LAGRANGEVILLE —For the vast majority of the regular season, Mamaroneck junior Yousiff Hemida was forced sit back and watch as others in his weight class geared up for the sectional tournament.
The 220-pounder suffered a fracture in his neck during the offseason and wasn’t able to return until a couple of weeks ago. He entered Saturday’s Division 1 championships at Arlington High School with only four matches under his belt, but it didn’t take very long for the 13th seed to make his presence felt.
“It was pretty tough, but I feel like sometimes it’s not about how hard you get hit; it’s about how you get back up,” Hemida said. “That’s what really matters.”
Hemida beat the fourth and fifth seeds to clinch a spot in the semifinals, where he’ll take on defending champ John Hartnett of Tappan Zee on Sunday at Clarkstown South. He was one of two 13-seeds to reach the semis, along with Suffern sophomore Stephen Lauro at 138 pounds.
“I’m definitely still a little rusty,” Hemida said. “It’s so hard to mimic that mat experience. You can’t do it in practice. All of these kids wrestled through the whole season, and I’m coming in late… hopefully, I get it done tomorrow.”
All of the top seeds are still alive heading into Sunday, but two No. 2 seeds were defeated in the quarterfinals – both by New Rochelle wrestlers. Sophomore Jake Shore upset North Rockland’s Anthony Sulla with a 7-0 decision at 99 pounds, while junior Demetrius Rodriguez beat John Jay-East Fishkill’s Brandon White with a 3-0 decision to shake up the 170-pound bracket.
“We work really hard in the room,” Shore said. “We’ve been working every day – off days, on days – and we’re always going all out. I think we’re going to have a bunch of winners.”
Yonkers junior David Ortiz, seeded 11th at 113 pounds, took out a defending section champ in the quarterfinals with his 9-7 decision against Pearl River’s James Kelly.
“Last year, he (pinned) me in 20 seconds,” Ortiz said. “This year in divisionals, he beat me 12-2. But my coach (Pete Vulpone) said I could beat anybody, and I believed it.”
Another wrestler who finally got the better of a familiar opponent was Pearl River sophomore Jake Kurzhals, who upset third-seeded Derek DiMarsico of North Rockland with a 3-0 decision in the 120-pound quarterfinals. It was Kurzhals’ first career win over his rival.
“I’ve been training hard for this day, and I’ve been working on it and watching videos,” he said. “Today was about really my head positioning. I kept my head low so he couldn’t shoot on me.”
Nyack senior James Giraldez ran into Tappan Zee’s Noah Hovde for the fourth time this year and completed the season sweep with a 2-1 overtime win. The point that sealed it came on a stall call against Hovde in the first OT period.
“A win is a win, but it would have been better to have a more decisive win than that,” Giraldez said. “To lose on a technicality like that, especially here at sectionals, that’s rough.”
Larry Courtien of Somers, who was originally seeded second at 145 pounds, was forced to drop out with a knee injury, which bumped Giraldez up from No. 4 to No. 3 and put him on a collision course with Hovde in the quarters.
“I didn’t think I would get him until maybe tomorrow, if at all,” Giraldez said. “Then coach (Frank Pregiato) tells me that I have him in the quarters, so I just got mentally prepared for that. He always brings a tough match.”
At the conclusion of the first day of the tournament, defending champ North Rockland sat at the top of the standings with a 21-point lead on second place Suffern.
Despite losing Sulla and DiMarsico earlier than expected, Alex D’Angelo (106 pounds), Matt Caputo (138), Blaise Benderoth (152), Nick Didio (160) and Conner Reigottie (285) each made it to the semis for the Red Raiders.
“I think so because in the wrestle backs we’ll get pins, and we’re deep,” Didio said when asked if he felt North Rockland was in good position to repeat. “We have a lot of guys in the wrestle backs.”
Caputo, Benderoth and Didio are all No. 1 seeds, but Didio’s path to a title seems to be the toughest with Horace Greeley’s Mitch Klein and Somers’ Dom Celli standing in his way.
“I’m really looking forward to wrestling one of them,” Didio said. “They’re both tough kids. I’m not doubting their skills, but I think I’ve trained harder and I’ve become the first seed for a reason.”
Videos by Vincent Z. Mercogliano/Photos by Frank Becerra Jr.