From the comfort of my own home and with an internet connection that moves along at a steady pace, I’ve finally finished uploading all of my videos from this weekend’s Eastern States Classic. It was a great showing for local wrestlers on many levels, with many, many stories to tell. I think the prevailing theme to come out of the biggest tourney in NYS was that Section 1 can still hang with some of the best in the state.
To begin the season, the feeling around many coaches was that the section might take a step back this year in terms guys who could do some damage on the state level. Three state finalists from last season have graduated, as well as many other section champs. But this Eastern States weekend showed that we have some up-and-comers who look ready for their big moment. 19 locals placed, five made the finals and two took home titles in New Rochelle junior Nick Barbaria (106 pounds) and Nanuet senior Dan Breit (220). All of the action made for an exciting two days.
Before I get to all of the videos, I wanted to announce that I’ll be hosting another live LoHud Wrestling on Monday night at 7:30, so spread the word! With Eastern States in the books and my weight class rankings coming out last Thursday, there should be plenty to discuss.
• The main event for Section 1 fans on Friday was Ardsley’s Drew Longo’s 5-4 decision over North Rockland’s Matt Caputo at 138 pounds in the second round. Caputo came out strong and aggressive looking like he could take the match early, but Longo weathered the storm and outlasted him. The turning point came at 1:30 mark. Caputo is riding, locks up a cradle and nearly gets back points, but Longo wiggles free and reverses it for two. That’s when momentum shifted. The win served as evidence that Longo might be the best at 138 that the section has to offer, regardless of school size. “What is large school, small school? In my opinion, we’re all people, and it doesn’t matter which school you come from,” Longo said. “It matters how much time you put in and how bad you want it.”
• While Ossining junior Alex Delacruz didn’t end the weekend the way that he would have liked, he was on fire early in the tourney. He’s so athletic and so explosive, and when he gets on a roll, he can be very dangerous. He pinned both of his opponents on Friday in a combined 57 seconds, including this one against Shenendehowa’s Kevin Parker in the second round at 120 pounds. It’s pretty nasty. He completely dictates the action, and he seems to hook an ankle in the opening seconds in almost every match.
• Fordham Prep senior Sam Melikian continues to impress at 132 pounds. He went onto the finals, but not before making it look pretty easy against one of Section 1’s best. Check out his second period pin against Ketcham’s Danny Murphy in the second round. “He was strong coming out, but I just worked my stuff,” Melikian said. “He had that single leg in the air and he went for a roll for some reason while I was in control, so I just cradled it up and pinned him.”
• Another private school wrestler who had a nice showing against a Section 1 wrestler was Hackley’s Xavier Carmona. He defeated John Jay’s Billy Gossett by decision, 7-2, in the first round at 195 pounds.
• Some of the top super heavyweights that Section 1 has to offer were at Eastern States, with New Rochelle senior Justin Douglas continuing to look like he’s almost there. Remember, he just started wrestling last year and had to miss close to a month of this season due to winning a football state title, so he’s still lacking a lot of mat time. He took all of the shots against Canastota’s Jacob Morris in the second round, but ended up losing 4-2 in OT due to a bit of a sloppy move at the end. He’s got all of the tools, but only a short amount of time to put it all together in time for sectionals.
• After watching Breit’s 9-3 win over Minisink Valley’s Josh Bonneau in the second round on Friday, I came away thinking that he had a shot to win the whole thing. The video starts towards the end of the first period because Dan’s big foot hit me in the chest to begin the match, somehow managing to shut my camera off and erase the first minute or so of the match. Compared to last season, Breit looks much more confident and aggressive on the mat – that swagger that says I’m going to do what I want, and you can’t stop it. He’s almost always the strongest and most athletic guy on the mat in his weight class, and when you combine those factors with a positive mentality, you can win these types of tournaments. “I was working my shots pretty well in the first period to get the early takedown, and then second and third periods be able to escape or keep the guy down,” he said. “That’s basically what my strategy has been, because I know these guys are going to be a higher caliber than the guys I’ve been wrestling.”
• The first match that I recorded on day two was the rematch from last weekend’s 106-pound Shoreline final that everyone wanted to see. Barbaria held off Fox Lane seventh-grader Matt Grippi once again, but this time in a less offensive 4-0 win. I spoke to Nick the day before about how their first meeting would affect their second match, and he seemed ready for everything that Grippi was going to try to do. He didn’t let him score, and did a great job of riding him out in the third period. Still, Barbaria thinks the more times they see each other, the better it will be for Grippi. “It’s probably better for him because he’s seen what he needs to improve on, and in two weeks we’ll probably see each other again at divisions,” he said.
• There was one other quarterfinal featuring two Section 1 wrestlers, and it came at 285 pounds. Defending section champ David Varian of Yorktown is considered the favorite for a section title again, but Greeley’s Brent Lobien continues to impress. He kept it close against Varian in a 3-1 loss, but was just unable to finish any shots on Varian’s tree trunk legs. Lobien definitely gives up some weight to guys like Varian and Douglas, but he has an advantage in athleticism and is more aggressive than most supers.
• The only match in wrestlebacks that I shot came at 138, and it was one that I simply couldn’t pass up. I had Clarkstown North senior Colby Kash and Caputo ranked 1-2 at 138 in D1 in my most recent weight class rankings, so this one was a must see for Section 1 fans. Kash beat Caputo in OT earlier in the season, but Caputo evened the score with a 4-3 decision on Saturday. Kash was trailing 3-1 entering the third period, but took Caputo down to tie it up. Rather than try to ride him and force OT, Kash cut him in an attempt to win in regulation, therefore giving Caputo back the lead. The takedown never came, and Caputo held on for the win.
• The match that everyone has been talking about came in the 120-pound semis. For the second time in two meetings, Delacruz and Pearl River junior John Muldoon did not get to wrestle a full match. Muldoon suffered a concussion early in their section final last season, and Delacruz was disqualified in the second period on Saturday. You can see the controversial call around the 5:00 mark. Muldoon completes a takedown to take a 7-4 lead, and administers a crossface while he’s on top. His arm is jammed into Delacruz’s face, and then you suddenly see Muldoon’s head pop up and look at the ref. It’s impossible to tell with any certainty based on the video, but the ref calls the match right there due to an apparent bite. It’s entirely possible that Delacruz had a momentary lapse of judgment in a highly anticipated bout, but it’s difficult to think it was totally malicious because I know that both of these guys have been wanting this match badly. Even Pearl River coach Grier Yorks told me, “It should have been one point, at worst.” Both coaches pleaded with the refs to continue the match, but the flagrant misconduct decision had already been made. While the discussion was going on, I focused the camera on Somers senior Dylan Realbuto’s 5-4 semifinal win. Admittedly, I thought that Delacruz was going to win based on the roll that he has been on, but Muldoon really showed something in their period and a half of wrestling. Delacruz came out fast, as he always does, but Muldoon was ready. He can at least take solace in the fact that he had a lead when the match was called. “He’s very strong and very good – the match ended in a way that neither of us wanted it to – but I know that I can stick with him,” Muldoon said. “I’m sure he feels like there’s unfinished business, too. It is what it is. Hopefully, we’ll see each other at sectionals.”
• The highest that any local team placed at Eastern States was Yorktown coming in at 10th place. As I tweeted on Friday night, I’m beginning to think the race for a section title will be much closer between the Huskers and North Rockland than I originally anticipated. Many coaches told me that Yorktown’s performance caught their attention, as the Huskers had four wrestlers place and really make some noise. Joe Mastro (152), Steven Sabella (195) and Varian (285) each reached the semis, and I got two of those matches on video. Mastro was matched up against top-seeded Corey Rasheed of Longwood, who ended up winning the whole thing. Mastro hung tough and avoided the pin, but ended up getting majored. “I think this really opened a lot of team’s eyes,” Sabella said. “And it opened our eyes, too.”
• The best match that I saw all weekend probably came in the 195 semis. Like Mastro, Sabella was matched up against the top seed in his weight class, Reggie Williams of Johnson City. While Williams went onto win the whole thing and is a name that I’ve heard around the state for years, his toughest match undoubtedly came against Sabella. He proved to be a legitimate contender for a state title with his 7-5 loss to Williams that came ever-so-close to being one of the biggest upsets of the tourney. Sabella matched up well with Williams because of his athleticism and quickness, and he had a perfect strategy. As Williams showed against Greeley’s Scott Wymbs in the quarters, getting tied up with him is dangerous because of his strength and explosiveness, so Sabella stayed on the move. He took Williams down early in the match to grab a 2-0 lead, saying, “After the takedown, I felt like me.” That gave him the confidence that he could hang with Williams, and he wrestled a nearly perfect match. With the score tied at 5-5 and time running out, Williams hooked Sabella’s leg near the edge and took him down with just a couple of seconds remaining. It was this close to OT. “I thought about it a lot,” Sabella said. “I know he’s a big, stocky, quick guy – really athletic. I knew I would lose with the tie ups, so I didn’t want to get too close, but I didn’t want to get in bad position. My main focus was stay in good position, stay with solid technique and he’ll open up. I was trying to work off of his mistakes. I really tried to stay on the head as much as I could; looking for ankles and looking for snatches. I caught him a couple of times, which was really a confidence booster.”
• The first final featuring a local wrestler came at 106. Barbaria was tied at 1-1 with Wantagh’s Kyle Quinn with around 20 seconds to go in the match when he got into trouble. Quinn took a shot and hooked Barbaria’s leg, and as he lifted and Barbaria dropped to one knee, it appeared that Quinn would secure a two-point takedown to win the match. But on one of the biggest wrestling stages in Northeast, Barbaria kept his composure. He reached back and grabbed Quinn’s ankle, locking him in a cradle and taking him to the mat for a dramatic 3-1 decision. The win establishes Barbaria as one of the guys to beat at states. He said his next goal is a state title. “With 20 seconds left, you have to do whatever it takes,” Barbaria said. “That’s what I did. I’ve done that move a few times and I know how to do it, so when he hit that I said, ‘OK, I have to do this.’ You have to be confident in yourself.”
• Muldoon went onto to lose in the 120-final by a 7-2 decision to Danbury’s Kevin Jack, but Section 1 made its presence felt more so in that weight class than any other. Think about this—three of the four semifinalists at 120 came from Section 1 (Muldoon, Delacruz and Arlington senior Nick Tolli), and with Jack hailing from Connecticut, they were the only three from New York in the semis. Factor in that North Rockland sophomore Blaise Benderoth wrestled back to take third, and you could make the argument that the top four wrestlers at 120 in the tourney from NYS all came from Section 1. Incredibly, multiple state qualifiers from D2 such as Edgemont senior Trey Aslanian and Nanuet senior Anthony Calvano didn’t even place, showing just how deep this weight class is. As an out-of-section coach said to me in the press area, “That 120-pound class from Section 1 is stacked.” That’s for sure. “It’s sick,” Muldoon said. “We had three kids in the semifinals from Section 1, and then you throw Benderoth – it’s insane. It’s a tough, tough bracket. Anything can happen. Seedings don’t matter.”
• The only past Eastern States champ from Section 1 came up just short in the 126-pound final. Realbuto had a target on his back all weekend, but was still able to make his way to the final. He grabbed a 2-0 lead on Shoreham’s TJ Fabian with a takedown in the first period, but I felt the turning point came at the end of the period. D-Real had been riding Fabian since the takedown, but with just one second remaining, Fabian managed to slip out to cut the deficit to 2-1. Realbuto held that lead going into the third, and was once again doing a good job of riding on top. But with time running out, Fabian pulled off a dramatic reversal, and D-Real was unable to escape for a 3-2 loss. Now, Realbuto is hoping that history repeats itself. Last year, he lost in the Eastern States finals but went onto win a state title. “There were eight seconds left. I tried my hardest, but when there’s eight seconds left and he doesn’t have a stall call, it’s really hard to come out,” Realbuto said. “I’ve never had an undefeated season and I was really looking forward to that, but every loss is something to work off of.”
• A guy who has really impressed me in the last two weeks is Melikian. There’s no doubt in my mind that he is the best 132-pounder from our area. He ended up losing to Norwich’s Tristan Rufenburg in the finals, 8-5, but he should also be a contender for a state title. He was kind of doomed in this one by a slow start. Rufenburg grabbed an early lead, and despite a late rally from Melikian, it was just too much to overcome. Overall, though, Melikian has shown that he is one of the smartest and most technical wrestlers in the LoHud region.
• The fifth and final local to make the finals was Breit, who won a title at 220 pounds with a 3-2 decision over Holley Central’s Michael Silvis. Silvis wasn’t able to do much against the taller and more athletic Breit, as he proved once again to be extremely difficult to score on. Breit got his takedown pretty early, and then wrestled smart the rest of the way. The win establishes him as the guy to beat state-wise in D2. “I was watching his matches earlier on in the day,” Breit said. “I saw how kids were reacting, and I thought that I would be able to stop (his offense) a lot easier than they were. It turns out I was able to.”