NANUET – When the seeds for the Section 1 Dual Meet Championships were released, the entire Nanuet team took notice.
The Golden Knights have won each Division 2 dual meet title since the tournament was split into divisions in 2011, but after taking some heavy hits to graduation, they found themselves seeded outside of the top four this year.
“Today was huge,” senior Joe Dillon said. “We got the fifth seed, which we kind of took as a slap to the face. We worked extra hard. We knew Putnam Valley was probably one of the better teams, so coming out with a victory today was huge for us.”
Putnam Valley received the top seed and was considered a slight favorite heading into the tournament, but Nanuet bested the Tigers with a tight 37-33 win on Thursday to advance to the final against Edgemont next Wednesday.
“A lot of us are really motivated. After last year, we want to be as good as possible to try and fill their shoes,” senior Alex Slaybaugh said. “We want to prove everyone wrong this year.”
Both the Golden Knights and the Tigers cruised to easy wins in their opening duals of the day, setting up the matchup that everyone wanted to see.
Dillon is the only wrestler on Nanuet’s roster who has ever won an individual section title, and Put Valley bumped up its only returning section champ Noah Kelvas to wrestle him at 126 pounds in the second match of the dual.
“I knew that they were probably who I was going to be wrestling since we were both close in weight,” said Dillon, who beat another All-Section wrestler in Andrew Barsuch of Croton-Harmon earlier in the day. “Since we’d probably being seeing each other down the line, I knew that they would want to bump up to get a look at me.”
The Tigers got back in it with consecutive wins from Sam Honors (152 pounds) and Angelo Zegarelli (160), but Slaybaugh won a critical swing match at 170 pounds with a 2-1 decision.
“I was pretty nervous throughout the match,” Slaybaugh said. “One point is pretty close, so I just wanted to win however I could.”
Connor Breit (182) and Max Rabinowitz (285) picked up crucial wins as Nanuet clung to a slim lead, but Mikey Bruno’s pin in the 99-pound bout cut Put Valley’s deficit to 31-29 with two matches to go.
But before they could reach the final match, freshman Karl Burnich took matters into his own hands with a pin at 106 pounds, putting the dual out of reach for the Tigers.
“I knew that I needed (the pin) to lock it up,” Burnich said. “My teammates got all of those points to get us there in the first place, so I was just looking for any type of pin that he would give me.”
• Nanuet and Put Valley won their opening duals against Croton-Harmon and Pawling, respectively, by a combined 94 points, so there really wasn’t much intrigue in either of those matchups. The one match that I wanted to grab on video came when Croton bumped up Barsuch to wrestle Dillon, who had his way with a 7-0 decision. “I never look for an easy match,” Dillon said. “I always want to wrestle tough competition.”
• Dillon really made a statement that he’s a heavy favorite for a section title by also beating Kelvas later in the day. He was not scored upon in either match. “I rode on top pretty well today,” he said. “I didn’t give up any points, and held them both down for a full period.”
• Put Valley’s first win against Nanuet came from Mirabal, who won by technical fall against Chris Van Schiack at 132 pounds. Mirabal was a section finalist for the Tigers last season and will definitely be in contention this year as a senior. “In the first match (against Pawling), I felt dominant,” he said. “In the second match, I was kind of thought I was going to wrestle their 138-pounder, so I was more focused on him. I was a little disappointed. I could have pinned my kid, but a win is a win.”
• Mirabal mentions not getting the pin, and that was a theme throughout the dual. The Golden Knights were able to pull out the win largely because they avoided going to their backs. Nanuet only lost three matches via pin against the Tigers. “That’s crucial,” Mirabal said. “That’s an extra point that they’re keeping away. It makes a difference. They were hard to pin.”
• After Mirabal’s win, Nanuet got back on track with wins from Eric Boyle (138) and Chris Rooney (145). But even though the Golden Knights lost at 152 and 160, they didn’t allow most of Put Valley’s top wrestlers to get six points. Zegarelli handled Frank Paratore at 160, but he only got three points for his team with a 9-3 decision. “We just had to all work hard and wrestle at our best,” Slaybaugh said. “We had to wrestle as a team, not as individuals.”
• After Slaybaugh and Breit won two more swing matches for Nanuet at 170 and 182, Put Valley got pins from Dennis Kelly (195) and Constantine George (220) to cut the Golden Knights’ lead to 25-23. That’s when Rabinowitz came up huge at 285 with a pin of Mike Christmas. “I knew I needed to get at least a pin because we needed the points,” he said. “Three, four or five just wasn’t enough, so I just took all of my hard work and put it all on that kid.”
• Bruno pulled the Tigers back to within two points with his pin at 99, but Burnich sealed the win with a pin at 106. In a rare display of emotion, Nanuet coach Carmine Serra let out a roar and fist pump, turning to his bench with a look of approval. He spoke to me about being especially proud of this group because of the adversity that it has dealt with. This win had to be especially satisfying because this is a completely different group from last year, and because many people — myself included — thought that Put Valley might get the better of them. “I don’t see it often,” Rabinowitz said of his coach’s reaction. “Coach really cares about this team. He’s been part of this program for a long time. I’ve known him since I was in eighth grade because I had him as a teacher. He really cares about us, and he’s a great coach. He puts us through hard work a lot of the time, but it’s worth it when we get wins like this.”
• For the third straight year, Nanuet will take on Edgemont in the D2 dual meet final. The Golden Knights will be going for the three-peat, and at this point, I have to say that I like their chances. “It feels really good,” Rabinowitz said. “We’re going to have fun tonight and celebrate, but right back to work tomorrow. We’ve got finals next Wednesday.”
• As for D1, I correctly picked three of the four semifinalists. The one slight upset was Suffern over Pearl River, which was the closest D1 dual of the day. The Mounties won a few key swing matches and seem to have some considerable depth. The matchups for the D1 final four next Tuesday at North Rockland HS will be Arlington vs. Fox Lane and North Rockland vs. Suffern.
Photos by Peter Carr/Videos by Vincent Z. Mercogliano