Bill Swertfager and the Section 1 coaches set four numerical goals when they brought the kids together for practice last week.
1) Two state champions: Check. First Brian Realbuto won the 103-pound title and James Brundage the 160-pound title in Division I. Realbuto’s was the first finals match for Section 1 and got the proceedings off to a roaring start. He had to earn every bit of this victory over Huntington’s Damon McQueen, who beat him 10-8 last year in the state semis. This time it was 9-8 in his favor. The winning takedown came in the last minute of a back-and-forth match. He said he couldn’t remember any of what happened, that as soon as the buzzer sounded the previous 10 minutes became a blur.
People have been expecting great things from him for a year and a half now, ever since he started winning at a torrid pace as an 8th grader. Then he went and placed fourth in the state. As a freshman he passed the 100-win mark in going 53-1. It became clear he would become the section’s winningest all-time wrestler sooner than later. All that was left was his first state title. He wanted five. He’ll settle for four. Can he manage three more?
Brundage, as you can read in my newspaper article, was too good for his own good. He was too athletic, too quick, too strong. He was a wrestler in an elite running back’s body. At some point about halfway through the season he realized that nobody could stand up to him at 160 pounds. So he made what could be considered a ridiculous vow—he would tech or pin everybody through divisionals, sectionals, and states. He called it higher goals. Really it was the mindset of a bored multi-time champion. Only Brundage had never won a championship. Third last year—that was it. He just had so much faith in himself.
And it came within an inch of happening. He teched and pinned through divisionals (“He teched a few guys to get some extra work in,” coach Larry McRae said. “But he could pin whenever he wanted to.”), pinned through sectionals, including one in 17 seconds in the final, and pinned his way into the state title match. Against T.J. Neidhart he nearly got three separate pins, but came out with a mere 17-10 decision. And I’m telling you, when I interviewed him in the tunnel, he looked genuinely stoic. Not bummed out, but not happy either. He insisted he felt good, but I’m not so sure. Give the guy credit, he was really committed to that promise.
2) Eighteen wrestlers make the second day. Check. To make Day 2, a guy couldn’t lose two matches. While Division II dropped its early-round matches like flies, Division I kept winning. And DII people like Derrick Longo and Penn Gottfried who lost early battled their way back into the second day.
Section 1 sent 19 in total to the second day. That was half the 38 it put in the state tournament. Aside from those who ended up placing, Joey Hauser, Chris Orlando, and Ryan Osleeb also made the second day.
I was afraid that 2/3 or more of the section would be wiped out after that first day, leaving fewer stories to follow the next day. I bet plenty of fans were also afraid of long gaps between local wrestlers.
The one thing that ended up happening was that all the big guys were wiped out immediately. No one over 152 pounds made Day 2 from Division II. No one over 171 made it in Division I. Was part of that the result of Jon Didio and Alex Othmer getting upset in sectionals?
3) Fifteen wrestlers place in the state. Check. Sixteen placed from Section 1, a new record. Placing requires a top-6 finish.
First place: Brundage, Realbuto
Second place: Steve Rodrigues, Justis Flamio, Joey Grippi, Genta Murayama
Third place: Steve Ramos, Gottfried
Fourth place: Ryan Tompkins
Fifth place: Sam Spano, Luke Speno, Clay Neivert, Dan Manley, Will Carter
Sixth place: Udit Thakur, Derrick Longo
4) One hundred eight five total points. Check. Section 1 blew this goal out of the water, scoring 259. Keep in mind this is combined points between small and large schools. Division I did most of the heavy lifting. It had 186.5, good for third, but only 4.5 points behind second-place Section II. Section 11 handily won the tourney.
Section 1 should be proud of itself. Overall their wrestlers were more competitive than anyone expected, and a lot more than last year, which was actually moderately successful. They picked up almost 100 points on the 2008 total.
So that’s four goals set, and four accomplished. Is it the start of a significant rise for the Section or just an abberation? We won’t know until next year. Either way I’m glad I could be around for it.
One more note: Fox Lane’s 63 points placed it third among all schools, and just a point behind Port Jervis. Swertfager said it was the best he could remember since Mount Vernon was second in 1976. Wantagh finished on top.
OK two more notes. Shenendehowa’s Austin Meys won MOW for the big schools, and rightfully so. He pinned his way through in the following times: 0:25, 0:20, 0:52, 1:59. Imagine that. Like reader s1wss said, the kid didn’t see a coin flip the entire tournament. And you thought Brundage was dominant.