It's time to talk about some of the sophomores to keep tabs on this season. There were significant differences of opinion on how these wrestlers stack up against each other. The order of this list could go numerous different ways and will no doubt look different as the season progresses. For now, however, here's a look at some of the stars in the Class of 2016.
#1 Christian Dietrich (Greene) – Dietrich made a splash when he finished on the New York state podium (6th) as a seventh grader at 152 pounds. While he spent the following season recovering from an injury, his return as a freshman was stellar. He cruised through the year with a 39-3 record, taking second at the Eastern States Classic and picking up runner up honors in Albany. Those achievements were impressive, but he solidified his spot in the national spotlight with a fourth place showing at the FloNationals in the spring, including wins over state champions from Michigan, California and Ohio. Currently listed as the 10th best grappler in the land at 170 pounds by Flowrestling, Dietrich is also highly ranked in the Class of 2016. Intermat has him #12 in the nation for sophomores, while Flo has him 15th. He went up to 195 pounds recently for the Journeymen Classic and won the title there. For more on Dietrich, see this link.
#2 Kellen Devlin (Amherst) – A very impressive freshman year catapulted Devlin up the charts. In his second trip to the state tournament, he looked sharp, taking third at 120 pounds. He went 5-1 with a pin, a tech fall and two major decisions while defeating multiple All-State wrestlers. And in his sole loss, he led eventual champion Trey Aslanian for most of the match before the current Princeton Tiger from Section 1 came back for a 4-3 victory. The bronze showing was a strong end of the season for Devlin, who sported a 46-3 mark with his only other losses coming to Division I runner up Steve Michel by one point. He also made his mark nationally, taking second at the NHSCA Nationals in Virginia Beach (after earning third the year before at the same event).
#3 Jordan Torbitt (Whitney Point) – Torbitt has been a national champion two years in a row at the NHSCAs in Virginia Beach. He captured the Middle School crown in 2012 and followed up with gold at the Freshman event this spring. The latter performance came after he earned All-State recognition in 2013 at 145 pounds, following a 39-2 regular season. He split matches with New York State silver medalist Frank Garcia, defeating the Norwich standout 7-0 in early February. In Albany, Torbitt was edged 5-4 in his opening contest, however, he rebounded with three consecutive wins in the consolations before injury defaulting his final two bouts to place sixth.
#5 Dakota Gardner (Fredonia) – Already a two-time state placer, Gardner went from sixth in New York as a 120-pound eighth grader to runner up at 126 as a freshman. In a 46-2 year, Gardner picked up 36 bonus point wins with his lone setbacks against fellow All-Stater Brandon Muntz of Falconer (now wrestling at Buffalo) and two-time champion William Koll. He also took bronze at the NHSCA Nationals in 2012.
#6 Derek Spann (Adirondack) – Other than a late December loss to Wayne’s Jacob Yankloski, Spann had a perfect ninth grade year, going 45-1 and winning a state championship at 99 pounds. He recorded 18 pins along the way. His tough mat wrestling was on display in the finals at the Times Union Center as he made up for an early deficit with strong top work to earn gold.
#7 Matteo DeVincenzo (Port Jefferson) – There was a lot of talk about the tough 99-pound bracket in Division I in Suffolk County, but the small school champion in Section 11 had a terrific year as well. DeVincenzo went 35-2 and grabbed second place at the state tournament, with his only setbacks coming against Division I state finalist Vito Arujau and the previously mentioned Derek Spann. DeVincenzo had some solid offseason results as well, including winning a bracket full of state placers at the NUWAY Nationals in New Jersey, and following up with first place at the Journeymen Classic in a talented field.
#8 John Arceri (Huntington) – Arceri came into the state tournament as the top seed at 99 pounds in Division I after winning a deep weight class at the Section 11 championships. While he went 2-2 in Albany, Arceri proved himself to be among the best in New York with victories over a number of All-Staters during the campaign, including John Busiello (twice), Jesse Dellavecchia and Vinny Vespa. He also defeated Eastern States champion Chris Cuccolo.
#9 Leonard Merkin (Poly Prep) - As a private school wrestler, Merkin won't be competing at the New York State tournament. However, he looks to make noise again after winning the New York Prep title in 2013 at 132 pounds, defeating defending champion Thomas McLoughlin, before earning a victory at the National Preps. (He drew Joey McKenna of Blair, one of the top 10 wrestlers in the Class of 2014, in round one of that tournament). Merkin makes the list not only because of his folkstyle prowess, but also because of his work in the international styles. He went unbeaten for Team New York at the Cadet National Duals in Freestyle and then earned All-American honors at the FILA Cadet Nationals in Greco. Merkin just missed the podium at Fargo in both styles, but responded by winning all three of his bouts recently at the Journeymen Classic. [On the topic of international styles, another sophomore, Alexis Bleau of Schoharie, a 2012 New York state qualifier, placed second and fourth nationally in women's freestyle at Fargo this summer and will no doubt continue to represent the Empire State well].
#10 Owen Bachelder (Hewlett) – Bachelder didn’t get the friendliest draw at the state tournament, first facing two-time finalist/2012 state champion Dylan Realbuto before squaring off with eventual fourth placer Jake Green of Chenango Forks at 126 pounds. However, it was his run to a Nassau County title that really put him on the radar. He caught fire at the Section 8 championships, going 5-0 with three pins, including wins over 2012 NHSCA Junior National champion Chris Araoz (currently in the midst of his freshman year at Columbia University) and Manhasset state qualifier Michael Fera, on the way to the crown.
The final few spots were discussed quite a bit and some other candidates are likely to have great campaigns as 10th graders as well. New Hartford’s Kelan McKenna earned his first podium finish at the NYS tournament when he was sixth at 99 pounds in Division I. The Section 3 standout missed time with an injury early on, however, he got into the swing of things as the campaign progressed to make the medal stand. In his first round match in Albany, however, McKenna was topped 3-0 by Garrett Baugher (St. Joseph’s Collegiate), a wrestler who was dominant throughout the year, notching 40 wins (35 of which came by bonus points). At the Times Union Center, Baugher led eventual third placer John Busiello [now at Wyoming Seminary] early on in the quarterfinals before he injury defaulted out of the event. Those performances came after Baugher racked up more than 30 wins as an eighth grader for Royalton Hartland, taking third in Section 6 that year. Baugher will be moving up in weight this year but will be someone to keep track of this season. Also of note - Theo Powers of Mexico, who picked up All-State accolades in 2013, registered quality wins this summer and will be formidable in the lightweights.
Who are some other sophomores to watch?
Well, there are additional wrestlers that placed at the state tournament last year: Ryan Hetrick of Southwestern (third at 99), Ryan O’Rourke of Adirondack (fourth at 106), Chris Cirigliano (sixth at 106) and Brad Bihler of Maple Grove (third at 106). [Bihler was defeated by Dunkirk’s Tito Colom three times a year ago and after an impressive performance at the Journeymen Classic, Colom is one to keep tabs on as well].
Another lightweight on the radar is Penfield’s Parker Kropman, who had a solid 34-8 year at 99 in 2012-13 with two of those losses out of state (at 106) and three more to eventual state champions (Yianni Diakomihalis and Derek Spann). Fellow Section 5 grappler Hunter Olena of East Rochester was the top seed in Division II at the Times Union Center at 99. Peru’s Ethan Feazelle has twice won a match in Albany and is looking to put together a string of a few more victories this time around, as is Noah Kelvas who got his hand raised in 2013 in the state capital. We haven't forgotten about Shenendehowa’s Kevin Parker, a former Section 2 champion, who had multiple victories over state qualifiers last season.
Aaron Paddock was a lightweight in 2011 when he placed 6th at 103. After his amazing return to the mat, he won 40 matches all the way up at 170 pounds in 2012-13. Speaking of 170 pounds, Sonny McPherson of Indian River did well at that weight a year ago and was the only ninth grader to win a Division I Sectional title above 152 last season. He followed up with All-American honors in Virginia Beach -- and he wasn’t the only one to make the podium there.
A pair of Suffolk grapplers were national finalists at the NHSCA event after registering over 30 wins in Section 11 in the upperweights as freshmen -- Ward Melville’s Christian Araneo at 182 and John Glenn’s Edwin Rubio at 285. Araneo also made the medal stand at the Eastern States Classic, notching eighth. And the talent in Suffolk isn’t limited to those wrestlers. There are others to keep an eye on, including CJ Archer of Rocky Point, who won over 30 times as a ninth grader.
Other NHSCA All-Americans from the Class of 2016 at Virginia Beach were: Owen Albanese (Canastota, 220), Wil Hillard (Phoenix, 170), Ricardo Dawkins (General Brown, 182), Andrew McFarland (Carthage, 113), Anthony Argentieri (Kenmore West, 106) and Freddy Eckles (Lake Shore, 132). Eckles had some stellar offseason results and will make some noise this year.
One final wrestler who commanded our attention as he looks to return to All-State form is Holland Patent's Alex Herringshaw. Joining Dakota Gardner as the only other 2012 state placewinner on this list (6th at 99 pounds), the Golden Knight jumped up several weight classes during his freshman campaign. Victorious in his first 20-plus bouts of 2012-2013 while competing predominantly at 126, when Herringshaw moved up even higher to the 132 pound class, he was met with mixed results, finishing the season with an overall record of 37-10. That included a runner up finish at the Section III tournament and a 1-2 record at the "Big Dance."
We appreciate the additional names sent in after our freshman article. Once again, this list isn’t all-inclusive. There will always be some new faces who have breakout performances. Feel free to send us more sophomores to look out for at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you to Mike Carey and Matt Diano for all their hard work to make this article possible and to Kris Harrington for his insights. Thanks to all of the other contributors - too many to name, but they know who they are.