The Section 1 Dual Meet tournament began today. Let's take a look at the wrestlers and teams to watch in Section 1 in 2015-16.
This article is written by New York Wrestling News, with contributions from coaches and observers.
Sulla, Photo by BV
Returning Placers: Justin Lopez (Yonkers), Anthony Sulla (North Rockland)
Returning Qualifiers: Trey Wardlaw (East Ramapo), Randy Earl (John Jay East Fishkill)
Justin Lopez of Yonkers earned a spot in the semifinals in his first appearance at the NYS championships, topping eventual placer Michael Gonyea of Columbia in his opener before finishing sixth at 99 pounds.
"Lopez has had some good matches this offseason," Iowa Style Wrestling's John Degl said. "I think he can finish higher in the state."
Trey Wardlaw of East Ramapo beat Lopez for the Section 1 title and (one other time during the season; both by major). He entered the state tournament unbeaten and lost to a pair of placers. He’ll look to go further this time around.
"He's very scrappy, doesn't get nervous and has a really good double," Degl said. Both Lopez and Wardlaw could potentially be back at the lightest class.
Anthony Sulla of North Rockland took advantage of his first bid to Albany, earning All-State status with a sixth place finish at 106. The wrestler Sulla topped for the Section 1 crown, Randy Earl of John Jay East Fishkill, won a pair of matches at the Times Union Center as well. (They went 1-1 against each other).
"Sulla did well at the state tournament last year," Degl said. "Randy's been wrestling a lot. He's wrestled well at Waterway Duals against tough competition."
Speaking of Section silver medalists, Jake Shore and Jordan Wallace of New Rochelle were second at 113 and 126, while Maksim Kutsepau of Clarkstown North finished only behind the graduated Alex D’Angelo at 120. It looks like both Wallace and Kutsepau will be jumping several weights this year.
A host of third placers from the Section are back, including Garrett Semenetz of Mahopac, Ulises Olmedo of Arlington, Michael Dabramo of Scarsdale and Brice Artrip of Suffern.
Luca Errico of Byram Hills, Matthew Kramer and Louie Cree of John Jay Cross River and John Burns of Brewster all nabbed fourth.
"It's scary how athletic Errico is. He's really strong and fast," Degl said. "Louie looks really good, really strong. I think he could definitely surprise people."
Dean Artrip, a multi-time NYS qualifier in Section 9 (Division 2), is now a student at Suffern and will look to get back to Albany representing his new school.
Returning Qualifiers: Kevin Knox (Carmel), Matt Grippi (Fox Lane), Brady Robin (Arlington)
Matt Grippi, now a sophomore, has been a factor in the Section since he was in seventh grade. He’s notched quality victories for years and made his first trip to the state tournament as a wildcard in 2015. While the same wrestler who topped him for the Section title (Daiton Powell of Suffern), defeated him in the wrestlebacks in Albany, Grippi is back and will be in the mix at the highest level.
"He's from a wrestling family and he's as tough as they come," Suffern coach Chris Matteotti said.
"I think at 132 or 138, he's the main man in the Section," Degl added. "Anything less than third at the state tournament would be a massive disappointment. He's had some amazing wins and some close losses against great wrestlers in the offseason."
Arlington’s Brady Robin came out on top in a stacked class at 138 pounds last year which saw Grant Cuomo of Brewster take second and Conor Melbourne of John Jay Cross River nab third. Both Cuomo and Melbourne got in the win column at the Super 32 Challenge, at 145 and 152, respectively, a few weeks ago. And Melbourne once again shined at the NHSCA Nationals in Virginia Beach in the spring, finishing as the runner up in the Sophomore competition at 138 pounds.
"Any of them could place very high at states," Degl said. "They've gone all over and beaten studs at offseason events. They're really dedicated to getting better."
Another placer in that class, Romello Bradley of East Ramapo, is someone else to track.
"Bradley is a strong kid, very fast," Degl said. "You can't really count him out."
Kevin Knox of Carmel captured the Section 1 title at 126 pounds and will look to get back to the Times Union Center again.
"Knox is the returning section champ and he'll be the favorite," Degl said. "He's been wrestling all year long."
According to Degl, Knox has wrestled Anthony Alexandrou of Byram Hills in the offseason, a wrestler who was top four last year in the Section and may be ready to climb the ladder.
A Section runner up a year ago, Alex Leone (Carmel) showed he was capable of mixing it up with some of the state’s best when he placed at the Eastern States Classic last January. Look for him to make an impact again.
Some other returning placers to track include Suffern’s Peter Oliveto (a third place finisher in 2014 in the Section as well) and Brian Nicpon as well as New Rochelle’s Jake Logan, Carmel’s Ahken Chu and Eastchester’s Phil Capriglione.
And Fredy Guevara of Yonkers has had some impressive wins, while Degl pointed to JJCR's Ray Cotto as another wrestler to watch.
"Ray had a tremendous offseason," Degl said. "He beat NJ and PA state place finishers. He had some huge wins, which makes me think he'll be ready for the competition."
Returning Placers: Nunzio Crowley (Eastchester), Mike Dinardo (Mahopac)
Returning Qualifier: Stephen Lauro (Suffern)
After a breakout season in which he took fifth at the state tournament at 170 pounds after earning the title in Section 1, Nunzio Crowley was very active in the offseason, gearing up for another run.
The same is true for Mahopac’s Mike Dinardo, who made his debut performance at the Times Union Center a memorable one with a fourth place showing at 182. He’s ready to make more noise this time around.
"I can't see why Crowley and Dinardo wouldn't be in the mix at the state tournament," Matteotti said.
"Dinardo is probably my favorite to place highest in Section 1," Degl added. "I definitely predict him as a state finalist. There are guys there who will be hard to beat, but he could definitely win a state title. He's good enough."
John Jay Cross River’s Evan Frank was second behind Crowley a year ago and Degl called him "All-State caliber". Another wrestler with definite podium potential at the end of the year is Alex Melikian, who made an impact at the Eastern States with a fifth place finish for Kennedy Catholic at 182. He is now a student at Lakeland-Panas.
"Alex placed at Eastern States last year and he had a hard road to do it - it wasn't a fluke," Degl said. "He definitely should place at states this year."
Stephen Lauro of Suffern won over 30 bouts at 152 and picked up a victory in Albany. He'll move up in weight for this season.
"Stephen's goal is to win the Section again and place at the state tournament," Matteotti said. "If he works hard, that's well within his reach."
Jake Spreckman of Clarkstown South entered the Section 1 tournament as the top seed at 170 in 2015. He didn't make the top six, but will be looking to finish high at the state qualifier this time around.
While all the finalists in the 195, 220 and 285 pound classes graduated, there are some wrestlers who look ready to step in and make a statement of their own.
Tanner Nielsen of Arlington and Jonathan Clune of Fox Lane picked up more than 30 victories last season while finishing third and fourth at 195 in the Section.
Justin Warner of Beacon returns after a bronze at 220, where he topped Bim Gecaj of John Jay Cross River. Meanwhile, Halil Gecaj of JJCR took third at NHSCA Freshman Nationals at 220 and is a wrestler to watch, as is Suffern’s TJ Groesbeck. And don't forget about Anthony Martins of Mahopac, who was 13-1, according to trackwrestling, but didn't wrestle at the Section 1 championships.
Certainly Mike Larm of Brewster is someone to keep tabs on as a senior. Larm came within one victory of placing at the FloNationals in the spring at 285 and wrestled at the Super 32 Challenge. Khaled Dassan of Yonkers also competed at the Super 32.
"Dassan is hard to score on and tough," Degl said. "At heavyweight, I think Larm will be tough to beat."
Courtesy Suffern Wrestling twitter
Suffern won the title by over 40 points last year after also earning the Section 1 dual championship. The squad lost a pair of champions in Daiton Powell and Peter Pjetri, as well as bronze medalist Tyrick Jackson, however, seven placers return.
That includes gold medalist Stephen Lauro as well as third placer Bryce Artrip. Peter Oliveto, Will Marin, Luis Cuevas, Brian Nicpon, TJ Groesbeck and newcomer Dean Artrip all have strong point scoring potential and look to climb higher on the podium.
"It was definitely an emotional year for us," Matteotti said. "We lost one of our coaches during the year [Mickey DeSimone] and we rallied around that. We wrestled with a lot of emotion. We had a very balanced team last year. We're hoping guys get into the right weights and stay healthy and we can have that same type of balance. Everyone's goal is to improve upon last year's finish and climb up that podium and contribute to the team."
The 2015 silver medal squad, John Jay Cross River, will be a serious threat. While placers like Ari Fay and Brian Kershner graduated, several others are back with the ability to make an impact, including Evan Frank, Matthew Kramer, Louie Cree, Conor Melbourne, Bim Gecaj and Halil Gecaj.
"They'll be really tough as a tournament team and in duals," Degl said. "They're talented and have a great coach. I think lightweight Chris Cook will win a bunch of matches for them."
Finishing in the third spot was Mahopac, which sees state placer Mike Dinardo return, along with Garrett Semenetz, Anthony Martins and Michael Muldoon. Several teams have the potential to climb the standings, with Arlington (featuring three top three Section 1 finishers), Brewster and New Rochelle among them.
Aslanian, Photo by BV
Returning Placers (2014): Kyle Aslanian (Edgemont)
Returning Qualifiers: Sean McGarvey (Pearl River), Mikey Bruno (Putnam Valley), Kyle Sams (Putnam Valley), Satoshi Abe (Putnam Valley)
The competition for the 99 pound title was fierce last year, with a pair of previous state qualifiers (Mikey Bruno of Putnam Valley and James Bathon of Pleasantville) as well as Sean McGarvey of Pearl River. It was McGarvey who came out on top at the Section 1 tournament, majoring the other two in the process and securing a spot in Albany. (Bathon is not listed in trackwrestling for this season at the time of publication of this article).
"Those guys could be in the mix again," said Edgemont coach Pete Jacobson. "McGarvey and Bruno have put in a lot of work."
That same is true for Edgemont’s Kyle Aslanian, who made the podium at the NYS championships in 2014. However, after taking second behind the now-graduated James Kelly at the state qualifier at 120 last year, he didn’t get back to the state capital. We expect that he will return in February and will be a threat to earn All-State honors again.
"Kyle will be at 126 or 132," Jacobson said. "He underperformed at the Sectional tournament last year. He definitely has a lot more of a sense of urgency. He knows it's his last year of wrestling in high school and I see that driving him to get better. Kyle's plan is being on the podium in Albany. He's capable of doing it. He's a great natural athlete and very competitive. It's just a question of utilizing his talents and skills in a style and gameplan that favors him."
A trio of Putnam Valley wrestlers competed in the lightweights a year ago in Albany - the previously mentioned Bruno, Kyle Sams and Satoshi Abe. Sams opened against eventual NYS champ Jon Gomez of Locust Valley but bounced back with a pair of wins to just miss the podium. Abe did the same at 113, picking up a pair of overtime wins.
"Bruno is looking really good and so is Sams," said Iowa Style Wrestling's John Degl. "Abe looks almost invincible to me in Section 1. I think with the way he's been wrestling, he could win a state title. He's gotten really good on top."
Who are some others who could be in the mix this time around?
Pearl River’s Dylan Urban was the 106-pound runner up as an eighth grader, while Thomas Barsuch of Croton Harmon nabbed third in that bracket.
A pair of Putnam Valley wrestlers who placed high in the Section in 2014, but missed the latter part of last season, Noah Kelvas and Jared Eliopolous, will certainly be in contention.
"They're both back and wrestling well," Degl said. "Eliopoulous has some really good wins this offseason. He's been the starter for [Iowa Style Wrestling] on dual teams for two major events and had to beat out tough guys to get there."
Karl Burnich of Nanuet, George Mellor of Edgemont and Alec McDonald of Putnam Valley are a few more to watch.
Kurzhals, Photo by BV
Returning Placers: Jake Kurzhals (Pearl River)
Returning Qualifiers: Jack Chesman (Pearl River)
Jake Kurzhals of Pearl River had an outstanding run through the state tournament in his first appearance there, defeating previous state placers in three consecutive matches to make it to the finals (where he was defeated by two-time NYS champ Kellen Devlin of Amherst). Now on everyone’s radar, Kurzhals will look for another strong performance in Albany to complete his career.
"His state tournament was awesome," Jacobson said. "He and his coaching staff knew better than anyone else what he was capable of and he put together a tremendous weekend."
His teammate Jack Chesman also made an impression at the Times Union Center.
"To go up to the state tournament as an eighth grader and win a match at 132, you have to figure he has a pretty high ceiling," Jacobson said. "You don't see a lot of junior high kids even at the state tournament, let alone winning a match at that weight class."
Some silver medalists at the state qualifier are worth keeping an eye on this year, such as Nanuet’s Dylan Mateo, Pearl River’s Anthony Malfitano and Pleasantville’s Lou Quintanilla.
"Quintanilla impressed me last year. He was strong and scrappy at his weight," Jacobson said. "He pretty much took everyone apart in the Section except Santana in the finals. I would look for him to do well this year. Max Worobow [of Edgemont] took fourth at that weight will be in the mix as well."
Among the others to track include Ryan Duffy of Westlake, Robert Dinota of Westlake and Matt Kuhlmann of Pawling, as well as Antonio Espada and Sumner Kataka of Woodlands.
Returning Qualifiers: Cliffton Wang (Edgemont), Connor Breit (Nanuet)
Edgemont’s Cliffton Wang has already represented Section 1 twice going into his junior year. He got to the Round of 8 last year and is looking for that breakthrough to the medal stand.
"Cliffton was a 100% good enough to place last year," Jacobson said. "He put a lot of pressure on himself to wrestle well at the state tournament and let that pressure hold back how he performed. He'll be the first one to tell you he didn't open up. He wasn't as aggressive as he typically is. That's when he's at his best. It's just a question of staying loose and being ready to let it fly. He's a complete wrestler and a very hard worker. He's humble and a coach's dream to coach."
Connor Breit of Nanuet is a returning Section 1 champion looking for another shot at New York’s best in Albany. Breit lost to a finalist in the first round but won twice in the consis, including by technical fall, to finish one win shy of the medal stand.
"Breit is very good," Jacobson said. "I think he should place in the state this year."
Who else are we watching?
Henry Cunniffee of Pleasantville returns after a second place finish, while Jesse Fleming of North Salem, Rob Drake of Pawling, Oran Hamilton of Pearl River, Silvio Trabucco of Woodlands and Lou Russo of Edgemont took top five at last year's state qualifier.
Andrew Borerro of Westlake came into the state qualifier as the #2 seed.
Jordan Artope and Sebastian Burbano of Hendrick Hudson, who wrestled at the Section 1 championships in Division 1 last year, will look to make an impact at the small school tournament this time around.
Putnam Valley took a second straight team title a year ago and while the losses of All-State grappler Willie Messinger and several other placers will be felt, the team is in solid position to earn the top spot again. That begins with a trio of state qualifiers leading the way - Kyle Sams, Satoshi Abe and Mikey Bruno. In addition, Alec McDonald, Mike Nolan and Rudy Gonzales placed at the Section 1 tournament a year ago while past medalists like Noah Kelvas and Jared Eliopolous will provide a boost.
Pearl River, which finished less than 10 points behind Putnam Valley a year ago, will be a force again. State second placer Jake Kurzhals will be back, as will qualifiers Sean McGarvey and Jack Chesman, as well as Section finalists Dylan Urban and Anthony Malfitano. Add more 2015 medalists like Oran Hamilton, Brian Roberts and Emmett McCann to the picture and it's clear that this is a squad with the ability to rack up points at the end of the season.
"I think Putnam Valley and Pearl River are the teams to beat," Jacobson said. "They're far and away the frontrunners. For Putnam Valley, they have a lot of firepower and two guys that didn't even wrestle for them at Sectionals last year will add to their point total. It's hard to know what will happen after those two teams until we get some competition under our belts. I think Pleasantville will be up this year and we [Edgemont] have a smaller team, but most of our successful guys back in the mix. It will be fun to see how Hendrick Hudson adjusts and what Nanuet and Ardsley look like with new coaches."
Edgemont earned the bronze spot last year and welcomes several placers back into the fold. That includes 2014 All-State wrestler Kyle Aslanian, plus two-time NYS qualifier Cliffton Wang as well as George Mellor, Max Worobow, Andrew Williams and Lou Russo.
Both Nanuet and Pleasantville return a number of wrestlers who earned podium spots in the Section as well and could make runs. The addition of Hendrick Hudson to the small school field will also bring some change.
Thank you to all the contributors to this article, with special thanks to Chris Matteotti, Peter Jacobson and John Degl.