Over the next few weeks, New York Wrestling News will be getting ready for the upcoming season by taking a look at the wrestlers and teams to watch in each area of the state. Last week, we began with Section 10. On Tuesday, we took a glance at Section 7. Now, let's look at Section 1.
Four seniors from Section 1 were state finalists in 2014 – Alex Delacruz of Ossining, Brett Perry of John Jay East Fishkill, Andrew Grella of Beacon and Mike Manni of Tappan Zee. With those wrestlers finished with their scholastic careers, who is a threat to wear the light blue singlet deep into the NYS tournament this year?
Some of the candidates include returning state placers Jay Albis of John Jay East Fishkill, Blaise Benderoth of North Rockland and Kyle Aslanian of Edgemont, multi-time All-American Youssif Hemida of Mamaroneck and superfreshman Matt Grippi of Fox Lane. Let's take a look at those wrestlers and more...
Note: 120-pound NYS fourth place finisher Jon Errico has transferred to the Brunswick School in Connecticut.
Jay Albis racked up quality wins throughout his 40-5 campaign, so it wasn’t a big surprise when he went on a run at the state event, nabbing fourth at 113 pounds. We expect to see him high on the medal stand at the end of the season.
“Jay will be tough at whatever weight he goes,” said Iowa Style Wrestling coach John Degl, mentioning that Albis might stay at 113 again. “He’s way better than he was last year. He has wrestled well against some of the top guys in the state, like Yianni Diakomihalis and Kyle Quinn, but hasn’t beaten them yet. I think he’ll place very high.”
Every coach or wrestler we talked to mentioned Fox Lane's Matt Grippi as someone to watch closely this year. Grippi put together a tremendous eighth grade season, going 33-7 at 120 pounds and grabbing second in the Section behind NYS placer Jon Errico. The two met four times, with Grippi coming out on top by decision, 4-2 in early January. All of his losses were to state placers, with the exception of one setback to multi-time qualifier Evan Barczak of Monroe Woodbury.
“I think Matt is ready for the next step,” Degl said. “Jon Errico lost twice at states to [NYS third placer and Michigan recruit] Ben Lamantia and Grippi beat Lamantia handily at the Waterway Duals. Grippi is still a kid – only a ninth grader, but he’s very poised and he’s good on top, bottom and on his feet.”
Another ninth grader to watch is Grant Cuomo of Brewster, who won 36 matches last season while wrestling between 120 and 132 pounds.
“Grant will come out of the woodwork this year and people won’t see it coming," Degl said. "He has experience, having wrestled a lot of varsity already and he’s very accomplished for a ninth grader.”
While we're talking about frosh, it's worth mentioning Fredy Guevara of Yonkers. Although he didn’t make the podium in the Sectional tournament last year, his work in the offseason can’t be ignored. Guevara went 34-10 as an eighth grader at 126 pounds with a win over Section third placer Marlon Borge of North Rockland and 30 bonus point wins, including 25 pins. He then went undefeated at the Schoolboy National Duals in Florida in Freestyle before notching All-American honors at the Asics Kids Nationals in Utah (fourth at 136 pounds).
We just mentioned Marlon Borge, who was part of a strong lightweight contingent for North Rockland. Borge won 35 times with 18 falls and took bronze at 126 at the Sectional championships. Anthony Sulla also was third (at 99 pounds) after a 42-win campaign.
"Marlon Borge put in a lot of work in the offseason," North Rockland coach Jeff Swick said. "He's a senior and he's doing everything right to give himself the best chance to get to Albany. Anthony Sulla is ready for a big year. He was actually tied for the A4 wildcard last year, but [eventual NYS runner up] Adam Busiello got it. Sulla could have been on the podium last year. He'll be at 106 or 113 and he'll be in the mix for the Section title. If he gets to Albany, he could make noise."
A North Rockland wrestler who did go to the state capital in 2014, Alex D'Angelo, is also back after a 36-6 record.
"I definitely see [D'Angelo] building on what he did last year," Swick said. "He had a torn LCL and definitely wasn't at 100% when he won Section title and wrestled at the state tournament. He still managed a win up there. Now he's healthy."
Suffern offers quite a few quality returning lightweights as well. Daiton Powell was the silver medalist in Section 1 behind 2013 state champion Alex Delacruz of Ossining and posted a 37-5 mark at 126 pounds, including 23 falls. Powell had a win over state placer Tristin DeVincenzo of Port Jefferson (and beat Alex Sanchez of Mamaroneck, a 25-match winner).
In addition, Powell's teammate Peter Oliveto had a strong freshman season, going 33-7 at 106 and taking third in the Section. He split with the previously mentioned Alex D’Angelo and defeated state qualifier Adam Gomez of the PSAL.
In addition to Powell, we will keep close tabs on another pair of Section 1 silver medalists – Brady Robin of Arlington and Conor Melbourne of John Jay Cross River.
Robin finished second in the Section 1 tournament behind Jay Albis, who defeated him in all three of their meetings. However, Robin won 43 times as a sophomore, including over 2013 NYS medalist Golan Cohen and recorded 30 bonus victories along the way.
"Brady Robin is tough," Swick said. "He comes from a long line of wrestlers. I could see him getting up to the state tournament and doing well."
Conor Melbourne, a sophomore, won 30 matches a year ago and was second to multi-time state placer John Muldoon of Pearl River at the Section 1 championships. He then picked up All-American honors at the NHSCA Nationals, notching seventh at 132 pounds.
“Melbourne’s a returning finalist who is very talented,” Degl said. “I think he’ll be competitive with anyone."
Some third placers to watch: Romello Bradley of East Ramapo who was the bronze medalist at 132 and Kevin Knox of Carmel, who won 36 times with 26 pins at 113. David Ortiz of Yonkers could break out as well.
Speaking of Yonkers, Justin Lopez nabbed fifth at 99 a year ago, but Degl believes he’s someone to watch.
“He might be the favorite if he goes 99,” Degl said. “He’s beaten a lot of good kids and he has experience. Watch out for him.”
New Rochelle's Jake Shore, a 28-match winner, was another wrestler mentioned on the watch list.
Benderoth, Photo by BV
North Rockland's Blaise Benderoth got on the NYS podium for the first time last year with a third place showing. He made a significant jump from 120 pounds as a sophomore to 152 as a junior and adjusted extremely well, going 46-4 and losing only in the state capital to two-time state champion Louis Hernandez of Mepham in a 7-5 decision. He had numerous quality wins last season, including three over Fargo All-American Jesse Porter. A runner up at the Eastern States Classic as well, Benderoth is certainly among the contenders for state gold next February.
"Blaise is very good on his feet, he's a really good scrambler and on top, he can ride high level wrestlers and hold them down," Swick said. "He’s definitely a leader in the room who sets the right example. The goal for him is a state championship. We definitely think it’s well within his reach."
Frank Surace of Fox Lane moved between 145 and 152 last year before settling on the higher weight for the stretch run. He nabbed second in the Section behind Benderoth. His 32-4 performance, including 18 pins, bodes well for a highly successful 2014-15 season.
"Surace is a quality kid," Swick said. "Last year, he was wrestling through an injury. He made the Section finals but not at 100%. If he’s rehabbed, I could see him in the mix."
Surace went 1-1 against Ketcham’s Danny Murphy last season. Like Surace, Murphy (145 pounds) stood in the second position on the podium at the Sectional qualifier. Murphy put together at 38-6 season and is certainly capable of making his first appearance in Albany.
Brian Kershner of John Jay Cross River notched fourth at 138 pounds a year ago and is another wrestler to track.
Hemida, Photo by BV
At the start of February, Mamaroneck's Youssif Hemida was a double-digit seed at the Sectional championships. Now, months later, he’s ranked in the top 20 nationally. How did he do it? He earned All-America honors at every opportunity – seventh at the NHSCA Junior Nationals in Virginia Beach, second at the FloNationals and fifth in Junior Freestyle at Fargo. It was his second straight podium performance in Fargo, as he was seventh in Cadet Freestyle in 2013. However, after that, an injury kept him out for most of the scholastic season, before he emerged in time for a postseason run. One thing’s for sure – he won’t be a double-digit seed in New York high school events again. In fact, he’ll be one of the favorites from the start this year in the Empire State.
“Youssif has a great shot at winning a state title,” said Degl, noting that he is leaning toward competing at heavyweight. “He’s so much better than he was last year. He spent the whole year training, went to lots of camps and worked out with guys like [NCAA champion] Nick Gwiazdowski. He’s even more dedicated than in the past. His neck injury made him develop more aspects to his wrestling. Instead of shooting his double leg and possibly jamming his neck, he learned to create more angles, go upper body more. He developed a Russian series, an underhook series and got better on top. He won Sectionals last year without his best shots. He’s much more polished now.”
A number of second placers will look to get over the hump and into the New York State championships in Albany this year – New Rochelle’s Demetrius Rodriguez, Suffern’s Peter Pjetri, Horace Greeley’s Brock Cvijanovich and Mahopac’s Ryan Delahanty.
Cvijanovich had a solid junior campaign at 195 pounds, going 34-8 with wins over NYS medalist Erik Jessell of Cornwall and state qualifier Tim Flower of Schalmont. Five of his losses came to NYS second placers Andrew Grella and Brett Perry.
“Brock works out like a madman,” Degl said. “He’s someone who could make a big impact.”
Ryan Delahanty was a Section finalist following a very strong 35-3 season at 220 pounds. He won 30 times by bonus points and won more than 15 in a row heading into the championship bout at the state qualifier against the previously mentioned Hemida. He’ll look to punch his first ticket to Albany in 2015.
“Delahanty could place this year,” Degl said.
Pjetri was 33-6 at 182 pounds with 22 falls. He faced some of New York’s best, suffering losses to nationally-ranked Christian Dietrich, All-Staters Brett Perry and Robert Ng and qualifier Nick McShea of Monroe Woodbury.
Meanwhile, Demetrius Rodriguez was 21-7 at 170, and also, like Pjetri faced off against some of the top competition the Empire State had to offer. That included both the Division 1 and 2 state champs (Steven Schneider and Burke Paddock) as well as large school runner up Erik Adon and small school placer Geno Brancati. Those experiences should give him a boost going into the new season.
The two spots behind Cvijanovich at 195 were taken by Fox Lane’s Jonathan Clune and Suffern’s Tyrick Jackson. Clune collected 32 victories, while three of his setbacks came against the Horace Greeley wrestler. He topped Jackson, who was 30-9 overall, in the bronze match at the Sectional championships.
North Rockland won its second straight crown last year by more than 65 points over Fox Lane. Can the Raiders record the three-peat?
It looks like the pieces are in place for another serious run, with five returning Section 1 placers, including champions Blaise Benderoth (152) and Alex D’Angelo (106). In addition, bronze medalists Anthony Sulla and Marlon Borge are back in the lightweights, along with Derek DiMarsico. Those wrestlers are capable of significant points.
“We graduated 11 seniors, so this year is a little bit of a rebuilding year, but we have another solid senior class and five returning placers. I think all five can be Section champs this year," Benderoth said. "Everyone puts in the time and we definitely have three-peat potential. We have awesome coaches – Jeff Swick and John Hoke. When Coach Swick took over, we won our first Section championship in school history. Then we won again last year. So, since he’s been our head coach, he’s always been a champ. We have to keep that legacy going.”
Swick agrees that the opportunity is there for his squad.
"This year is certainly going to be tougher - we don’t have as much firepower," Swick said. "We have that core - any one of them could be a Section champ and All-State. And then we have a group of guys under the radar, that we're reloading with, who will catch people by surprise. The younger guys have done a lot of work in the offseason. We have our work cut out for us. I'm curious to see how it will shake out."
Who will challenge North Rockland?
“I see Suffern as our biggest competition,” Benderoth said. “They have a lot of really good wrestlers coming back and they always seem tough – at every weight class.”
Last year's third place team, Suffern brings back five grapplers who were on the Section 1 medal stand. Daiton Powell and Peter Pjetri took second (at 126 and 182, respectively), while Peter Oliveto grabbed third at 106. All three of those wrestlers had over 30 wins a year ago with single digit losses. The same is true for Tyrick Jackson, who was fourth at 195. Stephen Lauro took sixth at 138.
"Suffern comes to mind right away as a threat. They bring back pretty much all their guys and they're a rival for us," Swick said. "You can never count out Fox Lane - they always have solid guys and one or two that you just don't see coming."
Fox Lane will feature Section silver medalists Matt Grippi and Frank Surace, while Jonathan Clune was third. Scott Rodrigues had a 24-6 mark through the end of January a year ago. The team may look to grapplers like Asben Gecaj (21 wins) and Ben Singer (17) to pile up victories.
“Fox Lane has been good for such a long time – as long as I can remember they’ve been a really good team," Benderoth said. "Matt Grippi is a great freshman who can definitely place at states. He has so many good years ahead of him – I think he could win more than one state championship. Frank Surace will also be a threat."
John Jay East Fishkill boasted a pair of NYS medalists last year, including runner up Brett Perry (now at the University at Buffalo) and Jay Albis. Albis will be back, along with three others who medaled in the Section – Randy Earl, Tom Docherty and Grant Frederick. New Rochelle also welcomes back four Section placers – Demetrius Rodriguez, Jake Shore, Jordan Wallace and Moises Tera.
"New Rochelle has a lot of tough, hard working kids," Swick said. "Jordan Wallace is very good and can have a big year. Then there are guys like Demetrius Rodriguez and Jake Shore and others. The dual with them will be a battle. I also think Arlington will put together a tough team with Brady Robin and some young kids in the lineup. And Yonkers is getting really tough."
According to Degl, Mamaroneck could be a sleeper this year.
"I think Mamaroneck could surprise some people," he said. "They're an older team with a new head coach and some really tough guys like Youssif Hemida, Max Valera and Roger Ransom. I think Roger will surprise people this year and Valera has gotten a lot better and will be in the mix for a Section title."
The Aslanians added another NYS medal to the family collection last year as Kyle Aslanian took sixth in Albany at 106 pounds. He returns after a 25-9 campaign looking to make it two in a row on the medal stand in the state capital.
"Kyle placed last year, but to be honest, we feel he underperformed at the state tournament," said Edgemont coach Peter Jacobson. "It was his first time up there and, like a lot of kids, he wrestled a little tight. He certainly had some good matches but others we felt could have gone the other way. He spent a tremendous amount of time for the past seven or eight months really working to improve where he wasn’t as strong. He had the technical tools last year but when push came to shove in high pressure situations, he wasn't as confident as he could have been. A lot of ground has been gained in that regard. He'll probably be at 113 or 120 and I think we’ll see a lot more of him controlling a match and wrestling to his strengths, especially against higher level of competition. He's capable of ending his season much higher on the podium than last year."
He was the only Division 2 wrestler to garner All-State honors a year ago. Who are some of the top candidates to pick up postseason accolades in 2015?
The 99-pound title tilt featured the 2013 champion, James Bathon of Pleasantville and Putnam Valley’s Mikey Bruno. The latter came out on top to earn a spot in Albany. Each has now competed at the Times Union Center once and will look to make it twice this winter. That’s also true for Noah Kelvas of Putnam Valley, who was a state qualifier in 2013 and had 29 wins last year.
"Bruno and Bathon are both very good," Jacobson said. "Bathon definitely wasn't at 100% last year and from what I understand, he is now. Kelvas is also very good. The way the weights shake out will be interesting."
And to complicate matters, another wrestler who competed in the state capital (in 2013) on the Division 1 side, James Kelly of Pearl River, will be in the lightweight mix as well as the Pirates are transitioning to small school competition this year. His teammate Sean McGarvey, who was second in the Section in the large school tournament last year, also is ready to make some noise.
“I think James Kelly and Sean McGarvey can both do damage at the state tournament in Division 2 this year,” Benderoth said.
A few more wrestlers from the first few weights to think about: Degl mentioned that Putnam Valley's Kyle Sams "could be every bit as good as Bruno" and Westlake's Robert Dinota won 23 bouts a year ago when he took second behind Kyle Aslanian at the Sectionals.
Nanuet had wrestlers in the finals in four straight classes at last year’s state qualifier – 113 pounds through 132. With the exception of the now-graduated Joe Dillon at 120, however, the Golden Knight grapplers took second. Those silver medalists (Dylan Mateo, Eric Boyle and Chris Lowery) will be looking to climb one step higher this time around. All had at least 19 wins a year ago and the wrestlers that defeated them in the finals have all graduated.
"Mateo wrestled Tyler Aslanian in the section finals last year and Tyler was a lot more experienced and was able to shut Mateo down," Jacobson said. "Boyle and Lowery are both seniors. Carmine Serra always does a very good job of developing athletes, so to have those kids take second in the Section, I think you have to expect that they will continue to get better and always be prepared to wrestle hard."
Jacobson also mentioned Edgemont's Max Worobow as someone who will be contention after taking third at 132 in 2014.
Wang, Courtesy edgemontwrestling.org
Cliffton Wang of Edgemont was one of just a handful freshmen in the brackets at or above 138 pounds at the Division 2 state tournament. He was 25-8, including a victory at the Times Union Center. Look for him to return to the state capital, although up at 152 or 160.
"Cliffton comes from a wrestling family. His brother took third in the state for us several years ago," Jacobson said. "He really started to get that confidence and come into his own last year. A couple of small mistakes cost him at states, if you watch the matches as a whole, he was outwrestling the competition. He’s a special kid for a lot of reasons - a tremendous athlete but humble with a great work ethic. He has worked very very hard to really elevate his game to the next level and I'll be very surprised if he’s not All-State this year."
“Cliffton might have been a little overwhelmed last year at the state tournament, but I think he should place this year," the Iowa Style coach said. "He's very competitive with some tough kids."
If Wang makes the journey to the state capital, perhaps he’ll be joined by Pawling’s Chris Santana, who took second behind him at the Section 1 championships in 2014. Santana registered a 21-3 mark at 138 pounds in 2013-14.
"Certainly Santana is a very solid wrestler," Jacobson said. "Cliffton wrestled a phenomenal finals match, but if you look at Santana’s body of work last season, he should be a favorite at almost any weight he’ll be at."
Who else should we track? How about Pleasantville wrestlers Brandon Castro and Thomas Marrone? Both notched runner up showings in the Section, at 145 and 160, respectively.
"Castro is a physical wrestler," Jacobson said. "When you take kids like Castro and Marrone, who lost to guys in the finals that graduated, it puts them in a position to win the Section, depending on how things shake out."
Jacobson also pointed to North Salem's Teddy Fleming, a third place finisher a year ago and returning fourth placer Brian Evans of Edgemont, who "has put in a lot of time and effort to best position himself for a lot of success."
Breit, Courtesy of lohudblogs.com
Willie Messinger of Putnam Valley earned his ticket to Albany with a fall in the finals of the Section 1 tournament. He went 1-2 at the Times Union Center, falling to two eventual placers. However, he’ll be a challenger again this time around.
Degl said Messinger will be a strong All-State contender this year and Jacobson agreed.
"Messinger is a great kid who works really hard," Jacobson said. "I can see him jumping levels this year. He has a ton of heart and is someone to look for at the All-State level."
The weight Messinger won was a tough one, including another upperweight to watch – Peter Jones of Irvington (20-5). Irvington will be well represented in the high classes, with two silver medalists – Zachary Silverhardt (23 wins) and Adam Krieger (20) also back.
Evan Shlom of Ardsley captured Section 1 gold a year ago, winning at 195 pounds following a 25-victory season. He nabbed first place in a battle with Nanuet’s Connor Breit, which went to overtime. Breit had a very strong freshman campaign, racking up 26 wins.
"Breit is another tremendously talented wrestler for Nanuet," Jacobson said. "He has the potential to be better than his brother [Dan, 2013 NYS placer] and that's saying a lot because his brother was really something. Other than Cliffton [Wang], I would say Connor was the most impressive freshman in D2 last year."
Joining Messinger in the Putnam Valley lineup will be another two wrestlers to track – Erdis Canaj and Constantine George, who both won more than 20 times and could take a step forward.
Putnam Valley won the Sectional crown a year ago by over 30 points and the Tigers look like the favorites to make it two in a row. There’s no doubt that titlewinners AJ Mirabal and Angelo Zegarelli as well as three other medalists will be missed, but there are still plenty of point scorers on the roster. Two of the squad’s four champions, Mikey Bruno (99) and Willie Messinger (170), are back. Six other 2014 Section 1 medalists are scheduled to compete again this winter, including third placers Jared Eliopolous, Noah Kelvas, Erdis Canaj and Constantine George as well as Satoshi Abe and Sam Honors. Kelvas took the mat at the state tournament in 2013 and hopes to do so again.
"I think Putnam Valley is the team to beat, but I think Nanuet has a lot of guys coming back and will be very strong," Jacobson said. "I know Pearl River has some tough kids and I'm curious to see how they'll fit into the tournament scoring."
Let's take a look at a few of those teams. In 2014, Edgemont and Nanuet nabbed second and third place. The Panthers bring back All-Stater Kyle Aslanian in the lightweights as well as fellow NYS qualifier Cliffton Wang. In addition, experienced wrestlers who took top six at the Sectional championships last year, such as Max Worobow, Brian Evans, George Mellor and James Hammond will look to win big in February. Head coach Pete Jacobson’s squad did say goodbye to key members such as Tyler Aslanian, Colin Hopkins and Chris Kim, all gold medalists at the state qualifier last season.
Also losing multiple Section 1 first place finishers was Nanuet, with Joe Dillon and Frank Paratore moving on, as well as runner up Alex Slaybaugh. However, the Golden Knights bring back a large group of placers, including four silver medalists – Dylan Mateo, Eric Boyle, Chris Lowery and Connor Breit. Both Breit and Boyle went to overtime in their finals matches. All will be hungry for their opportunity to go to the Times Union Center after coming close last year. They will be joined by three more teammates who placed in the Section – Akif Ahmad, Karl Burnich and Dennis Van Dunk.
Could Pleasantville make a run? All but one placer returns, although that was two-time state qualifier Stephen Paternostro. Still, the squad will rely on 2013 state qualifier James Bathon and seven others who made the Section 1 podium last year, including second placers Brandon Castro and Thomas Marrone and third placer Lou Quintanilla to stay in the thick of things.
What impact will newcomer Pearl River, moving over from Division 1, have? It could be quite significant, with James Kelly and Sean McGarvey leading the way.
"I think Pearl River will come in and be right in the mix to win it," Swick said. "People know about Kelly and McGarvey but two eighth graders, Jack Chesman and Dylan Urban, will be very good and Jake Kurzhals is also someone to watch."