As the season picks up steam, Matt Diano took a detailed look at the CHSAA and what we can expect to see from the Catholic schools and wrestlers in 2015-16.
Ebanks, Courtesy NYC Mayor's Cup FB
BY MATT DIANO
Returning/Former NYS Placers: Tito Colom (St. Francis; DII 4th in 2014; DNP in 2015)
Returning/Former Qualifiers: Dylan Ebanks (Xavier), Justin Crawford (St. Anthony’s), Brian Kelly (St. Anthony’s; 2014), Jason Javier (Kellenberg Memorial High School; 2014)
The range of weight classes possessing the most firepower this season, the Catholic League not only returns its 2015 NYSPHSAA representatives at 99-113, it also brings back a pair of 2014 qualifiers that are hungry to return to Albany after a year away.
Headlining this cohort of talented lightweights will be first/older member of the All-State Colom family duo, Tito. The owner of 125 victories in his scholastic career, last season Tito Colom would set a school record with 49 victories in his first year as a Red Raider. A 2014 NYS DII State 4th place performer as a sophomore while competing for Dunkirk, Tito would earn a pin or technical fall in all four of his CHSAA State Tournament matches a year ago. Unfortunately, in his NYS DI tourney debut, he would fall short of living up to his #2 seed at 113 pounds, going 1-2 under the roof of the Times Union Center with losses to the eventual 4th (Rocky Point’s Anthony Cirillo) and 5th (Hills East’s Phil Spadafora) place finishers. During the offseason, Tito won a NYWAY State title, demonstrating that when he is at the top of his game, he very much has the skill set to make noise on the largest of stages.
Also back after winning individual CHSAA State crowns in the two lightest weight classes are Xavier junior Dylan Ebanks and St. Anthony’s sophomore Justin Crawford. Ebanks compiled a 33-5 record last season en route to claiming his first titles at both the Mayor’s Cup and the CHSAA State tournament. He will take to the mat in 2015-2016 very much still looking the part of a future Ironman Award recipient (given to student-athletes who place all four years at the Catholic States), as his resume also includes a 3rd place finish in 2014 as a freshman. The Knight upperclassman, who would go winless a year ago at the NYSPHSAA tournament with a brutal draw that included 2015 titlist/current #1 in the nation, Adam Busiello (Eastport-South Manor) in the first round, will be determined to make amends this season.
Crawford, who win or lose, was praised repeatedly by the Friar coaching staff and fan base for his “championship attitude and work ethic”, would be a bit of a surprise champion last season. In a matter of a week’s time, he went from getting pinned in the Nassau-Suffolk League finals, to winning a 6-4 decision over that same foe (Kellenberg Memorial’s Anthony Bartolotta) in the Catholic State title bout. A winner of 21 matches (21-13) despite wrestling a very competitive schedule in 2014-2015, because this is a young man who owes all of his success to sweat, blood and tears, we expect an even bigger year out of Crawford as a sophomore following an 0-2 performance last year at the Big Dance.
Two more names that remain very much in the minds of the Catholic wrestling aficionados are Brian “BK” Kelly (St. Anthony’s) and Jason Javier (Kellenberg Memorial). Both CHSAA State Champions in 2014, the Friar and Firebird each have the big game experience that often times separates victory from defeat.
Kelly, who after seizing his aforementioned crown at 99 pounds two years ago, would endure the growing pains that sometimes accompany a jump in weight. Going a respectable 22-10 in his sophomore campaign, as the son of a FDNY firefighter, we know that nothing is going to shake this young man. The recipient of a extremely difficult draw at the NYS tournament in 2014, Kelly would pick up a victory in his debut, but would conclude the weekend with a 1-2 record. His two losses would come to the 1st and 3rd place finishers, leaving the door open to the question, if he had received a more favorable spot in the bracket, might he have found his way onto the podium as a frosh? As a two-time Catholic State finalist (lost to Tito Colom in 2015), Kelly is almost a certainty to be there at the end.
Javier, who is described by second-year KMHS head coach Eric Meisse, as “one of those guys you love having in the room because the other guys feed off his energy; he never takes a day off literally and figuratively,” would make himself a strong candidate for Outstanding Wrestler honors at the 2014 CHSAA States, recording a trio of major decisions to punch his ticket to Albany (went 0-2). While his 4th place finish as a junior would be humbling, his 32 wins (32-11) on the year suggest that there are plenty more victories on the way. A protégé of Craig Vitagliano at the Ascend Wrestling Club, the best thing about Javier is that everything good that comes his way is deserved because of the investment he makes in his own progression. While there will unquestionably be some hammers in his way, don’t be shocked if when the dust settles, it is the senior captain donning the Blue & Gold that wills his way to “last man standing” status.
Standing at the forefront of that “next wave” of talent who will be looking to earn their first CHSAA crowns in ’15-’16 will be a few of Kelly and Javier’s teammates -- 2015 Catholic finalists Dominik DiBenedetto and the previously referenced Bartolotta.
DiBenedetto, who in addition to his runner up finish at Catholic States, would be the Nassau-Suffolk League gold medalist in his rookie season, etched out a strong 16-5 record in helping the Antoni Walters-led Friars to their second consecutive CHSAA State team title.
Bartolotta, like a fine wine, continues to get better with age. As a freshman in 2014, he would finish 4th. Last season, behind a 23-4 overall record, he would move up two spots on the medal stand to 2nd. Calling last year’s loss in the finals to Crawford “crushing”, Meisse said that he has witnessed an entirely new level of intensity out of the junior. There have been no short cuts taken during the offseason as Bartolotta attended the JRob 28-Day Intensive Camp.
A few others to keep an eye on include the likes of 2015 top-4 performers, Zach Wagner (Chaminade), Vincent Barretta (St. Anthony’s), Drew English (St. John the Baptist), Stefan Lindbolm (Fordham Prep) and a Kellenberg tag-team consisting of Max Tricolla and Josh Newman. Wagner, Barretta and English would all make the podium for the first time last season, finishing 4th (99), 4th (106), and 3rd (113; defeated Javier in the bronze medal bout) at their respective classes. The rest of this group have made top-6 finishes habitual during their respective careers. Lindbolm is expected to join the Ironman Club after finishing 5th, 2nd, and 3rd in his first three years on the Rams varsity; Tricolla is going in the right direction, moving from 6th in 2014 to 4th in 2015; Newman, a 2014 finalist at 120, would be nearly as good as a junior in 2015, finishing 3rd at 126.
Despite finishing only 5th a season ago, Chaminade senior Jack Daum also commanded attention by virtue of his 3rd place showing as a sophomore in 2014. St. John the Baptist junior Joseph Lanciotti will also be seeking a third straight All-Catholic distinction, finishing 5th in both 2014 and 2015.
One additional student-athlete that peaked our interest was freshman Dominik Thomas of St. Francis. A winner of 58 matches before ever stepping foot in high school, Thomas was a two-time Section VI Class A medalist for Lake Shore, finishing 6th as a 7th grader at 99 pounds, and then improving upon it in 2015 by taking 4th at 106 pounds. Since the conclusion of last season, he has added some size and should complement the Coloms as a 126-pounder.
Note: Nico Francolino (formerly of St. Joseph’s by the Sea), was expected to be among the top challengers at 106/113, but elected to transfer to Susan B. Wagner (PSAL) for his last two years of high school.
Seitz, Photo by Philip Rufo
Returning/Former NYS Placers: Hector Colom (St. Francis; DII 5th in 2014; did not compete in 2015)
Returning/Former Qualifiers: Matt Seitz (Monsignor Farrell), Adam Santoro (Fordham Prep)
While perhaps lacking the overall depth of the lightweights, the middleweights will feature a trio of home run hitters that are capable of scoring beaucoup points in Albany come late-February. In addition to a former NYS DII placewinner, the CHSAA will be relying heavily on the two other returning qualifiers to have career showings on the big stage.
Just like his relative Tito, Hector Colom knows what it takes to get the job done in Albany. A Division II state 5th placer as an 8th grader in 2014, Hector would appear well on his way to making a return trip the state capital last season as a freshman 120-pounder. After an 8th place showing at the prestigious Eastern States Classic, Hector would have entered the Catholic State tournament as an over-the-top favorite. However, a stroke of bad luck would prematurely end his postseason when he missed weight and was forced to scratch from the Monsignor Martin League Tournament (CHSAA State qualifier). Now a year later, Colom should once again be looked upon as a heavy favorite to win Catholic gold in 2015-2016. Colom would have a solid offseason, including a bronze medal effort in the “B” bracket at the 2015 Journeymen Classic in October.
Potentially making 132 pounds the most hotly contested bracket at this year’s CHSAA State tournament could be Monsignor Farrell senior Matt Seitz. A two-time CHSAA state finalist after missing the tournament as a freshman due to injury, Seitz would pick up his first crown as a junior in 2015, recording a pin, a technical fall, and two major decisions on his way to ascending to the top of the 132-pound weight class. In his NYSPHSAA debut, Seitz would make a fine accounting of himself, going 2-2 and losing in the blood round to eventual 4th place finisher, James Szymanski (formerly of Shoreham-Wading River; currently wrestling for the University of North Carolina). Seitz’s only other loss last February would be a 3-1 sudden victory decision in the quarterfinals to two-time state runner-up Jesse Dellavecchia (East Islip alum/presently competing for Binghamton). During this past offseason, Seitz, who has committed to wrestle for the University at Buffalo, would really see his stock go through the roof, as he defeated NHSCA Senior runner up Sam Cali at the NY/NJ All-Star Charity Challenge, finished 3rd at the NHSCA Junior Nationals, and picked up a pair of victories in Fargo. Most recently, he would compile a 4-2 record at the Super 32/Battle for the Belt, falling just a few wins short of top-8 status at the preeminent preseason event. Note:There remains some talk that Seitz will attempt to cut to 126.
Similar to Seitz, another Gotham City stud that sees his star on the rise following a big offseason is Adam Santoro from Fordham Prep. A shoe-in to be an Ironman recipient in 2016, the Ram captain is a two-time defending Catholic titlist after finishing 3rd as a freshman in 2013. Very much a NYS tournament veteran, having gone 1-2 in each of the previous two seasons in the Times Union Center, the Iowa Style Wrestling Club product seems poised to make his final appearance one to remember. Up two weights from the 145-pound class he competed at as a junior, Santoro should be full of confidence as he already owns a major decision victory over one of his primary competitors, Division’s Ricky Stamm (16-7 at the Waterway Duals in September). Santoro would follow up his victory over the representative from Nassau County by winning the “B Division” of the 2015 Journeymen Classic. His offseason finale would come in early November when he posted a 5-2 record at the Super 32, knocking off a nationally ranked opponent before coming two wins short of the medal stand.
Despite being in only their fifth year of existence last season, the Crusaders of Archbishop Stepinac would come on really strong at 132 pounds, earning ½ of the total spots on the podium with three top-6 finishes. The three-headed monster of Thomas Schulze, Louis Waddell and Adrian Hyman-Martin are all back for their senior seasons in 2016. Being that all three have already proven themselves capable of putting team points in the book, a big key for the Westchester-based program will be to figure out a way to have them at three different weight classes so that the output can be maximized.
Schulze, who had the honor of being the first Stepinac wrestler in history to advance to the Catholic State finals (lost to Seitz), will need to continue leading the group if the Crusaders hope to add to the momentum established by last year’s top-7 team finish.
Waddell is nothing if not consistent. Seeded 4th at last year’s NYS qualifier, he would wrestle up to his ranking and finish exactly fourth, losing his only two matches of the tournament to the same opponent, Kellenberg’s Joseph Moscato, who has since graduated and will no longer be a thorn in the side.
Hyman-Martin would be the surprise of the group, as he entered Catholic States unseeded, but immediately put the rest of the league on notice when he upset the #2 seed in the first round. One round later, he would make it 2-for-2, winning a 2-1 decision over the #7 seed to secure a berth in the semifinals. While he would go on to drop his last three matches (two of which came at the hands of his two teammates) to finish 6th, the message was already sent.
Speaking of unheralded young men who picked the perfect time to shine last season, Kellenberg's Mike Cannon would “fit the description to a T”. Competing at 160 pounds as a junior in 2015, Cannon would finish 4th at the Nassau/Suffolk League Championships. One week later, like the Phoenix from the ashes (a symbol that carries significant meaning on the Kellenberg campus), Cannon would rise from unseeded status to finish 4th in the CHSAA State tournament. Included in this unexpected run to the podium would be some sweet revenge as he would a avenge a 6-5 Nassau/Suffolk League loss, by toppling 4th seeded Keith Brown of St. John the Baptist, 5-2, in the consolation semifinals. Cannon, who compiled a 21-17 record a year ago, has been diligently honing his craft this offseason, working out at Ascend Wrestling Club as he attempts to show that 2015 was the rule and not an exception. On November 15th, Cannon, who will try to cut to 160, but may end up at 170, competed in the second annual X-Athletic Nassau vs. Suffolk All-Star Classic, losing to defending Suffolk County DII champ, Tanner Zagarino (Mattituck). Even though the result was hardly what he wanted, the invite itself demonstrated the high opinion that is held of him.
No discussion of rallies to glory would be complete without a mention for Chaminade senior Sean Watson. Entering the 2015 postseason with a sub-.500 record, the 126-pounder would just barely sneak into the Catholic State tournament, finishing 5th at the Nassau-Suffolk League Championships. However, as the old adage goes, it is not how you start, it is how you finish, and Watson would flip the switch at the exact moment he needed to, knocking off three seeded (#5, #6 and #8) opponents to guarantee himself his first All-Catholic distinction with a fifth place showing. The top-6 finish in 2015 for Watson erased the frustration and agony of his first two seasons on the Flyer varsity. As a freshman, he would win the Nassau-Suffolk League title and enter CHSAA States as a #3 seed, but would go winless. 2014 would also end on a sour note as he would get pinned in the blood round. Now embarking on his swan song campaign, Watson will be looking to emulate his older brother, Connor, who won his first and only Catholic gold as a senior, when he pinned his way through 182-pound bracket two years ago.
Also in the hunt to do some damage on behalf of Long Island is St. Anthony’s junior Dutch Schultz. A first-time CHSAA placewinner as a sophomore, the Friar would sport a .500 record (14-14), including a runner-up finish at the Nassau-Suffolk League tournament, and a 4th place showing at Catholic States.
Adding a few more bullets to Coach Mike Messore’s arsenal will be Matt Muffoletto and Jake Duggan, who per the St. Francis coaching staff, could be used anywhere from 152-170 this season.
Muffoletto, who comes into 2015-2016 with a 125 victories (41 last season), will be looking to cap his high school career by earning All-Catholic recognition for the third time. As a freshman, he would finish 5th at 120 pounds. After a disappointing 2014 that witnessed him fail to place despite being a top-3 seed, the upstater would bounce back with conviction as a junior, finishing 4th at 145 pounds.
Duggan, the team leader in pins last season with 31 of his 42 victories being accompanied by the slapping of the mat, has been a Mr. Reliable for Messore the past two seasons. Competing at 152 pounds in both his sophomore and junior seasons, Duggan has a pair of CHSAA State bronze medals to his name. While Santoro would be favored over him at 160 pounds, if the St. Francis senior was able to cut to 152 for yet another season, he would have to be slated in as the prohibitive favorite based on resume and projections.
Rounding out our list of cited middleweights will be a pair of NYC 6th place finishers from 2015, juniors Alfredo Luna (Xavier), and Steven Isaac (Monsignor Farrell). Luna, wrestling at 126 pounds, would win 25 matches as a sophomore. He entered the 2015 Catholic State tournament as the #6 seed and would finish at that precise spot. As an upperclassman and the only other (Ebanks being the first) returning CHSAA State placer back this season for his team, Luna will be counted on to set the example through actions.
Isaac, who joins Seitz as the two returning All-Catholic wrestlers in a rare rebuilding year for the Phil Squatrito/Rob Pavis guided Lions, has really tested himself this offseason in an attempt to take his game to the next level. In July, he made the trip to Fargo, winning one match at the USAW Cadet Freestyle National Tournament. While little is ever promised or guaranteed on the mat, from the way the coaching staff is speaking about him, all indications suggest that this will be a breakout year for Isaac. A 17-match winner (17-12) as a 10th grader, Isaac knows that if his team has any hope of keeping their nine-year streak of top-3 team finishes intact, he will have to be a table setter and a leader.
Note: 2013 CHSAA State Champion/NYS qualifier Garrett Baugher, who many regarded as a threat to make the podium in Albany as a senior in 2016, has left St. Joseph’s Collegiate Institute…A Section VI placewinner as an 8th grader in 2012 for Royalton Hartland, Baugher would make his presence known immediately in the Catholic League, pinning his way to the 99-pound title. In Albany, he would get off to a strong start, beating Kelan McKenna (who has since placed three straight years in the DI State tourney), 3-0 in the first round. Leading 2-0 (over 3rd place finisher, John Busiello) in the 2013 NYS quarterfinals, Baugher would suffer an injury that would force him to withdraw, prematurely halting what looked like a very likely All-State bid. Highly-touted for his abilities on the diamond as he is on the mat, Baugher would skip the 2014 season to focus on baseball. However, he would return last season, finishing as the runner-up at the Spencerport Tournament, winning a match at the Eastern States Classic and taking home bronze at CHSAA States.
Returning/Former NYS Placers: Mason Hoose (Canisius; 2015 6th in DII)
Like many Sections, graduation hit the Catholic League especially hard up top, with all five NYSPHSAA representatives from 170-285 having moved on to the college ranks following the 2015 season. In addition, approximately 55 percent of the remaining top-6 finishers would also be seniors last season.
Taxing the issue of quality depth even further was the transfers of both the runner-up (Alex Melikian; formerly of Kennedy Catholic) and the bronze medalist (Victor Marzano; St. Joe’s by the Sea) at 182 pounds. Melikian, a two-time returning CHSAA finalist (2nd both times) who placed at the Eastern States Classic last year, was believed by many to be the best bet among the bigger guys to get on the podium in the state capital. (He's now at Lakeland-Panas in Section I).
Whereas Melikian represented the present, Marzano, who finished 2nd to the former Gael at the NYC League Championships, was going to be a future leader, as evidenced by his performance as a freshman a year ago. (He's at Poly Prep).
Thankfully, as the expression goes, “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away." Just when the CHSAA needed an influx of polished talent, it would receive a pair of impact transfers - Mason Hoose (Canisius) and Maguire Horl (St. Anthony’s).
Hoose, a two-time Section VI qualifier, who earned his first sectional placement when he won the 195-pound title in 2015 for Southwestern, would go on to finish 6th in NYS on the small school level. Hoose would advance to the DII state semis when he upset third-seeded Riley Hanrahan of Unatego. Even though he would drop three straight matches to conclude the weekend, his mark had been made. As was expected of the Coloms last season when they transferred into St. Francis, Hoose will be called upon to make a very smooth transition to the DI ranks immediately. By virtue of possessing NYS tournament experience, he instantly gets put at the head of the table.
Horl, a Section VIII county qualifier as a freshman for Garden City, would compile a 22-6 record last season while competing against much older foes. When given the chance to test himself against his age-group peers, the newest Friar would flourish, earning All-American honors in Virginia Beach behind a 5th place effort at the NHSCA Nationals. With two state crowns (Rich Sisti) and a 2015 4th place finish (Mike Newman) in the last three years being produced by the Catholic League at the NYS tournament, if Horl is the man to assume the 220-pound weight class, he does so with some big shoes to fill. Working in his favor is the fact that he comes from amazing stock as his father, Larry, was a NYS 5th place performer in 1980 for South Side, and older brother, Connor, was the 2010 NYS DI runner-up, for Garden City. Hence, stepping onto the medal stand is something of a rite of passage.
Horl would not be alone on the CHSAA State podium, as he could be complemented by senior teammate Russell Kohler. Kohler, the only returning multiple-time Catholic placewinner, finished 4th last season in a talent rich 182-pound bracket, after a 6th place finish as a sophomore in 2014. An immensely skilled defensive lineman for the Friars’ famed football program, Kohler was weighing in the 230s during the fall season. Whether it is his intention to stay at 285 or drop remains unknown. Regardless of weight class, his pedigree suggests that a third consecutive All-Catholic distinction can be written in pen without any hesitation.
Chaminade, which already features the top two returning placers at 285 in runner-up Alex Cappellino and 4th placer Zach Hermann, may find themselves in an “embarrassment of riches” type of situation if John Coughlan (5th at 220 a season ago) also moves up to super heavyweight.
Cappellino, who won 23 matches a junior (23-9), has taken all of the steps necessary to become a champion. Unlike last year where he was slightly undersized, weighing only 235, he will come into his senior season tipping the scales at around 250 pounds. The Nassau-Suffolk League runner-up as well as his previously mentioned Catholic State silver medal, the Flyer would lose both of those finals matches to St. Anthony’s Nick Fortini. Now that his nemesis has moved on, the course is clear for Cappellino to go all the way.
Hermann, who took to the CHSAA State mats last year as an unseeded wrestler following a 4th place effort at the N/S Leagues, would prove himself to be a “money player” when he decisioned the #5 seed Will Beauchamp (who returns for Fordham Prep this season) and then pinned third-seeded Chris Carbonaro (Farrell) in back-to-back consolation bracket matches en route to his top-4 placement.
Coughlan, who won the Nassau-Suffolk League title as a junior, would lock up his first top-6 effort at the CHSAA States when he shut out #3 seed, Greg Rico, of Salesian, 3-0 in the quarterfinals. Close to 20 wins last year, if he can stay down at 220 pounds, the points he could score would be invaluable.
Not a heavyweight, but a fourth Flyer, junior Ted Flaherty, will also be well positioned to become a CHSAA State medalist. The Nassau-Suffolk runner-up in 2015, Flaherty was a lot better than his 20-15 record and 6th place Catholic State finish suggests. In three of his four postseason losses (combining the league and state tournaments), Flaherty would drop one-point decisions to N/S League Champ Keith Brown (St. John the Baptist). With Brown no longer in the picture, the world may be Flaherty’s oyster in 2016.
Our other Marianist school, Kellenberg Memorial, should also perform well down the stretch as they too bring back a pair of CHSAA State placers -- junior Jon Ryan and senior Martin Jensen. Ryan, who wrapped up a 16-15 sophomore campaign by finishing 4th (as the #9 seed) at the Catholic State tournament, recorded a 5-1 decision over Coughlan in the consolation semifinals. So, despite the latter being the defending league champ, if a rematch in a big spot were to materialize, the Firebird would have to like his chances at another victory.
Jensen, who stepped back onto the mat in 2015 after electing to focus on other interests as a sophomore, is what coach Meisse called a “pure athlete”. Last season, the mat rust would hardly be evident as he racked up 26 wins (26-13) and wrestled up to his seed with a 6th place performance at the CHSAA State tournament. As the lone returning placewinner from the 170-pound bracket, if you are Jensen, you have to really feel encouraged about what the future may have in store for you.
Doing the Buffalo region proud will be St. Joe’s Collegiate junior Freddie Nixon. A first-time All-Catholic performer as a sophomore in 2015, the Marauder would finish 3rd with his only loss of the tournament coming to eventual champion/NYS 4th place finisher, Newman, from Farrell. Nixon pinned Ryan in 1:59 in bronze medal bout, establishing himself as the cream of the crop among those that competed in the 220-pound bracket last year.
Getting the Mountaineers of Mount St. Michael Academy on the board will be senior Justin Morel. A 5th place finisher at 152 pounds in 2015, Morel has hit the weights, as he now projects as either a 170 or 182-pounder. Of all the wrestlers in the CHSAA not named Santoro or Seitz, I am not sure there is not one that has seen his reputation skyrocket as quickly as Morel in the past few months. Starting when he beat out the aforementioned Marzano for a spot on the Beat The Streets travel team that competed at the Waterway Duals, Morel has been a man on a mission. Going toe-to-toe with some very tough customers at both Waterway (September) and the Columbus Duals (October), Morel would combine to go 8-1. It is consistent efforts such as these that have some NYC wrestling enthusiasts saying that he will be this year’s Addrian Ferrarie (in reference to his former MSM teammate who made remarkable progress between his junior and senior seasons, culminating with a 4th place finish at the NYS tournament in 2015).
Iona Prep’s Charles Barthalet and Khaleb Celaj of Stepinac, 6th at 182 and 285 respectively, complete our collection of All-Catholic wrestlers back in 2016.
1) Kellenberg: With a Section-best nine returning placewinners, the Eric Meisse-led Firebirds enter 2015-2016 as the favorites to claim the top prize for the first time in program history. While it is the likes of former champion, Jason Javier, returning runner up, Anthony Bartolotta, two-time top-3 Josh Newman and company that receive the bulk of attention, the title hopes in Uniondale, NY will be determined by the performances that Meisse and his staff receive from the unsung heroes. If individuals such as the Coakley brothers---Sean (5th at 99) and Chris (5th at 120), along with Leonidas Papadopoulos (2015 Nassau-Suffolk League runner-up at 195) and Connor McDonald (5th in Nassau-Suffolk at 145 pounds) all step up and improve upon previous efforts, it will require a lot from the rest of the field to deny them the hardware. Kellenberg will also welcome in an impact freshman in 106-pounder Nate Mompoint. A former NYS Youth placewinner, Mompoint has received top level coaching through the years, training at top area clubs like SEQKWA, VHW, and Ascend. His presence will further bolster an already strong collection of lightweights.
2) St. Anthony’s: While the squad may not be as lethal as in the past, the South Huntington powerhouse still has enough weapons in the arsenal to pull off the three-peat. With a balanced lineup consisting of a defending champion (Crawford), a former champion (Kelly), and a 2015 runner-up (DiBenedetto) handling the lightweight duties; Nassau/Suffolk League runners-up, Joe Devita (lost in the blood round at CHSAA States) and Schultz, as well as league 4th place finisher, Dan Pryor, holding down the middle; and Kohler, Horl, and 2015 blood round wrestlers, Colston Meadows and Jeremy Miller (up several weight classes after being at 138 last season) providing a strong backend, there is every reason to think that the always battled tested Friars will be within striking distance come crunch time. When you travel all across the North and Southeast seeking out the highest levels of competition, those matches tend to pay dividends in the postseason.
3) Chaminade: Never short on numbers, the Scotty Cole mentored Flyers bring back seven top-6 finishers from a season ago. While it goes without saying that Cappellino, Wagner, Hermann, Coughlan, Daum, Watson and Flaherty will be the headliners based on resume, if history has taught us anything, it is that Chaminade tends to live and die with the unheralded guys that step up out of nowhere. When Chaminade is at its best, it is not because they are walking out of the gym with seven or eight individual titles; it occurs when you see 12-15 guys (many of whom entered that season under the radar) on the podium after clawing their way to 3rd-6th place finishes. The Chaminade engine Is fueled by competitors such as Paul Comuniello (113 in 2015), who finished 5th at the league tournament and then advanced all the way to the blood round at CHSAA States to add key points. A few other Flyers to keep an eye on include 2015 Nassau/Suffolk League bronze medalist at 170, Stavros Reynolds, as well as League 5th place finishers, TJ Toles (170) and Charlie Tobin (182). 2015 NYS Schoolboy State runner up John Grasso should also make an immediate contribution during his frosh year. The Grasso name is a familiar one to the Crimson & Gold faithful, as it would be Andrew Grasso making All-Catholic three years running from 2002-2004 (5th, 5th, 3rd).
4) St. Francis: Featuring what might be the best 1-2-3 punch in the CHSAA with stud freshman Thomas being sandwiched by the Colom brothers, Messore’s Red Raiders will be in business yet again in 2016. In fact, when you add Muffoletto and Duggan to the equation, you are looking at a realistic possibility of putting five individuals into CHSAA State finals matches this season. Another potential high scorer for St. Francis will be two-time qualifier, Tom Arcuri, up top. Seeded 4th last season after being the Monsignor Martin runner-up, Arcuri is overdue for a big CHSAA State tournament performance. Matt Heywood, who lost in the blood round at 106 pounds, is also back looking to make amends for the heartbreak of 2015.
5) Monsignor Farrell: A preview of the top-5 teams would simply look incomplete without the presence of the Lions from Staten Island. On paper, with only two returning All-Catholic wrestlers back this season, 2016 gives off the impression of being a rebuilding year on Amboy Road. In reality, we are predicting a coming of age for many of the Farrell wrestlers. While Seitz is the franchise and Isaac is the known commodity, it will not be them that makes or breaks Farrell this season. Instead, the perennial NYC regional juggernaut will rely on names such as Nicholas O’Bryne, Anthony Lanza, David Flynn and Christian Contessa to learn from their losses in the blood round in 2015 and use those defeats as motivation to get on the podium this season. Squatrito and Pavis will also summon tradition and blood lines as they put their trust in Steven Roberts and Vinny Ndokaj in the hope that the apple has not fallen far from the proverbial tree. Roberts’s brother, Matt, was a two-time Catholic State Champion who finished 6th in NYS in 2013. Ndokaj’s older sibling, Rrok, was himself a two-time Catholic gold medalist, finishing 4th in Albany in 2012.