From Korea to Cornell: Syosset's Choi Earns Prestigious Scholarship to the Ivy League

When Dan Choi arrived in the United States, he didn’t know a word of English and he had never stepped on a wrestling mat.

That was just three years ago, but Choi has come a long way.

In a few months, the Syosset senior will head to Cornell University, where he will wrestle for one of the nation’s top teams and begin preparing for his future career, serving his new country.

“I’m very excited about Cornell,” he said. “There are all the things I want. I love math and science and there’s a very good physics major I will be in.  There is also a very good wrestling program and the ROTC.”

Choi said he was one of five recipients in the Northeast of the Navy ROTC Scholarship, which fully covers tuition.

“At Cornell, I’ll be trained as an officer and I’ll work for four years after graduation,” he said. “I would like to be trained for Navy Seals too.  I know it will be tough, but I’m excited about it.”

While Choi said he doesn’t have any connections to the military, he feels a desire to serve.

“I really want to give back to this country,” he said. “I have gotten a good education here that I couldn’t get back in Korea. Moving here changed my life.”

It sure did.

Other than the language barrier, which he said forced him to “look up almost every word” in his books when he first got to New York, he faced other challenges.  For one, he came all the way across the globe by himself.

“I live with a legal guardian, but not immediate family here,” he said.  “We don’t really know each other that well.  My mom is still working in Korea and we talk a few times a week.  But I haven’t seen her for two years.”

In order to make ends meet, Choi began working at a Subway restaurant, a job he still holds today.  But in addition to his time spent in food service and doing homework, he was seeking another extracurricular activity when he arrived.

“I started training in taekwondo when I was seven in Korea,” he said. “I am a black belt in taekwondo and judo.  During my sophomore year, I was looking for a sport and I heard wrestling was similar to judo.  So I asked if I could join.”

He did, but found that wrestling wasn’t that similar to judo after all.

“It was very difficult and very different,” he said. “My experience helped but I didn’t really know the rules for a while so it was hard.”

Despite that, Choi won more than 15 bouts and advanced to the Nassau County Tournament, where he lost his first match.  That summer, he went back to Korea and did some training there.  He also began to work with Vougar Oroudjov at Vougar’s Honors Wrestling.

“Wrestling in the offseason at Vougar’s really helped,” he said. “There are college wrestlers there and that helped me get much better.”

“Dan’s a good kid,” Oroudjov said. “He works at Subway to pay his bills and works very hard in wrestling and school.  He’s very strong physically and he has improved a lot in the past year.”

Courtesy of Dan Choi

The work paid off as Choi showed significant improvement as a junior, compiling a 42-8 record at 182 pounds with 21 falls.  He had more success in the postseason, earning bronze at the Section 8 Tournament.

“I wasn’t surprised that I was third in the county,” he said. “I actually expected more than that.  I was frustrated and disappointed.”

And he thought his season was over.

But shortly afterward, he found out that it wasn’t.  Although he was not originally granted a wildcard bid to the state tournament, an injury to another wrestler gave him a spot in the bracket.

Choi went 2-2 at the Times Union Center, losing to the fifth and sixth place finishers and coming within one victory of making the podium.  But despite the progress he had made in the sport, he wasn’t pleased.

“I was both nervous and excited to wrestle with the best in New York,” he said. “I felt lucky to be there. I wasn’t happy with how I wrestled. I didn’t wrestle the way I normally do. I was too nervous.”

While nerves played a role in his experience on the mat in the state capital, they didn’t come into play during the college selection process.

Choi applied early decision to Cornell and said he wasn’t really considering other schools.  In order to earn his scholarship, he had to interview with military officers.  He said he was much calmer than he was on the mat in Albany.

That calm has carried over to his senior campaign.  He has been an integral part of a banner year for Syosset, which has included the school’s first conference title in over 20 years. And he has enjoyed individual success as well.

Choi is 34-2 overall and all of his victories have been by bonus points. One of his losses came when he bumped up a weight to face one of Nassau’s top 220 pounders, Matt Mott of Lynbrook.  The other, a fall against Nick Weber of Kings Park in the finals at the Syosset Tournament, has stayed on the top of his mind.

“I took [Weber] down twice and was winning 4-2,” he said. “I was at the edge of the circle, close to out of bounds and kind of relaxed. He threw me and pinned me.  I would like to wrestle him again.”

Courtesy of Dan Choi

He was so disgusted that he left the second place medal he received behind when he exited the gym.

However, it was delivered back to him shortly afterwards.

“The father of one my teammates, Mr. Miller, knows my situation and has always helped me,” he said. “He picked up the award for me and told me I should keep it because it means something.  He told me to remember the feeling I had when I got it.”

Choi said he definitely remembers that feeling.  And it helps him as he pushes toward his goal of being a state champion this year.

Not too long ago, Dan Choi didn’t know the first thing about wrestling.  But to see him on the podium in a few weeks wouldn’t be that surprising.

What a difference three years can make.  The next chapter will begin at Cornell.

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Dan Choi wished to thank the Syosset parents, especially Mr. Miller and Mr. Gewolb, as well as his Subway Manager Stephanie.

Results from the Weekend of Oct 13-14: Lions Club Challenge and VHW at PA Duals

Many of the wrestlers who will star in the CHSAA, PSAL and Long Island this season took the mat for the Lions Club Preseason Challenge over the weekend.  Among the notable winners were All-State wrestler TJ Fabian of Shoreham Wading River/X-Cel at 138 pounds and state qualifier Richard Sisti of Monsignor Farrell in the 220-pound class.  For full finals results from the high school, schoolboy and novice divisions, see below.

High School:

99 Pounds:  Christopher Martorello (VHW) win by forfeit Paco Robles (Park Ridge)

106 Pounds: Jesse Dellavecchia (631 Elite) dec John Busiello (Eastport South Manor), 8-3

113 Pounds: Salvatore Cipolla (East Islip) dec Paul Capobianco (VHW), 2-0

120 Pounds: Santo Curatolo (Tottenville) dec Kyle Quinn (Bigtyme), 5-2

126 Pounds: Mike D’Angelo (Ascend) dec Emmett LiCastri (Iowa Style), 2-0

132 Pounds: Justin Cochran (Apex) dec Donny Donnelly (RaZor), 2-0

138 Pounds: TJ Fabian (X-Cel) fall Oran Revivo (Ascend), 2:50

145 Pounds: CJ Labate (Commack) win by forfeit Anthony Rice (Brearley)

152 Pounds: Richard Luxmore (Ascend) major Jimmy Devine (NY Titans), 9-0

160 Pounds: Konstantin Purfiryev (James Madison) dec Andrew Gray (West Islip), 5-2

170 Pounds: Andrew Voelker (Apex) dec Andrew Psomas (Monsignor Farrell), 4-2

182 Pounds: Christian Araneo (RaZor) fall Devante Orosco (Truman), 1:55

195 Pounds: Roland Zilberman (Brooklyn) dec Tal Granot (Hauppauge), 4-2

220 Pounds: Richard Sisti (Monsignor Farrell) dec Kevin Tynes (Brooklyn Tech), 6-3 (Round Robin)

285 Pounds: Mark Ifraimov (James Madison) fall Joshua Ritchey (Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake)

Schoolboy (Round Robin)

75 Pounds: Tyler Sung (Apex) pin Anthony Sciotto (Rocky Point)

87 Pounds: John DeRidder (VHW) dec Matt McGowan (Jackson), 6-0

95 Pounds: Nick Lombard (Rhino) dec Zach Dobson (Ridge), 6-0

99 Pounds: Nico Mattia (Barn Brawlers) dec Johnny Devine (NY Titans), 5-2

107 Pounds: Garrett Beam (Apex) major Don Albach (Rhino), 8-0

116 Pounds: Stephen Glasglow (Rhino) major Aidan Dunphy (Rhino), 10-1

127 Pounds: Zachary Kornberg (Ascend) major Dave Flynn (Farrell Lions), 9-0

Novice (Round Robin)

67 Pounds: Darren Ketcham (Rocky Point) major Joseph Dulog, 9-0

68 Pounds: Joseph Cangro (Apex) major Drew Doscher (N. Hunterdon), 11-1

76 Pounds: Tyler Sung (Ascend) tech Logan Sciotto (Rocky Point), 22-4

106 Pounds: Carson LiCastri (Iowa Style) win by forfeit Marco Gaita (Long Valley)

127 Pounds: Jacob Cardenas (One) dec Niccolo Colucci (Summit)

VHW Goes 7-2 in Pennsylvania Duals

Vougar Honors Wrestling took a team to Pennsylvania for a pair of duals events – (Bad Karma and Ragin Raisins)*.  The squad recorded an impressive 7-2 record, with the two losses coming to Team Quest, 30-14 and Ragin Raisins, 30-21. The team members were:

102 Pounds: Vitali Arujau (undefeated)

108: John Twomey

115: Ben Lamantia

121: Tim Johnson/Mike Berkowitz

128: Joe Russ

132: Mike Lanasa

140: Sam Ward

147: Brendan Dent/Matt Haenel

155: Mike Dusold

171: John Vrasidas

182: Gio Santiago

194: Dan Choi (undefeated)

220: Roman Accetta (undefeated)

No 162 or 285 pounder.

* information provided by VHW

Check out Videos from the Long Island Summer Heat Tournament, Including Fabian, McDevitt and More

For a recap and results of the 2012 Ken Lesser Memorial Long Island Summer Heat tournament, see the tournament recap.

 

135-Pound Champion TJ Fabian (X-Cel) vs. Jarron Koretz (Oceanside)

 

173-Pound Champion Dan McDevitt Discusses College Options and Weight Classes

 

102-Pound Champion Jesse Dellavecchia (East Islip) vs. Brett Brice (Longwood)

 

109-Pound Champion Christian Briody (Chaminade) vs. Joseph Perino (Leonia)

 

116-Pound Runner Up Evan Corso (X-Cel) vs. Bohang Liu (Beat the Streets)

 

148-Pound Runner Up Matthew Haenel (VHW) vs. Anthony Ottaviano (Hauppauge)

 

123-Pound Third Placer Jack Taddeo (SWR) vs. Timothy Johnson (VHW)

 

135-Pound Third Placer Michael LaNasa (Plainedge) vs. Donald Knowlan (Fairfax)

 

Open Division – Top 2 Placers Colin Gironda (F&M, Comsewogue) vs. Patrick Argast (Belmont Abbey, Fordham Prep)

 

Open Division – Nassau Champ John Lanzillotti (Ohio State, Roslyn) vs. John Steiger (Miller Place)

 

135 Pounds: James Matias (Rocky Point) vs. William Hernandez (Pitch Fork)

 

116 Pounds: Paul Capobianco (VHW) vs. Eduardo Montecer (Glen Cove)

 

116 Pounds: Isac Brizuela (Brentwood) vs. George Albert (Wantagh)

 

129 Pounds: Anthony Arena (Lynbrook) vs. Anthony Castro (Glen Cove)

 

109 Pounds: Donald Cassidy (Commack) vs. Eric Fisher (Longwood)

 

163 Pounds: Erik Adon (East Islip) vs. Mike Urso (Clarke)

 

141 Pounds: Omar Elmeshad (Leonia) vs. Adeel Butt (Beat the Streets)

 

129 Pounds: Hekmat Naeemi (Walt Whitman) vs. Paul Merzbacher (SWR)

 

 

Vougar Oroudjov Reflects on his World Cup Experience with Team USA

A little over a week ago, Vougar Oroudjov returned from Baku, Azerbaijan where he was on the staff of the United States team that finished third at the FILA World Cup.   The two-time World Champion and Olympic bronze medalist talked to New York Wrestling News about his experience with the USA squad.

What was your role with the team?

Zeke Jones called me about two weeks before the tournament and asked if I could come.  I was a Team Leader.  I was born in Azerbaijan and speak the language there so I translated when we needed it, dealt with hotels, referees and things like that.  I was also at practice and the matches.  I did what I could to help the guys. It was great to be a part of it with everyone on the team and the great coaches – Zeke Jones, John Smith, Mark Manning and Brandon Slay.  It was my first time with the US Team and I didn’t feel like an outsider at all.  We all wanted the same thing – to win.  The atmosphere was great.

What did you think about the team’s performance?

The team was very good.  The United States keeps making big improvements in freestyle.  You saw it at the World Championships and again at the World Cup.

We lost to Iran 4-3, but I wouldn’t say they were much better. Maybe a few tactical things made the difference. In the first match, at 55 kg with Nick Simmons, there were a couple of situations where there were calls that could go either way and they went Iran’s way.  Same thing with [Keith] Gavin’s match at 84 kg.   It was a good learning experience.  I think everyone understands that we have some work to do to be the best team in the world, but we’re getting closer.  There is time before the Olympics to focus on our mistakes and fix them.

Who impressed you individually for the United States?

Jordan Burroughs, Coleman Scott and Tervel Dlagnev were all undefeated and wrestled really well.

Burroughs showed why he is the World Champion.  He knew exactly what he needed to do against the competition.  Dlagnev has the experience on this level and it showed.

It was the first time I saw Coleman Scott wrestle and I was amazed. He was really tough and mentally ready. He wasn’t intimidated about wrestling for the national team, he just went out to win. He never stopped moving; was all the time attacking.  I really like his style – he always showed offensive wrestling.  He beat some very good wrestlers.  I thought 60 kg was one of the toughest weights overall at the tournament. If I were the coach, I’d want him on the Olympic team.  Of course, I’m not the coach.

Honestly, there weren’t any guys who didn’t compete well.  Take someone like Jake Varner.  He lost some matches, but he still wrestled pretty well.  He lost to some World finalists.  I still think he’s good enough to do very well in London. The  Olympics are different than the World Cup. I have several friends who never won anything until they put it together and won the Olympics.

What do you think of the freestyle wrestling you saw at the tournament?

The rules just keep changing.  I know I learned a lot because things are different than when I wrestled freestyle.  To me, it’s getting so much more tactical.  In folkstyle, it’s all about intensity; guys going all out the whole match.  In freestyle now, it isn’t like that.  A lot of it is getting one pushout or taking one shot or grabbing the right ball out of a bag.  I don’t like that.  Just go to overtime and see who scores to get the real winner. There also seems to be a lot more questionable calls.  But we all know the rules.  There are no excuses.  We need to train for those rules and those types of matches.

You had a New York wrestler on the team in Cornell’s Kyle Dake.  He didn’t compete in the dual competition, but how did he look in training?

Kyle was there to be the training partner for Jordan Burroughs and to possibly give Burroughs a rest if we could during the tournament.  That didn’t wind up happening.

But even though he wasn’t in the tournament, I saw Kyle wrestle a lot. Each practice, I was in his corner, watching him.  He’s really good and getting better and better in freestyle. The best thing is that he listens.  You say something to him and he appreciates it and makes the changes.  He was impressive. People would be surprised how good he looked and how he looks against Burroughs.

We also had matches before the tournament where he was wrestling the guys from places like Azerbaijan and Russia.  He did very well against them.  I definitely think Kyle will make the next Olympics.  He’s really progressing in freestyle.  He will be a big surprise for everybody in the next Olympic cycle.

What’s next for you?

I will be working with the kids in my club [Vougars Honors Wrestling in Syosset] on freestyle to prepare for Fargo.

Then, we’ll see.  The USA coaches invited me to come with the team to the Olympics.  It was really hard for me to leave my family for the two weeks for the World Cup, so it would be hard to go for a longer time to London.  I missed home.  I missed my wrestlers and my club.  My son Vitali won the NY Freestyle States while I was away.    That’s one of the reasons the decision to go to Baku was so hard – I knew I would have to miss that and the other New York States for Cadets and Juniors.  I’m probably 50/50 right now on going to London.  I am honored that I was asked and it would be an honor to be there and help and give back to America.

Either way, I wish everyone luck.  I’m hoping for some Olympic championships.  We definitely have several guys who have shown that they are good enough to do it.