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DIVISION 1 Recap: What Stood Out in Albany at the Large School Tournament

By BV, 03/03/14, 7:15PM EST


It’s hard to believe, but the high school season has come to an end.  Today, we’ll provide some of our thoughts on the Division 1 tournament, and we’ll follow up with Division 2 observations tomorrow.

There's so much to talk about after two days of incredible wrestling, but here are just a few things that stood out to us.


Hilton Cruises to the Team Title

It was clear from the beginning of the season that Hilton had tremendous firepower with four returning qualifiers, two of which were state finalists last year.  The Cadets were impressive from start to finish and capped the year off with the Division 1 team title.  The Section 5 school collected 88.5 points – well ahead of the three Suffolk County squads next in the standings (East Islip 52.5, Eastport-South Manor 45 and Sachem East 42). 

Yianni Diakomihalis, the nation’s #1 106 pounder, put on a show, with bonus points in all four of his bouts on the way to his second straight NYS championship.  He wasn’t the only gold medalist, as Vincent DePrez won it all at 145 pounds to finish his career with four All-State showings, including three finals appearances.  

Vincent was one of three DePrez brothers to compete (and deliver) over the weekend, with Anthony picking up a runner up finish at 152 pounds and Louie taking third at 138.

While Vincent and Anthony DePrez will certainly be missed when they move on to Binghamton University next fall, Hilton should still be a force.  After all, Diakomihalis and Louie DePrez are freshmen, as is Mike Spallina, who was an alternate for the state tournament this year.  There are some other solid returners and young guns in the pipeline.  The Cadets will continue to be a team to watch.


No Surprise  . . . It's Suffolk

Suffolk County (Section 11) won the section title for the sixth straight time, with a 42.5 point advantage over second place Nassau (Section 8).  The two Long Island teams combined to win 10 of the 15 weights - five apiece.  When you take a look at who is returning and at wrestlers who didn't make it to the state tournament this year, it's clear that Suffolk isn't going away as a power anytime soon.


Top Seeds Take the Top Spot

Diakomihalis and Vincent DePrez were both #1 seeds in their brackets.  That was a common theme in Division 1, as 12 of the 15 classes were won by the wrestler on the first line of the bracket.

That included some returning champions who ended their scholastic careers with two in a row – Louis Hernandez (Mepham, 152), Most Outstanding Wrestler Shakur Rasheed (Longwood, 160) and Rich Sisti (Monsignor Farrell, 220).  All three are nationally ranked and while Rasheed announced his commitment to Penn State, the others have not yet revealed their college destinations.

For a number of the top seeds, this weekend was a second shot at the title bout.  In 2013, Vito Arujau of Syosset came up a point short in the ultimate tiebreaker against Diakomihalis, while Brandon Lapi of Amsterdam and Steve Schneider of MacArthur also earned silver a year ago.  Not this time.  Lapi (138) and Schneider (170), bound for Buffalo and Binghamton, respectively, ended their high school careers on top.  Meanwhile, Arujau, a freshman 113 pounder, seems to have quite a few more title runs left to go after beating the second, third, fourth and fifth place finishers during the event.

James O’Hagan of Seaford (285) and Travis Passaro of Eastport-South Manor (126) notched third place showings a year ago as juniors.  Now they’re both champions.

Passaro and fellow Section 11 wrestlers Jimmy Leach (Eastport-South Manor), Chris Mauriello (Hauppauge) and Nick Piccininni (Ward Melville) started a journey a few years ago called UIFx4 (link here).  It stands for “Undefeated in February”, a goal the quartet hoped to achieve together.  Leach just missed placing at 138, but Mauriello and Piccininni grabbed state crowns at 132 and 120, respectively.  For Mauriello, a sophomore, it was the first title, while Piccininni has now registered three straight undefeated state championship campaigns.


So, Who Else Earned Gold Besides the #1 Seeds?

How about … three number two seeds.  This wasn’t the year for surprising runs to gold as no one outside the top two earned first place.

A pair of seniors finished their last high school bouts in style, although their paths were a bit different.  Mark Tracy of Sachem East won his title in his first appearance at the Times Union Center after a phenomenal 41-2 season.  His only loss was to his finals opponent – Brett Perry of John Jay East Fishkill, a wrestler he beat twice, including in the biggest match of the season.

Meanwhile, Reggie Williams of Johnson City has placed a number of times in the state capital, including a silver medal performance in 2012.  However, after a disappointing finish to his junior campaign and a pair of regular season losses to Shenendehowa’s Levi Ashley, Williams won his title, beating future Binghamton teammate Andrew Grella at 195. 

That leaves the last #2 seed to win – Long Beach’s Jacori Teemer.  Before the season, coach Ray Adams said the eighth grader was “definitely the real deal.” He was right – and he’s also definitely exciting to watch. Teemer put 10 points on the board in the first round, followed by a 12-10 battle with Deer Park’s Tommy Cox before edging Arlington’s Alfredo Olmedo in the semis by two.  And in the finals, there was plenty of back and forth action before Teemer picked up the fall and his first state championship over Adam Busiello of Eastport-South Manor.


Young, Talented and Undaunted  . . .

Speaking of Busiello, it’s well known that he’s extremely talented.  After all, he’s ranked nationally among junior high school wrestlers and has a huge collection of national accolades.  He didn’t seem fazed by the atmosphere at the Times Union Center as a seventh grader, beating fellow Long Island standout Jonathan Loew of Wantagh before taking on top-seeded Kelan McKenna in the quarters.  McKenna controlled their previous meeting in the Eastern States finals.  But this time, it was all Busiello in a 6-0 win.  The third place finisher in Suffolk then defeated the Section 11 champ (Anthony Sparacio) in overtime to make his way to the title bout.  We’d be surprised if we didn’t see Busiello competing on Saturday night in the state capital again.   And he wasn’t the only seventh grader on the podium.  Newark Valley’s Bennie Baker nabbed sixth after winning three bouts at 99.

And when talking about young wrestlers, it’s impossible to exclude Penfield’s Frankie Gissendanner, although while watching him compete, it’s easy to forget that he’s only in eighth grade.  In his second appearance in Albany, Gissendanner won three matches to take fourth at 132 pounds.  He has a lot of wins ahead of him over the next four years.


Who Were the Finalists Outside of the High (Top 4) Seeds?

We mentioned Busiello above.  Let’s start at 106 where one of our “dark horse” picks showed the whole state what he could do.  Plainview’s Peter Pappas went through the season undefeated and leaves with just one blemish on his record – against Diakomihalis.  Pappas began with the #2 wrestler in the bracket – Josh LoGiudice of Guilderland – and cruised by an 8-1 score.  He then followed with a major over Suffolk County champ Matt Stallone before edging Eastern States titlewinner Parker Kropman of Penfield to earn his title shot.  We’ll be hearing a lot more from Pappas going forward.

Another Long Islander, Erik Adon of East Islip, earned an at-large bid to the state tournament.  In Albany, he began with a second period pin over 2013 All-Stater Franky Nassivera of Queensbury and then followed up with victories over the #2 and #3 seeds to punch his ticket to the finals.

Last year, Keanu Thompson represented the PSAL in the championship round in Division 1.  This year, it was Said Kakhramonov of New Utrecht, a returning placer, who beat the #3 seed before earning a very late reversal against Islip’s Brad Wade in the semis to make the title bout.

Another finalist from outside the top four seeds was Angelo Kress of Columbia.  A year ago, he was the #2 in the 152 pound field, but didn’t reach the podium while competing with an injury.  This time, he found a way to the finals after moving up to 160 late in the campaign.


Wait? Have We Seen This Before . . .?

The previously mentioned Arujau and 2013 state champion Kyle Quinn of Wantagh have seen a lot of each other.  They wrestled in the offseason and then clashed three times during the 2013-14 campaign, with Arujau winning all three.  The top two seeds squared off once again on Saturday night with a 4-1 result in favor of the Syosset freshman.

Similarly, the 120-pound championship between Piccininni and Jesse Dellavecchia of East Islip was a rematch of the Suffolk County title match a few weeks back with the Ward Melville star taking a 3-0 victory.  And although it wasn’t a finals match, it’s worth noting that Dellavecchia’s teammate Dennis Ferro battled with Deer Park’s Zach Lugo twice more over the weekend. That made five times this season, with Ferro winning the season series 3-2 and taking their battle for fifth place at 152.


A Loss in the First Round is Just a Small Setback . . .

Getting to the state tournament is what every wrestler wants.  But what happens after you drop your first bout?  As one coach told his wrestler right in front of us on Friday morning – “it’s your choice now.  You can give up or you can fight back and place.”

A number of grapplers did the latter, battling after losing their opener to make the podium.  That included several competitors who drew the eventual champion right off the bat.  John Twomey of St. Anthony’s lost to Arujau in round one at 113, but then captured four bouts on the backside to take fifth.  Joe Russo of Rocky Point took a similar path at 170 – nabbing fifth after falling to Steve Schneider in his initial contest. Fox Lane’s Ben Ettlinger and Freeport’s Julius Diaz lost to 2014 NYS titlewinners Vincent DePrez and Shakur Rasheed, respectively, in their openers, but bounced back to earn sixth. 

A trio of wrestlers recorded fourth place showings after falling in round one.  That included Plainedge’s Robert Oliver (who dropped a one-point decision to top seeded Levi Ashley at 195), Monroe Woodbury’s Rob Kelly at 220 and Newark Valley’s Derek Holcomb at 160.  (Holcomb lost to Dan DeCarlo of Port Jervis for bronze.  DeCarlo was impressive, including a tough match with Rasheed).

Also making All-State after first round setbacks were West Seneca East’s Danny Graham at 138 and Newburgh Free Academy’s Da’mani Burns at 126.


Down to the Wire . . .

Travis Passaro and 2013 state champion Alex Delacruz had a thrilling match for the 126 pound title.  Passaro led 1-0 in the third period, but the Ossining wrestler scored a takedown with about 20 seconds remaining to go ahead 2-1.  Passaro then responded with a reversal with less than 10 ticks left to nab the 3-2 victory.

Only one title bout went to overtime, with the aforementioned Brandon Lapi topping his future Buffalo teammate Justin Cooksey at 138 pounds, 6-3.  Cooksey was a state runner up in 2012 at 106 pounds, but didn’t qualify for Albany as a junior.  He put together a strong senior season including his journey to the state title match.


What's Next?

Division 1 will bring back five state titlewinners next year – Teemer, Diakomihalis, Arujau, Piccininni and Mauriello.  In addition, silver medalists Busiello, Pappas, Quinn, Dellavecchia, Jakob Restrepo of Sachem East (145) and Vin Feola of Walt Whitman (220) are set to return.  Restrepo’s title match loss was the only setback for him all year.

Kelan McKenna of New Hartford, Vinny Vespa of Monroe Woodbury and Mike D’Angelo of Commack all made All-State for the second time with third place performances. Fellow bronze medalists Ben Lamantia, Brad Wade and Blaise Benderoth all have one more shot.  Lamantia wrestled a close match with Piccininni and after losing only to the Ward Melville standout and national #1 Spencer Lee of Pennsylvania this year, will be someone to keep tabs on in 2014-15. (We also mentioned earlier that ninth grader Louie DePrez took third).


14 out 15 . . . Pretty Darn Good

Congratulations to Christian Castillo, the winner of our Division 1 Prediction Contest.  Multiple entrants correctly picked 14 champions, but only one also got our tiebreaker question correct, selecting Hilton as the team winner.

He was one of only 6% of respondents who picked Teemer to win at 99.  He also correctly picked Williams (22%), Tracy (35%) and Mauriello (53%).

The champions who received the highest percentages of votes in the contest were Piccininni (89%), Diakomihalis (88%) and Rasheed and Sisti (both 79%).


We will be posting video interviews with a number of the state champions and some others in the next few days.  We of course will also post our Division 2 tournament reactions. Keep an eye out for those!

Our sincere thanks to the many people who helped with our coverage this weekend.  Special thanks to Matt Diano, Matt Schultz, Jason Bross and Adam Burgos.