I’m hosting a live chat at 7:30 tonight to take all of your questions, but here are some of my initial thoughts less than 24 hours after the Division 1 championships…
· What a day of wrestling we were treated to on Sunday. Ten of the 15 finals were won strictly on decisions, which tells you how tight most of the matches were. When it was all said and done, there weren’t many huge surprises, with 13 top seeds claiming titles — but that doesn’t mean that the matches weren’t exciting. The only wrestlers who won championships that weren’t seeded No. 1 were North Rockland’s Alex D’Angelo, No. 2 at 106, and Mamaroneck’s Youssif Hemida, No. 13 at 220. One of those seems to stand out a bit…
· Even though we knew it was coming, it was still hard not to be impressed with what North Rockland did on Sunday. We expected the Red Raiders to repeat, and Matt Caputo (138) and Blaise Benderoth (152) were considered front-runners for titles, but getting D’Angelo and Nick Didio (160) to come through gave the team a school-record four champs. And while Caputo and Didio will graduate this year, D’Angelo and Benderoth will return next season as seniors, plus three of the other four North Rockland wrestlers who placed – Anthony Sulla (third at 99), Derek DiMarsico (sixth at 120) and Marlon Borge (third at 126).The Red Raiders won’t be favored as heavily next season, but you can certainly make the case that they will remain the team to beat. “It was definitely a goal for the team, and four (champs) was also another goal,” Caputo said of repeating. “We’ve never had four champs. We had four finalists my eighth-grade year, and I lost to (Mike) Parise from Brewster.”
· Of all of the champs from North Rockland, D’Angelo’s title was probably the most unexpected. He had lost to his finals opponent, Fox Lane’s Brandon Fay, earlier in the year and dealt with a nagging knee injury for most of the season. His 1-0 decision over Fay wasn’t the most convincing win of the day, but he certainly showed some grit. The most pivotal moment of the match came at the end of the second period, with the score tied 0-0. Fay had started the period on bottom, and D’Angelo effectively rode him out for two full minutes. In the final 10 seconds, Fay nearly slipped out and pulled off a reversal, but D’Angelo held onto a headlock to prevent the call from being made. Eventually, Fay did get to D’Angelo’s back, but the call was made a split second after the period ended. It was the right call based on when you can hear the horn sound in the video, but it sure was close. D’Angelo escaped to take a 1-0 lead early in the third period, and that was it for the scoring.
· Caputo was involved in perhaps the most thrilling match of the finals, where Brewster’s Liam Erickson gave him a closer match than he seemed to be anticipating. With Caputo leading 1-0 in the third period and Erickson on bottom, the Brewster senior hooked Caputo’s leg and appeared to be on his way to a reversal and possible back points, but just before any call was made, Caputo indicated that he needed injury time. These can be touchy situations because there’s a certain code of honor when it comes to asking for injury time, and wrestlers are always given the benefit of the doubt. Erickson was livid at first, but came back to escape and tie the match at 1-1 with time running out in regulation. Then, with just a second or two remaining in the match, Erickson went for a move and almost appeared to slip, with Caputo locking him up for a dramatic takedown to clinch the 3-1 decision. “I was never really nervous,” Caputo said. “I’ve kind of learned to stay poised in those situations through high school. To be honest, I knew he was going to go for the cement mixer (move) – I don’t know why. So, when he went to hit it, I just grabbed his leg.”
· Fox Lane took second overall and matched North Rockland with four finalists, but only Ben Ettlinger (145) won a title. Many were hoping to see Ettlinger wrestle Somers senior Larry Courtien, but with Courtien dropping out due to a knee injury, Ettlinger found himself up against a worthy opponent in Ketcham’s Danny Murphy in the finals. He won with a 5-2 decision, but talked about the respect he had for Murphy after the match. “I was pretty confident because of our common opponents, I did a lot better than he did against them,” Ettlinger said. “I was feeling confident, but out on the mat, he was tougher than I thought he’d be. He’s really strong, really tough, and he kept coming at me. In the first period, that first turn really set the pace for the match. After that, I knew I had it.”
· Byram Hills’ Jon Errico knocked off Ettlinger’s teammate Matt Grippi in the 120-final, beating his rival with a 7-3 decision in their fourth meeting of the season. Errico has really turned it up in the last few weeks, and finished the season 3-1 vs. Grippi. After losing to New Rochelle’s Nick Barbaria in last year’s section finals, Errico became the first section champ in the short history of the Byram Hills program. “Last year killed me,” he said. “I was really looking forward to winning a section title, and it feels really good. I‘ve worked really hard this year, I’ve put in a lot of time, and it finally payed off.”
· It’s probably a toss-up between the Caputo-Erickson match and Ossining’s Alex Delacruz’s 4-2 decision over Suffern’s Daiton Powell at 126 for the most exciting final of the day. As a defending state champ, Delacruz is dealing with a lot of pressure every time he steps on the mat, because he’s expected to win in dominant fashion. But Powell is a force to be reckoned with — and, as a junior, he’ll be back next year. Delacruz got off to a good start with an early takedown, but the scoring stalled after that. Powell escaped twice to send it into the third period tied at 2-2, where Delacruz would start on bottom. Powell was able to ride him out until there were 11 seconds remaining in the match, but Delacruz showed his athleticism with a funky reversal to clinch the win. “I wrestled him last season in the quarterfinals,” Delacruz said of Powell. “I think he took me down like twice last year. He always surprises me. He’s unpredictable. He’s a good wrestler. He’s great at taking kids down and staying in the match.”
· Of course, the star of the weekend was Hemida, the tournament’s MOW. He shocked the section by upsetting defending champ John Hartnett of TZ in the 220-semis with a 6-4 decision in OT, and then finished the job by beating second-seeded Ryan Delahanty of Mahopac with a 7-3 decision in the finals. Hemida hasn’t been able to wrestle much at the high school level in the past two years due to injury, but he has been a Fargo All-American, so his title shouldn’t come as a complete surprise. I knew he had some upside, which is why I picked him to reach the semis, but the win over Hartnett was certainly a revelation. Hemida is taller than most 220-pounders with a longer reach, and he moves extremely well for his size. His skill-set gives him substantial upside, and as a junior, he’ll certainly enter next season as a favorite to repeat.
· I’ve written this before, but now that the champs are set in stone, it’s worth repeating. If you look at the team that Section 1 will be sending to states, there is the potential for many of them to place. I think most consider Delacruz and Pearl River’s John Muldoon (132) as the most likely to compete for titles, and I’d also throw Caputo, John Jay-EF’s Brett Perry (182) and TZ’s Mike Manni (285) in the mix to reach the finals after placing at states last season. When you consider that other section champs such as Benderoth, Arlington’s Alfredo Olmedo (99), John Jay-EF’s Jay Albis (113), Brewster’s Gino Gioielli (170) and Beacon’s Andrew Grella (195) also placed at Eastern States, you have to like Section 1’s chances of finishing in the top five in D1.
· I’m sure this question is coming in tonight’s chat, so let me state here and now that the wild cards for states won’t be released until Wednesday (probably later in the day). It’s almost senseless to speculate about who will get bids to Albany, but the most likely candidates are probably Erickson and Hartnett as past section champs. We received eight wild cards in D1 last season, so I’m fairly confident that there will be more than two, and there’s plenty of guys who are deserving. After doing well at Eastern States against others who will likely qualify for states, you could probably say that Somers’ Dom Celli (160) and Greeley’s Brock Cvijanovich (195) also have decent shots. Same goes for Fay as a multiple section finalist, but it really comes down to how things shake out in other sections.
· In terms of the team standings, I correctly picked nine of the top 10 teams, but of course, not in the exact order. The one team that I left out of the top 10 in my rankings was New Rochelle, which placed sixth and really made an impression this weekend. The Huguenots had five guys place — Jake Shore (fourth at 99), Jordan Wallace (fourth at 106), Moises Tera (sixth at 113), Lamont Wallace (third at 120) and Demetrius Rodriguez (second at 170). Of those five, only Lamont Wallace will graduate, so watch out for New Ro next year. Coach Eddie Ortiz has worked hard with a young group, and they made drastic improvements from December to February.
· Two other teams that really impressed me this weekend were Suffern and Mamaroneck. I thought the Mounties would finish in the top 10, but taking third overall exceeded my expectations. (“Old Coach” must be smiling somewhere…) Suffern had five guys place, and all five return next season — Peter Oliveto (third at 106), Daiton Powell (second at 126), Stephen Lauro (sixth at 138), Peter Pjetri (second at 182) and Tyrick Jackson (fourth at 195). As for Mamaroneck, I thought it had a shot at the top 20, but an 11th overall finish — plus Hemida giving the program it’s first ever section champ — put the Tigers on the map in Section 1.
· As for my individual predictions, I went 12 for 15 when it came to picking champions. I whiffed on D’Angelo, Didio and Hemida, so my apologies to those guys. In terms of picking the finalists, I correctly picked 24 of 30. For both predicting finalists and champs, my winning percentage was 80, which isn’t too shabby. How’d you do?
Photo by Ricky Flores/The Journal News