbecue,” LaPorte said. “But on Saturday night when the rain was there, I brought a limousine as sort of a team bus, just for fun. We took some of the kids for a ride in the limo, which they got a big kick out of.  I kept telling them, ‘this is how we roll in New York’.  We definitely got some laughs.”

Photo by Dave Gilchrest

So it was a weekend with a high-end car and high-end wrestling. And both LaPorte and Schafer believed it was a good barometer of where New York wrestling is heading.

“To have that amount of talent show up in the middle of the summer to the middle of nowhere, that says something about the strength of our sport,” LaPorte said.  “It’s a good healthy sign that things are going in the right direction, as is the support we’re getting from the clubs, the schools, the community. I believe it shows that New York wrestling is going the right way. Now it’s time to see what we can do for 2013.  I can’t wait to see what next year brings.”


Check out more photos from the event at:

Team Results

Champion: NJ Elite

2nd Place: Superior

3rd Place: Olympic Gold

4th Place: G2 World Wrestling Academy

5th Place: Mass Maniacs

6th Place: Team NY

7th Place: Apex

8th Place: Marcaurelle

9th Place: Virginia Slaughter House Black

10th Place: Mercury Rising

11th Place: Olympic Black

12th Place: Virginia Slaughter House Blue


Superior Wrestling – 2nd Place Team:

Johnny Aceri

Bryce Bailey

Emerson Block

Jon DeRidder

Freddy Eckles

Ethan Ferro

Dakota Gardner

Myles Griffin

Nathaniel Grubham

Kyle Mock

Stevo Poulin

Theo Powers

JP Puca

Drew Schafer

Jace Schafer

Carter Schubert

Joey Sliowski

Mike Venosa

G2 World Wrestling Academy – 4th Place Team:

48 Pounds: Michael Santore

53 Pounds: Carson Alberti

58 Pounds: Andy Lucinski

63 Pounds: Greg Diakomihalis

68 Pounds: Ryan Burgos

73 Pounds: Max Kropman

78 Pounds: Cooper Kropman

85 Pounds: Brian Courtney

93 Pounds: Derek St. James

99 Pounds: Parker Kropman

105 Pounds: Yianni Diakomihalis

112 Pounds: Louie DePrez

119 Pounds: Charlie Kane

126 Pounds: Keith Penny

134 Pounds: Logan Smith

Check Out Videos, Interviews and Photos from the Victory 4 Vinny Vespa Event, Including the "Flying Squirrel"

Close to 400 wrestlers took the mat on Saturday at Monroe Woodbury High School for the Victory 4 Vinny Takedown Tournament to benefit Crusader freshman Vinny Vespa in his battle with cancer.

One of the many highlights was a match that Vinny was able to watch between his brother Michael Vespa and his high school teammate AJ Voelker in which Michael Vespa utilized the “Flying Squirrel”, made famous by U.S. Olympian Ellis Coleman.

Below, check out videos and photos from the event and video interviews with Vinny Vespa, Michael Vespa, Hofstra starter Jamie Franco and 2012 New York State placer Johnny Stramiello.

And, check out Vespa’s version of the Flying Squirrel here:


Interview with Vinny Vespa: “Still Lifting, Still Working Out”


For photos of the event, see:


Full match: Michael Vespa vs. AJ Voelker


Exhibition: Jamie Franco vs. Johnny Stramiello


Interview with Michael Vespa: “The Turnout is Awesome”


Interview with Hofstra’s Jamie Franco: “Everybody Keep Helping Vinny”


Jamie Franco vs. Kevin Mannix:


Interview with 3x Section 9 Champ and NY State Placer Johnny Stramiello: “Anything for Vinny”


Adam Swift vs. Warwick coach Phil Szumlaski


Wrestling 4 Vinny's Victory: More Than 350 To Participate in Takedown Tournament To Benefit Vinny Vespa

Vinny Vespa Poster;

Last weekend, Vinny Vespa attended the Adam Frey Classic in Pennsylvania where in addition to receiving the Courageous Wrestler Award, he saw some of the nation’s best wrestling talent compete to benefit the Adam Frey Foundation.

On Saturday June 30, he will once again get an opportunity to watch great wrestling, but this time, it will be to support him in his battle with Lymphoma at the Victory 4 Vinny Takedown Tournament at Monroe Woodbury High School, beginning at 8 a.m.

“The thing I’m most excited about is for Vinny to see how many supporters he has,” said Michael Vespa, Vinny’s older brother. “It will be awesome when he walks in and sees how many people came out to benefit him and how many people are on the mats wrestling just for him.”

Indeed, the mats will be busy, as close to 400 wrestlers signed up, according to one of the event’s organizers, Bob Voelker.

“The response has been overwhelming,” Voelker said. “Registration really exploded over the last week – it’s fantastic.”

The registration includes a wide range of competitors.  There are accomplished grapplers like Hofstra’s Jamie Franco, former junior college All-American Nick Rausenberger and at least five 2012 New York State placers.  And on the other end of the spectrum, there are a number of people like Voelker’s son Troy, a former high school football player who doesn’t have experience on the mat.

“Troy hasn’t wrestled before but he wants to help; wants to do something to be a part of the event,” Bob Voelker said.  “There are a bunch of people like that.  They just want to show support to Vinny.”

The variability in registrants goes beyond experience in the sport.  There are youth wrestlers participating as well as seven entrants over the age of 55.  In addition, at least five states will be represented, with one Monroe Woodbury alum flying up from Florida to take part.

While Vinny Vespa won’t wrestle, his brothers Michael and Marco (a NHSCA Middle School National Champion) will.  For Michael, who took some time off after high school, it’s an ideal opportunity to return to competition.

“Honestly, it’s amazing,” Michael Vespa said. “It will be my first time back on the mat in years and it’s for my brother at my high school, wearing a singlet that says my brother’s name on it.  It’s inspiring.”

But the event will offer much more than just wrestling action. There will be family fun activities such as a dunking booth, bounce castles and face painting as well as a barbecue and a number of raffles. In addition, other entities, such as Cookies for Cancer, will be selling goods to benefit the Vespa family.

“The unbelievable amount of support has overwhelmed me,” Voelker said. “It has restored my faith in people.  It amazes me how many people have come forward. The support and love of the wrestling community has been truly remarkable.”

Michael Vespa believes that support and love will be on full display on Saturday.

“I think there will be something for everyone,” he said. “I hope people will come out to see my brother and enjoy a day of fun with some great wrestling.  I know that it will mean a lot to Vinny in his battle.”

For more information, please see the event flyer:


Reminder: Victory 4 Vinny Challenge at Gaglione Strength This Weekend To Benefit Vinny Vespa

This Sunday the Victory 4 Vinny Wrestling Strength Challenge will take place at Gaglione Strength in Farmingdale.  The proceeds will go to Monroe Woodbury’s Vinny Vespa as he battles Stage 4 cancer.

“I am not sure what people know about cancer, but there is no Stage 5,” John Gaglione said when discussing the origin of the event. “Vinny Vespa needs your help.  The battle with cancer is going to be his toughest battle yet and he needs our support.”

To show your support (and your strength), see all the essential details below:

When: Sunday June 24th at 9 a.m. (Check in).  The event starts at 9:15 sharp and will be finished before 11:45 a.m.
Where: Gaglione Strength, 32 Allen Boulevard, Farmingdale, NY, 11735. Additional Parking available on Baiting Place Road
What: Three Strength Challenges (see more information below) to support Vinny Vespa

$20 Registration Fee; Additional donations will be accepted and ALL proceeds will go to aid Vinny’s fight

T-Shirts to All Competitors
Prizes for Contest Winners
Limited to the first 40 who sign up

What are the strength challenges?  Learn more about them here:

Monkey Bar & Pull Up Challenge Max Distance

Must perform a pull up at every rung. At the turn you must perform a pull up before and after the turning point. Max distance wins. In the event of a tie, the heavier body weight will win.
-Chin must clear the bar at every rung
-Excessive kipping, heaving or swing of the legs is not allowed
-Chalk is allowed; no other grip aids will be permitted

Weighted (4 Chains) Push Ups for Max Reps in a Minute

The athlete will perform weighted push ups with an external resistance of 80 pounds (4 chains). Full depth and lockout will be required. Highest number of reps wins. In the event of a tie, the heavier body weight will win.
– All reps must be full locked out
-All reps will be performed with a full range of motion
-Dumbbells will utilized for push up handles. No other aids will be allowed

48kg Kettlebell Goblet Box Squat Max Reps in a Minute

The athlete will cheat clean (use two hands) a 48kg (106 pounds) kettlebell into the goblet position and perform box squats to a 14 inch box. The maximum number of repetitions will win the event. In the event of a tie, the lower body weight will win.
-Lifter must fully establish control and lockout their hips and knees after every rep
-Lifter must sit onto the box every rep and not crash onto the box
-No lifting belts or aids are allowed for this event

To sign up, go to the link below:

"All the Motivation and Inspiration in the World": Vinny Vespa Update and Upcoming Events and Fundraisers

Vinny Vespa Poster by Phototrens

Vinny Vespa wasn’t at the Beat the Streets event in New York City last Thursday, but he was on the minds of those in attendance.

“When people found out I was Vinny’s brother, they approached me and asked about him,” said Michael Vespa, Vinny’s older sibling, mentioning conversations with some well known names in wrestling including Kyle Dake, Dan Gable, Jake Herbert and Logan Steiber.

“So many of them are people my brother would have loved to meet and they were asking about him.  I couldn’t believe that five minutes before going on the mat to try to make the Olympic team, Coleman Scott took the time to talk. The support from the wrestling community is amazing.”

“Amazing” is a word Michael Vespa also used to describe Vinny’s handling of his treatments for Stage 4 cancer.  While the Times Square wrestling action began, Vinny Vespa was busy finishing up his third session of chemotherapy in the hospital.

“By this time, people usually get really sick with nausea and fatigue,” Michael Vespa said. “But the chemo hasn’t gotten to Vinny as much as we thought. He’s making it easy on everybody else because I don’t think he has complained once or said anything negative about the therapy. He’s doing some lifting and hanging out.”

Of course, he would like to be wrestling.  Michael Vespa said his brother was hoping to step on the mat on June 30 at Monroe Woodbury High School for the Victory 4 Vinny Takedown Tournament.  While that won’t be possible, Vinny will be in attendance.

“We’re trying to get as many people as possible to be there,” Michael Vespa said.  “Vinny won’t be able to go out too much this summer, but that will be one day he’ll be out, interacting with people.  We’d love to see a lot of wrestlers participate in the tournament and we’d love to have other people come to support the cause and enjoy the day.”

The event will feature several family fun activities, including face painting and bounce houses for children.  And of course, some wrestling.

“I see it as a stress-free tournament and opportunity to get on the mat,” Michael Vespa said. “It’s a round robin with several divisions for all kinds of wrestlers.  I’ll be competing in the Open division.”

For Michael Vespa it will serve as a warmup for the fall when he returns in full force to the sport he and his family love, possibly at Nassau.   Recent events have moved him to get back on the mat and in the classroom.

“I’m looking to go back to school next year and wrestle,” he said. “I wasn’t satisfied with how I ended my career at Johnson and Wales and I have three and a half years of eligibility left.  I feel really inspired. The same day Vinny got diagnosed, a kid I’d been training took a bad fall in a match and was put in a neck brace for 12 weeks. Same day, same hospital.  If he and Vinny can’t wrestle, I’ll do it for them.  I miss it and I want to get my education.  I have all the motivation and inspiration in the world right now.”

Adding to that inspiration was a plaque that Vinny recently received, a familiar one for the Vespa family.  At the Monroe Woodbury Awards Dinner, Vinny Vespa was named the school’s Male Freshman Athlete of the Year, an honor Michael received a few years ago.

“It was a great honor, we were all really excited,” Michael Vespa said.  “Vinny had a great year and deserved it.  Things like that help in a tough time.  Our family is trying to make the best of the situation.  We’re grateful for all the people who have stepped up and helped.  That includes a lot of help from the wrestling community.  We believe he’ll get through this.”


There are several ways to help the Vespa Family.  In addition to the June 30 Takedown Tournament, Gaglione Strength is holding a Strength Competition on June 24 in Farmingdale.  Please see below for more details and ways to offer assistance:

Victory 4 Vinny Wrestling Strength Challenge at Gaglione Strength June 24, 9 am 

When: Sunday June 24th Check in at 9am;  Event Starts at 9:15 and will will be finished before 11:45am

Where: Gaglione Strength 32 Allen Boulevard, Farmingdale, NY, 11735 Additional Parking available on Baiting Place road

What: Three Strength Challenges to Support Vinny Vespa

$20 Registration Fee (additional donations will be accepted)

All proceeds will go to aid in Vinny’s fight against cancer

T-Shirts to All Competitors; Prizes for Contest Winners

Limited to the first 40 who sign up

Registration Deadline June 20th

To register or for more details on this event, please go to:

Or watch this video:


Victory 4 Vinny Takedown Tournament at Monroe Woodbury High School June 30, 8 am – 6 pm 

The tournament will have elementary, middle school, high school and open divisions and potentially even a masters division.  All proceeds will go directly to the Vespa Family to help Vinny in his battle.  The registration cost will be $20 (USA Wrestling cards not required).  In addition to the wrestling, there will be a Family Fun Day with face painting, cotton candy, bounce castles, etc.

For more information, check out the event flyer:


If you can’t attend the events, consider helping the cause by purchasing Vinny V Items:

Team Vinny V T-Shirts, developed by Forever Fierce, can be purchased by contacting

Team Vinny V singlets, are available for $80 ($30 goes to the Vespa Family) by contacting Mike Skokos at (845) 416-2337

Cancer's Nightmare: Team VinnyV Ready to Battle

By Betsy Veysman

“There’s a theme with Vinny,” Michael Vespa said on Monday night about his 14-year old brother. “He finds a way to win.  That’s the bottom line, no matter how bad it looks, he finds a way to win.”

That’s been true many times over the years.  The freshman from Monroe-Woodbury High is a four-time youth New York state champion who also took third in the country at the NHSCA Middle School Nationals.

As a ninth grader wrestling varsity for the third straight time in 2011-12, Vespa went 31-8, was a Sectional runner up and qualified for the state tournament at 99 pounds while routinely weighing in around 94.  Despite his hard work, however, the grappler often found himself struggling later in bouts with shortness of breath.

Less than two weeks ago, Vinny Vespa achieved a long-time goal when he took first place at the New York State Cadet Freestyle Championships in Binghamton to earn his spot on the Empire State squad going to the national championships in Fargo, North Dakota in July.  He looked forward to the most prestigious event on the summer wrestling calendar, where the competition would be a notch higher than what he has seen before.

However, Vespa will have a far more challenging opponent to face before he steps on the mat again.

“I thought I was going to Fargo to represent New York at nationals,” he said.  “I was really excited.  But I was still having trouble with breathing so I went to the doctor after I won.  That’s when they found the tumor.”

The tumor is believed to be Stage 4 Hodgkins Lymphoma.

“The tumor in Vinny’s lungs compromised his breathing more than 50%, according to the doctors,” his mother said.  “We found it because of wrestling. He was having trouble after the first period.  The doctor explained that once his respiration got up, he was basically working off one lung.  We thought it was a few different things during the season — a new mouthpiece, asthma, bronchitis.  Thank God we found it.”

After digesting the news, Vinny quickly moved into fighting mode.

“When he was diagnosed, he was crushed,” Michael Vespa said.  “But he’s come back with such a vengeance, just like I knew he would.  He’s the type of person that has always been really mature and dedicated. If he wants something, nothing will stop him.  He’s really strong.”

Many would agree with that.  His varsity coach Steve Fischbein says he’s the strongest pound for pound wrestler that he’s ever seen.  At 94 pounds, he squats and deadlifts more than 225 pounds.  The student with the 90 average in school also religiously follows the plans set out for him by trainer John Rahn.  In fact, Michael Vespa said that even in his hospital bed, Vinny is making sure to follow his meal plans and drink his protein shakes.

He’s also finding other ways to make the hospital time tolerable.

“I’m keeping myself busy,” he said.  “[On Monday] 15 people came and we had a little mini party.  We went down to the lobby and had pizza and just hung out.  I played mini golf at a course right outside the hospital with my mom.”

Vinny mentioned that his family has been great, but wanted to specifically mention his mother.

“She hasn’t left my bedside for the past seven days,” he said.  “She’s my number one supporter.”

His extended wrestling family has been there too.  That doesn’t include just his friends and teammates.  It also includes grapplers from all over the country.  Vinny started the @teamvinnyv twitter account on Sunday night and in one day had over 1220 followers.

“I knew I had a lot of support, but it’s been crazy,” he said. “It’s been amazing what the wrestling community has done.  [NCAA champion] Bubba Jenkins retweeted something about me.  [Former Olympian] Jeff Blatnick called me. It’s amazing how supportive people have been.”

He also singled out a phone call he received from one of his favorite wrestlers from the school he hopes to attend one day, Cornell University.

“[Three-time NCAA champion] Kyle Dake was out of the country at the World Cup,” Michael Vespa said. “But his first tweet when he got back to the United States had my brother in it.  And then he called my brother in the hospital.  It meant so much.”

The support will keep coming.

This Wednesday, local New York All-Star wrestlers will come together at Delaware Valley High School in Matamoras, Pennsylvania to face squads from the Keystone State and New Jersey.  Vinny Vespa was scheduled to compete, but now $2 for each attendee will go to his family.

In addition, a takedown tournament titled “Victory 4 Vinny ” will be held at Monroe-Woodbury High School on June 30 from 8 am – 6 pm.   The event will have elementary, middle school, high school and open divisions, with the possibility of a masters division as well.  Registration will be $20 and all proceeds will go directly to the Vespa family.  In conjunction with the tournament, will be a family fun day event with face painting, cotton candy and more.

Forever Fierce has donated over 1000 specially-designed T-shirts that can soon be purchased at  All proceeds will go to helping the Vespas.

Vinny is excited for these fundraising endeavors. He said he expects to be in the hospital for about another week and then will come home to continue his fight.

“Once you’ve wrestled, everything else in life is easy,” he said on Monday night, quoting the legendary Dan Gable.  “That’s pretty much what I’m going by right now.  I definitely think wrestling puts me in a better position. My trainer [Rahn] has helped me out so much this year. He helped me put on 20 pounds of mostly muscle and that will help me with what I’m going through.”

Michael Vespa believes his brother’s strength and will are the keys.

“In the semifinals at Sections he was wrestling a kid who pinned him at the beginning of the season,” Michael Vespa said. “He was down by a point with about 20 seconds left.  I felt okay about it.  Not for a split second did I doubt that he would win. Sure enough, with five seconds left, he got the reversal to win.”

He has a similar sense of confidence now in his younger sibling, whom he calls “Cancer’s Nightmare”.

“I guess the best way I can describe my brother is to say that he has more heart than anyone I’ve ever encountered,” Michael Vespa said.  “So many people told me that if it had to happen to anyone, it might as well happen to him, because there’s no doubt he’ll get through it. I believe that. Not only that, but he’ll get through it and then go out and win a national title.”


For an update on Vinny Vespa prior to the 2012-13 wrestling season, see here.