With the seedings for states announced, there’s no better time to begin speculating as to how things might turn out for the 43 Section 1 wrestlers heading up to Albany this weekend.
The consensus among most local coaches is that the best regular season gauge of how a wrestler might fare at this time of year comes at the Eastern States tournament. If that’s the case, that would bode well for Dylan and Brian Realbuto, Nick Oliveto and Steven Rodrigues, who each came away with titles. The only problem with that is that, in some cases, the wrestlers who have qualified for states were not present at the Eastern States.
According to the the seedings, we should pencil Rodrigues and (Brian) Realbuto in as the favorites in their respective weight classes. Real shocker there. I’m going to have an article coming out later in the week detailing the unique bond that those two old friends share, and their intense focus on winning state titles. For that reason, I won’t delve into much detail here, but I will say that I like both of them to become state champs on Saturday.
As for the rest of the Section 1 participants, it’s really going to be difficult to predict. There are quite a few names who come to mind that with a mistake-free weekend could become champs, but the road certainly won’t be an easy one.
Dylan Realbuto at 96 has the Eastern States title under his belt, and we know he has the pedigree of a champion. The only issue with that Eastern States title is that none of the six wrestlers who are seeded ahead of Realbuto for states were present. Does that mean that they are necessarily better than Realbuto? Absolutely not. To me, it’s more of an indication that this field is more wide open than most. A lack of familiarity with ones opponents usually makes for an unpredictable match. Let’s not forget about North Rockland’s Blaise Benderoth, either. He’s seeded 15th, but only lost to Realbuto by one point in the sectional finals. He placed third at the Eastern States, and it’s very difficult for me to imagine that there are seven wrestlers who are considered worse than Realbuto, but better than Benderoth (there are seven wrestlers who are seeded in between them). If Benderoth pulls an upset in the first round against No. 2 Anthony Orefice from Lockport, he would be in line for a quarterfinals match with Realbuto.
As for the final Section 1 Eastern States champ Oliveto, he comes in seeded second and is in very good position for a deep run at 119. Huntington’s Nigel McNeil is the top seed, and he too was not present for Oliveto’s Eastern States title, but he did beat Oliveto once earlier in the year. What leads me to believe that Oliveto is a legitimate threat is that Fox Lane’s Danny Ventura is seeded third. That says a lot about the level of competition in that weight class within the section. Both Oliveto and Ventura are more than capable of reaching the semis, and I really feel that Oliveto is peaking at the right time. He frustrated Ventura in a way that no one else has at sectionals, and he may be Section 1’s best shot at state after the Big Two if he can overcome his loss to McNeil.
Another weight class where Section 1 finds two of its own in the top three is 103. Arlington’s Jimmy Duckham is seeded second, with Brewster’s Mike Parise seeded third. Long Beach’s Mark Raghunandan is penciled in as the favorite, but he only defeated Edgemont’s Trey Aslanian by one point at Eastern States to reach the finals. Parise then beat Aslanian by three and eventually came away with third place. Aslanian placed fifth, while Duckham didn’t place. Parise had his finals match against Duckham won at sectionals, but some confusion after a hand clasping call might have cost him a second consecutive shot at a section title. I see Parise as the better bet for a state title, particularly because of his past experience, and that’s why I’m predicting a Raghunandan-Parise final.
Rounding out what looks to be a very impressive set of light weights from Section 1, Fox Lane’s Sam Speno comes in as the third seed at 112. The second seed, Longwood’s Corey Rasheed, beat Speno 7-4 in the semis at Eastern States. The fourth seed, Johnson City’s Sean McCormick, beat Speno 2-0 in the third place final. Those results don’t bode well for Speno’s chances at a state title, but he’s a good bet to place in the top five. Suffern’s Asher Kramer is seeded seventh.
Any top five finish from Section 1 in the 140-160 range would be considered a positive. Mahopac’s Steve Pagliucca and John Jay’s Mark Swertfager at 140 provide the best opportunity for such a finish. Once we get to the 171-and-up range is where things such pick back up.
Scarsdale’s Jacob Berkowitz is seeded fourth at 171. He surprised many people with a dominating performance at sectionals, and he is certainly a name on the rise. He doesn’t have much experience against anyone outside of Section 1 who will be competing at Eastern States, so it will be interesting to see how things play out. Arlington’s Thor McHugh and Tappan Zee’s Tim Coyne will also be representing the section at that weight class, but neither figure to be as much of a threat as Berkowitz is. I could see him finishing in the top five, but top three might be a stretch.
Along with Duckham and Oliveto, Nyack’s Joe Cummings is the only other two-seed from the section at 189, but that seeding could be a bit deceiving. Cummings lost to the fifth seed, Shenendehowa’s Tony Fusco, 6-5 in the quarters at Eastern States. Fusco went on to lose to the fourth seed, John Glenn’s Joe Giaramita, in the finals. Cummings placed third, and should be able to reach the semis at states, but that’s where things get dicey.
John Jay’s Lucas Myer is seeded fifth at 215, which is probably right about where he belongs. The really interesting weight class is to watch is going to be 285. Mahopac’s Andy Scopino is considered to be a threat for a state title, but only comes in as the fifth seed. I expected him to be seeded higher, but none of four wrestlers ahead of him were present at Eastern States. He placed second there, with his loss in the finals coming at the hands of a D2 wrestler. No doubt, Scopino possesses the ability to be a champion, but personally, I’d like to see him come out more aggressive this weekend. In his finals match against New Rochelle’s Malcolm Allen at sectionals, he received two stalling penalties while allowing Allen to take the majority of the shots. Allen nearly took him down on a few occasions, and Scopino can’t afford that risk at this tournament.
As for Allen, he is seeded sixth and is probably just as capable as Scopino is of making a deep run. I believe if he maintains the approach he had against Scopino, meaning continue to dictate the pace, he will certainly be a force. For those who were dreaming of yet another Scopino-Allen classic, the only way that will happen is if both make the finals.
All in all, I’m going to go out on a bit of limb and say that the section comes away with four state champions. My picks are Rodrigues, Realbuto, Parise and either Scopino or Allen. I’ll take (Dylan) Realbuto, Duckham, Speno, Oliveto, Ventura, Berkowitz, Cummings and Myer as top five guys (Oliveto is the next best shot at a state title; should place second at worst). I’m obviously being a bit optimistic, but I certainly feel as though the potential is there (particularly in the lighter weight classes).
I’ll be back in the coming days with a D2 preview…