While I can’t say for sure, I’d have to guess that it’s probably been a pretty good morning for Edgemont senior Trey Aslanian (pictured above) and Ossining junior Alex Delacruz. The first time that you wake up and realize you’re a state champ has to be an awesome feeling. What happened last night is slowly starting to sink in, and now each will forever be known as a state champ.
The only two Section 1 wrestlers to the reach the state finals on Saturday at the Times Union Center each pulled out a win despite trailing at one point in each match. Their titles capped another great weekend in Albany, in which 20 locals placed—13 in D1, and 7 in D2. Section 1 took fifth in D1 (trailing Section 5 by half of a point), and sixth in D2.
• In each of the three seasons that I’ve been on the wrestling beat, I’ve seen Aslanian compete in the state finals. When he lost as a sophomore two years ago, it seemed inevitable that he would eventually get his title, but coming into this weekend, I wasn’t quite as sure. After losing again in the finals last season, he was lined up to wrestle the same guy who beat him in that match on Saturday—Midlakes’ Sean Peacock. Mentally, it has to be incredibly tough to go up against someone who has denied you of the title once already, but the Princeton-bound senior showed his toughness and ability to adjust. Peacock took him down early in the first period, which had to evoke bad memories of years past, but Aslanian executed his strategy of slowing down the pace and limiting Peacock’s scoring opportunities for the rest of the match. Peacock rode him for the rest of the first period, working extremely hard to turn Trey. But Aslanian kept the deficit manageable, not allowing Peacock to score again and coming back for the 4-2 decision. “He got that takedown and for a split second you go, ‘This might happen again,’ ” Aslanian said. “I’m happy I didn’t dig myself into too much of a hole in that first period. You can overcome a two-point deficit, but against a kid like Sean Peacock, you can’t overcome a five-point deficit. He came pretty close – he was in good position on top, and you get a little nervous you might get turned – but as the match went on, and I felt more and more confident.”
• The momentum swung strongly in Aslanian’s favor early in the second period, when he was able to turn Peacock for two quick back points, which tied the score at 2-2. With the way the match started, Aslanian could have easily begun sensing impending doom, but once he tied it, it felt like a new match. “To be honest with you, I wasn’t even looking to turn him,” he said. “I threw that half in, and rolled with it. I got that turn, and it turned the entire match around. It went from, ‘I need a takedown,’ to, ‘Now I’m going to try to ride him out for the win.’ Very, very different circumstances.”
• Trey has always been a pretty even-keeled kid, at least from the conversations that I’ve had with him. He never shows too much emotion, and really comes off as a very focused and stoic individual, but at the conclusion of the finals, he had a smile from ear-to-ear. He was both ecstatic and relieved at the same time, which is completely understandable. I’m sure deep down he feared that this moment might never come, and he talked about how he’d “dreamed about it so many times.” Winning this title in his senior season makes the pain from those previous two losses vanish (or at least significantly subside), and he kept expressing his thanks to all of those who have helped him get to this point. His coach, Pete Jacobson (pictured above) was overcome with joy for the wrestler who has helped take his program to new heights, while Trey’s brother Tyler Aslanian and good friend Dylan Realbuto of Somers came down to give him some big bear hugs. Trey wanted everyone to feel like they were apart of his success. “So much sacrifice goes into it, and the reason I’m so excited is because it’s not just about me,” he said. “That’s how I approached this match. It’s for all of the coaches who spent all of that time with me, my family, Tyler. He lost in the section finals, but he was training with all week. That’s not fun for him, but people really invested the time in me. I feel like I had to give something back, which makes this really special for me.”
• While Trey has been building up to this moment for years, Delacruz seized his moment a bit more unexpectedly. It’s been a very up-and-down season for him, and after losing to Pearl River’s John Muldoon in the section finals two weeks ago, he wasn’t even considered the wrestler with the best shot at a title from his own section. But that loss fueled him, and now for the third straight year, we have a wrestler that went from wild card entry to state champ from Section 1 (D-Real came in as a wild card when he won his title last season, and New Rochelle’s Malcolm Allen the year before). “It’s pretty much the greatest feeling I’ve ever had, to be honest,” Delacruz said. “Just going out there as a wild card, the third seed, after losing to Muldoon in the section finals and then beating him here, it’s a complete turnaround. It gave me more motivation to win and gave me a reason in my head that I should be here. Actually coming out on top, it just feels amazing. It shows all of my hard work has paid off.”
• In order to get to the state finals, Delacruz had to get through Muldoon (pictured to the left). It really seems to get better each time that those two wrestle—they match up so evenly, and it always seems like a toss-up. Muldoon got the first takedown, but Delacruz tied it with a reversal. Muldoon then started the second period with a reversal of his own to go up 4-2, but Delacruz escaped. Down 4-3 going into the third, Delacruz was on bottom and picked up the escape point that he needed to force overtime. Earlier in the season, I probably would have said that the longer the match goes, the more of an advantage it is for Muldoon, but Delacruz showed how much he’s improved on his conditioning and ability to maintain stamina deep into matches. Muldoon seemed to be cramping up a bit, and Delacruz took advantage by catching him with a throw in the first OT period for the winning takedown in his 6-4 decision. “During the whole year, I wasn’t really good wrestling six minutes, but since sectionals, I haven’t had an off day,” Delacruz said. “I’ve been running every day, having two practices a day, going to state practices and just working my butt off. Going home and going to the gym, or running sprints back and forth up my street – I just didn’t stop working.”
• While avenging his loss to Muldoon had to be especially gratifying, Delacruz said, “I had to stay focused; I couldn’t just be satisfied with that win. It meant a lot – don’t get me wrong – it just didn’t mean as much as a state title.” He would have to get through top-seeded Steven Michel of Lancaster to win his title, and it didn’t come easy. Earlier in the season (the Shoreline tourney stands out in my mind), Delacruz seemed to explode out of the gate and pick up a takedown to start nearly every match. I haven’t seem him do that as often recently (opponents have obviously caught on), but he caught Michel’s ankle within the opening 10 seconds of the final to take an early 2-0 lead. To Michel’s credit, he battled back and had a 7-6 lead going into the final period, but Delacruz won it with an 11-7 decision thanks to a five-point move in the closing minute. Once again, he wrestled his best at the end of the match, proving that he’s more than just a home-run hitter. “That was a move that I practice a lot, actually,” he said. “I do it in the wrestling room with my teammates. Just in case I’m down, I have something to look forward to. He shot on my leg, and I kind of kicked back a little bit. I had a little tilt, and it’s something that I’ve seen before, so I wasn’t too scared hitting it.”
• Delacruz (Division 1) and Aslanian (Division 2) both winning titles at 120 pounds was an appropriate way to end the season after all of the hype about the talent in Section 1 in that weight class. Not only did both champs at 120 come from the same section, but three others placed in that class. Muldoon took fourth and North Rockland sophomore Blaise Benderoth took sixth (he actually placed seventh, but will go down as sixth because a private school kid was ahead of him) in D1, while Nanuet senior Anthony Calvano took fifth in D2. It would be fair to say that five of the top 12 wrestlers in New York state at 120 reside in Section 1.
• While Aslanian and Delacruz were the only local finalists, Realbuto (126), Fordham Prep senior Sam Melikian (132; pictured to the right) and Yorktown senior Joe Mastro (152) each took third in Division 1. Realbuto, who came into the weekend as the only defending state champ from Section 1, bounced back with a strong performance on the second day of the tournament after getting pinned and upset in the quarterfinals on Friday. A lot of times, you see guys pack it after a disappointing loss, but D-Real showed his resiliency. I’m sure he wanted to end his career with a repeat, but he was able to walk out with his head held high. “It was really important,” Realbuto said of wrestling back well. “I wanted to prove to everybody that me losing that quarterfinals match was just a fluke. It had a lot to do with pride. I just wanted to come back and win.”
• One of the best stories of the weekend was Mastro. He placed higher than any of the four state qualifiers from Yorktown, and he had to work extremely hard to do it. He was knocked out in the first round after giving up five quick points and digging himself in a hole, admitting, “I was nervous. I was thinking too much and had way too much going through my head. I was tight and tense, and I didn’t wrestle the way that I normally do.” Like Realbuto, he showed tremendous character by staying focused and not losing again. Mastro had to win five straight matches to wrestle back and take third, and incredibly, he was able to get it done. In my three years covering Section 1 at Albany, I can’t recall any other local losing in the first round and then coming back to take third. “It was a long, long two days, but it felt good that I was able to finish with a win and end my career with five straight wins to come back and take third,” Mastro said. “It took a lot. Everyone, all of my coaches, said, ‘Listen, you have to come back and take third now.’ I had a lot of time in between my first and second match to kind of rest and recover. I talked with (Steven) Sabella, I talked with (David) Varian, and we all just kind of loosened up. After that first win, I felt like a lot of weight came off my shoulders.”
• All three of the D2 wrestlers who made it to the third place finals came up a bit short, with Ardsley senior Drew Longo (138), Putnam Valley senior John Messinger (170) and Nanuet senior Dan Breit (220; pictured to the left) each taking fourth. Nanuet senior Matt Dillon (145) took fifth in D2, while Irvington senior Brett Pastore (152) took sixth. All seven of the D2 wrestlers to place from Section 1 were seniors, which tells you that the small school guys will have a lot of work to do next year. They’re taking some big hits to graduation.
• Along with Muldoon, John Jay-EF senior Dale White (160) and Yorktown senior Thomas Murray (182) also took fourth in D1. White was forced to medically default his semifinal match because his back was acting up again, but he still gutted his way through wrestle backs. You can’t help but wonder how he would have done had he been healthy all season.
• All five Section 1 wrestlers to compete for fifth in D1 won their matches—New Rochelle junior Nick Barbaria (106), North Rockland junior Matt Caputo (138), Fox Lane senior Tom Grippi (145), John Jay-EF junior Brett Perry (170) and Tappan Zee junior Mike Manni (285). Grippi’s win in the fifth place match was the 200th in his career, which is a nice round number to end with. Barbaria, Caputo, Grippi and Perry each lost to the eventual champs in their semifinals matches.
• We took about 20 videos this weekend between the quarters, semis and finals, which you can find here. Although the season is over, the coverage isn’t stopping. We’ll have poll questions coming at you in the coming weeks leading up to our all-star announcements (there are a lot of really tough calls this year), as well as a look ahead to next season in which I’ll examine which teams and wrestlers are best positioned for success in 2013-14. Thanks for following along all season! Once again, it’s been a blast!
Photos by Matthew Brown/The Journal News