Over the past month or so, we've looked all over the state at what to watch for during the 2015-16 season. In our final article in this series, Matt Diano previews the PSAL.
Nunez, By MarcAntoni Macias
BY MATT DIANO
Returning Qualifiers: Brandon Nunez (John Bowne)
After three straight years of the small school upperweights being the ones to carry the proverbial touch for Gotham City, this year, it might very well be a DI lightweight, John Bowne junior, Brandon Nunez, that represents the best chance of the PSAL having an individual NYS Champion. Expected to compete at the 99 pound weight class for the third consecutive season, after two years of being undersized, Nunez has finally grown fully into the weight. That means only one thing ... trouble for the rest of the five boroughs. The defending City champion, who finished 4th as a freshman in 2014, Nunez’s debut in the state capital left a sour taste in his mouth, as he went winless, including an opening round loss to the eventual NYS runner up [Benny Baker]. In the months that have followed, he has been nothing short of extraordinary, earning USAW All-American distinction by finishing 4th in Greco Roman on the Cadet level. Representing the Beat the Streets program in offseason events, Nunez went a combined 5-1 at the Waterway and Columbus Day Duals. He has carried that momentum with him into the regular season, as he already has a tournament win under his belt, pinning his way to the crown at the Battle at the Beach on Long Island. Nunez is currently the #1 ranked wrestler at his weight class and the #8 pound-for-pound competitor in the Gotham City Wrestling polls.
Just missing out on the chance to make the trek to Albany last year would be a trio of City runners-up, David Traub and Anthony Maisano of Tottenville, as well as Rafael Melendez, from Grand Street Campus.
Traub, who transferred to Tottenville after wrestling his freshman season at Curtis, would be the opponent that Nunez bested in claiming the 99-pound hardware in 2015. Now that he has moved up a few weight classes, the feeling is that he has as good a shot as any to earn a state tournament berth. In addition to his runner up finish at the PSAL Championships, the Staten Island native was also a 4th place finisher at last year’s Mayor’s Cup.
The senior, Maisano, is like a fine wine; as he ages, improved postseason results seem to follow. Posting a 1-2 record at the City tournament as a freshman, he finished as a co-bronze medalist in 2014 and really elevated his game as a junior, earning silver at 120 pounds. In his 2015 finals loss, he would be all knotted at four apiece at the end of regulation and seemed to score the winning TD in sudden victory only to have the points waved off. Off a restart, he surrendered a takedown to see his dreams crushed in an instant. Maisano has twice placed at the Mayor’s Cup. Gotham City Wrestling presently has him ranked 4th overall at 126 pounds, making him the highest regarded DI wrestler at the weight class. Among Maisano’s early wins in 2015-2016 was a 2-1 decision over two-time PSAL DII champ, Kevin McColgan, of Petrides, at the annual Staten Island Duals.
Melendez continues to move in the right direction, improving from 3rd in the City (at 99) in 2014 to 2nd in 2015 at 106 pounds. When you send him out onto the mat, you know you are guaranteed to get a solid showing. He is your consummate “hold serve” type of student-athlete. Melendez is off to a quick start in 2015-2016, finishing as the runner up at the Metro vs. NYC Tournament, contested as part of the annual Grapple At the Garden. He also recorded bonus points in all of his matches in winning the Cardozo Tournament on December 5th.
Another individual to keep an eye on is a wrestler who actually beat Melendez in the semifinals of last year’s Mayor’s Cup, Flushing senior, Randy Cazales. Cazales advanced to the PSAL finals as a sophomore in 2014 and is the #2 113-pounder in the City (per GCW). He has something to prove in 2015-2016, after failing to place at the City Championships a year ago. Seeded 4th in his bracket, Cazales lost a pair of one-point decisions to finish 1-2. Complementing his Mayor’s Cup silver medal in 2014-2015, is a bronze finish earned as a sophomore at the prestigious event.
Having one of the best starts to the new season and seeing his stock skyrocket is another Tottenville athlete, senior Greg Pantaleone. A two-time City placewinner, finishing 4th as a sophomore at 106 and then 3rd in 2015 at 113 pounds, it will be title or bust in his final attempt. Ranked 3rd in the preseason polls at 120 pounds, when the new set of charts are released later this week, it is inevitable that he should move into the top spot, having bested three-time NYS Private School titlist, John Luke DeStefano (Poly Prep) by a score of 7-3 in dual meet action. Pantaleone also won the Eagle Academy Tournament at the beginning of the year, knocking off (4-3) a very tough customer, Yahteek Culver of Mott Haven, in the gold medal bout. Culver, who used to go by the last name “Williams” is a two-time PSAL 4th place finisher.
If it’s returning bronze medalists you are looking for down low, the PSAL has them in mass quantities as some others join Pantaleone among last year’s 3rd place performers: Darwingh Alvarez (Alfred E. Smith) and Sumon Rahmon (Cardozo).
Alvarez was a first-time placewinner as a junior in 2015, earning a top-3 finish at 99 pounds despite being seeded only 6th in the bracket. He complemented his 2015 campaign by also claiming 7th at the Mayor’s Cup.
Rahmon, who lost a 3-2 decision in the semifinals to the eventual champion at 106 pounds [Joe Marino], has placed in each of the past two seasons, finishing co-5th at 106 in 2014.
Moroni Guevera is yet another individual that you should not sleep on. Perhaps out of people’s minds after not placing in 2015 (lost a 3-2 quarterfinal decision to eventual City runner up, Demetri Koutsidis, and then defaulted out of the tournament), everything you need to know about the Hillcrest senior, you found out at last year’s Mayor’s Cup where he finished 2nd, including a victory by fall over DII PSAL Champ, Amir Johnson of Petrides. Guevera was also a PSAL 4th place performer in 2014.
Completing the collection of top-6 finishes from a season ago are: Mamadou Diallo (Alfred E. Smith; 4th @99), Craig Sampson (Tottenville; co-5th at 99), Alex Fox (Hunter; co-5th at 99), Jonibek Davronov (F.D.R.; 4th @106), Aileen Gonzalez/Calvin Chau, both of Brooklyn Tech, who were co-5th at 106 and 113 respectively and Justin Rivera (Beacon; finished co-5th at 120).
McIntosh, By Julienne Schaer/Mayor's Cup FB
Returning Qualifiers: Brandon Santiago (James Madison) and Ramel McIntosh (MLK)
Headlining the middleweights this season will be defending champions -- James Madison’s Brandon Santiago and Ramel McIntosh of MLK.
A finalist in each of the last two seasons, the Golden Knight senior [Santiago] claimed his first title as a junior, but it would not be without some tense moments. Winning one-point decisions in the quarterfinal [4-3 UTB over Culver] and semifinal [2-1 over Abdul Rabbani], Santiago flipped the switch in his final bout, emerging with a 14-6 major decision over 4th-seeded Demetri Koutsidis. Santiago got shut out in Albany, going 0-2, and was knocked out of the tournament by the eventual 5th place finisher.
Last season, McIntosh became just the second wrestler in King history to win an individual City gold when he posted a perfect 3-0 record, with two pins and a 9-2 decision at 160 pounds. In his NYSPHSAA debut, McIntosh would be one of the few representatives of the five boroughs to get his arm raised, as he compiled a 1-2 record, notching his win via 35 second fall over Charles Tsakh of Hewlett. Barring injury, McIntosh is essentially a lock to close out his career as a four-time PSAL DI placer, as he has moved up the ladder in each of his first three seasons. As a freshman, he placed 6th at 113 pounds; in 2014 he was the runner-up at 126, and you already know the story of his junior campaign. The Tim Muscarella/Eric Klein coached stud should also tack on a fourth straight top-8 finish at the Mayor’s Cup, having finished 4th, 4th and 5th in the past.
Our two returning titlists are not the only ones who have found a second home on the podium; three other immensely talented wrestlers---Rabbani, Shamar Griffith and Evan McFarland---will also be well positioned to put an exclamation mark on their respective resumes by making All-City for a third straight season.
Rabbani, who tops the list of 138 pounders on the GCW charts, had the shining moment of his high school journey last season when he won the Mayor’s Cup behind a 5-1 decision against Guevera. This would be the third top-8 finish for the Grover Cleveland athlete, as he also has a 7th place effort in 2014 and an 8th place performance in 2013 to his name. In regards to the City tournament, Rabbani has never failed to do some damage, advancing to the blood round as a freshman and then taking co-5th and 3rd in 2014 and 2015. With his only loss of last year’s PSAL tourney coming in that aforementioned nailbiter to Santiago, it is by no means an understatement when we say that it could have easily been him who came into 2015-2016 as the hunted as opposed to hunter. Rabbani punched his ticket to finals of the Metro vs. NYC Tournament at MSG, losing to Ross McFarland of Phoenix in the championship bout.
Griffith, who was seeded 6th at 132 pounds last year despite being a returning placewinner (co-5th in 2014), proved that the committee missed the bus on him. Securing a 9-0 major decision in his first round match, the Wingate senior toppled the third and second-seeded wrestlers in consecutive bouts, defeating Kenneth Chee (co-3rd in 2015) by 3-2 decision and following it with a 91 second pin of Isaiah Basora (finished 5th last season as the #2 seed) in the semifinals. While his Cinderella story ended one chapter prematurely (lost a 5-1 decision to William Yee), the message was sent that those who disrespect him will pay the price. Griffith, ranked 2nd at 145 pounds by GCW, should also add a third All-Mayor’s credential to his resume, taking 4th in 2015 after a 6th place effort as a sophomore.
McFarland, who is the only placer from last year’s 145-pound bracket that is back in 2015-2016, knows that this is his year. A co-5th place performer in 2014, his junior year would be a breakout season, as he captured the bronze at the Mayor’s Cup as an opening act, and then claimed silver at the PSAL Championship as the encore. McFarland has already established himself as the King of Staten Island, going a perfect at 8-0 (all bonus points) at the 2015 S.I. Duals.
Beacon senior Chris Rincon, and Alex Romulewicz, the junior from Francis Lewis, cannot help being mentioned in the same breath this season because of the unexpected result in their quarterfinal bout last year. A showdown of the #1 and #8 seeds that more times than not go the way of the top-seeded athlete, it would be the underdog, Rincon, doubling up Romulewicz, 6-3, to advance to the semifinals. Rincon dropped his next two matches, while his foe won two of his three, resulting in them sharing 5th place honor. 2015 marked the second time that Rincon earned a spot on the stand, as he also finished 6th at 120 pounds in 2014.
Hubert Markowski, the other end of Grover Cleveland’s dynamic 1-2 punch, has some unfinished business to tend to at the PSAL Tournament. 1-3 at the City Championships in his freshman and sophomore seasons, Gotham’s #4 ranked 145-pounder missed the postseason in 2015, meaning that he is still in search of his first top-6 placement. Despite not having an All-City classification, Markowski is someone we hold in the highest regard because of what he showed us at the Mayor’s Cup, placing 4th behind only the CHSAA State Champion (Chris Martorello), the PSAL DI Champion (Malik Grant) and the NYS Private School Champion (Joe Donohue).
Two other wrestlers who caught our eye following top-8 finishes at the MC were Gabriel Calderon (Beacon) and Chris Pipitone (Tottenville).
Calderon, who finished 6th at the Mayor’s Cup, picked up his first All-City honor as a junior, concluding the 2015 season with a co-5th place performance at 138 pounds. He would be the only person to last the full six minutes against eventual champion, Steve Prinston, losing a 16-5 major decision in the semifinals.
Don’t be misled by Pipitone’s co-5th at 160 pounds, either. The recipient of some extremely bad luck, the only two matches that the Pirate dropped came against the #1 and #2 seeded competitors in the 160-pound bracket. Pipitone finished 8th at the Mayor’s Cup, ensuring him a place on our radar. Gotham City Wrestling.com has him ranked 6th at 160 pounds, second to only McIntosh (who pinned him in 1:21 in the City semifinals) among representatives of the PSAL.
A sampling of additional returning placewinners who possess the skills to continue their climb up the mountain include: Neil Meepagala (Stuyvesant; co-5th @120), Jeffery Centeno (Springfield Gardens; 6th @132), Kennedy Castro (Randolph; co-5th @138), Jason Sabetelle (Brooklyn Tech; 4th @152), Janquel Acevedo (Francis Lewis; co-5th @152) and Joseph Roy (Edward R. Murrow; co-5th @160).
Tottenville junior Jake Rubin was a co-5th place finisher as a freshman at 99 pounds, but was unable to repeat his success up at 113 last season, going 1-2. If he is able to regain his top form, it will be yet another bullet in an already fairly loaded Pirate arsenal.
Returning Qualifiers: Judens Claude (Wingate), Thomas Siller (MSIT)
Led by a trio of senior defending titlists, as well as multiple returning and former runners up, there should be no shortage of epic battles up top in the five boroughs.
Two specific rematches that all wrestling aficionados in Gotham are hoping to see materialize are encores of last season’s championship bouts at 195 and 220 pounds.
At 195, it was Wingate's Judens Claude getting his arm raised following one of the most entertaining matches of the night, a 10-9 decision over Daniel Pavlov of Midwood (who is injured). Claude will be seeking his third consecutive All-City distinction, as he also finished co-5th as a sophomore in 2014. Pavlov, who advanced to the finals a year ago in his rookie campaign, is without a doubt the future of the City DI upperweights. Claude, who did notch a win in Albany (went 1-2), already has one impressive showing under his belt in 2015-2016, claiming 3rd at the Battle at the Beach.
The 220 pound 1st place match was every bit as exciting as the one that proceeded it. Unfortunately, the way in which it ended left a rather sour taste in the mouths of those in attendance. Thankfully, both of the finalists are back this season, which means that there will be opportunity to write a better story the second time around. A low-scoring, but fierce battle for every position, it would be Thomas Siller of McKee/Staten Island Tech awarded the “w” when his opponent, Torsten Ramos of Long Island City, allowed his frustration to boil over, resulting in a disqualification in the closing seconds of the match. Siller, who held a 3-1 advantage at the time of the DQ, went winless at the NYS Tournament, losing his first round match to two-time state runner up Vin Feola of Walt Whitman. Before he can ponder any thoughts of improving upon his debut, he must first take care of business locally. Whether he wins the title or not, it is considered a certainty that the MSIT senior will at the very least conclude his career with a third straight top-6 finish in the city, as he previously finished 6th as a sophomore (as the #2 seed). Ramos, who is also a senior, entered the 2015 postseason as the top-seed at the weight class, and lived up to the hype, going 3-0 with a fall and two comfortable decisions in advancing to the finals. Last season would be the first time in his career that he placed at the PSAL Championships, losing in the blood round as a freshman and then going 1-2 in 2014. Ramos also earned his first All-Mayor’s recognition in 2015, finishing 4th in his bracket. Siller and Ramos are currently the #2 and #3 ranked competitors in NYC.
The only wrestler that took 2015 PSAL champ Albi Miraka the distance at the City championships was Tottenville’s David Roman (3rd in the PSAL; 7th at the Mayor’s Cup), who lost a respectable 5-1 decision to the Golden Knight upperclassman.
Another potentially interesting story is that of Canarsie senior Darnell Alexander. While listed on the roster, but not confirmed as competing in 2015-2016, Alexander has an impressive track record, finishing 4th as a freshman and 2nd as a sophomore at 220 pounds before taking last season off. While it seems doubtful that he will be in the lineup, the mere fact that the door is still open should be a reason for other upperweights to take notice.
Determined to be finalists in 2015-2016 after being on the outside looking in (co-3rd) will be Midwood senior Nicholas Pavlov and Brooklyn Tech junior Vincent Chen. Both 7th place finishers at the last edition of the Mayor’s Cup, these two took entirely different paths to their City bronze medals in 2015. Pavlov entered the postseason as the #2 seed at 182 pounds, advancing to the semifinals before getting defeated by fall by third seeded Dominik Ondusko. Pavlov won his first and only consolation bout to secure his top-3 effort. Chen on the other hand, immediately found himself in hot water, getting upset (6-3 by Chinedu Uro) in the first round at 195. Faced with adversity, the 5th seeded competitor responded like a champion does, pinning back-to-back-to-back opponents and then receiving a victory via forfeit over Uro to complete his 2015 tournament.
Chen was not the only highly seeded athlete to feel the wrath of Uro, as the man in the #4 spot, Philip Gulubowski (Susan E. Wagner), was upended, 9-2, in the quarterfinals by the then Hillcrest senior. Gulubowski defaulted out of the tournament following the loss, so it remains unknown how well he could have done.
The remaining placewinners back this season include: Simon Chee (Cardozo; 4th at 170), Matthew Corcillo (Tottenville; entered unseeded but wrestled to a co-5th placement at 170) and Ebrahim Sillah (KIPP; co-5th @285).
Stephen Hart/S.I. Advance
After sweeping both the dual and tournament team races a season ago by modest margins (38-31 win over Cardozo in the dual finals; 4.5 point edge in the tournament over Grand Street Campus), Tottenville is expected to create additional separation between themselves and the rest of the field. 3rd among all teams (regardless of division or section) in the GCW polls, the Pirates feature 10 ranked individuals, eight returning top-6 finishers, a former top-5 performer, and a heap of student-athletes who advanced to the blood round at the 2015 championships. Solid from A-Z, there is not a part of the line-up where opponents can relax. Tottenville jumps on you early with David Traub (2nd), Craig Sampson (5th), Greg Pantaleone (3rd) and Anthony Maisano (2nd) all threats to put up bonus points. Once you get into the middle of the lineup, it is a next man up philosophy in Staten Island, as Evan McFarland (2nd) and Chris Pipitone (5th) are complemented by former PSAL placewinner Jake Rubin (5th in 2014), as well as Joe Amatucci (ranked 6th at 132 pounds; 6th at last year’s MC) and Michael O`Brien, who both lost in the consolation round of eight in 2015. Things do not get any easier at the back end with 5th place finisher Matthew Corcillo and David Roman (3rd) teaming up with blood round competitors Leo Rabinovich (ranked 7th at 170 pounds) and Nicholas Ostrovsky to solidify the final five weight classes.
Perennial NYC powerhouse Brooklyn Tech (3rd in 2015) may not be as lethal as in previous years, but the squad is always primed and ready to go to battle. Under the tutelage of Steve Flanagan, year-in and year-out, the Engineers possess one of the most enthusiastic and competitive wrestling rooms in the five boroughs. The only other PSAL DI school ranked in the top 5 by Gotham City Wrestling.com, B’Tech was dealt a bit of a blow during the preseason when it was learned that returning City finalist, Julian Polin, had decided to forgo his senior season on the mat. While his absence can in no way be sugar coated or glossed over, the thing that usually puts Brooklyn Tech a cut above the rest is depth that enables the team to absorb this kind of loss and still remain in the hunt for trophies. This will be true again in 2015-2016, as even without the services of his star lightweight, Flanagan will still have five ranked wrestlers and several more that are capable of stepping up and defying the odds. Junior Vincent Chen, who finished 3rd last season at 195 pounds, is the highest returning placewinner, followed by Jason Sabatelle (4th @152) and 5th place performers Aileen Gonzalez (106) and Calvin Chau (113). Representing that next wave of firepower are five wrestlers -- Anthony Ferrara, Asad Shamsi, Michael Collura, Dimitris Alexakos (ranked 6th at 152) and Henry Kamornik (ranked 5th at 220) -- that just missed out on a top-6 finish, dropping their consolation round of 8 bouts. Murad Ramazanov, who GCW rated as the #8 138 pounder in the city, further adds to the cause.
“Campbell’s Army” (aka James Madison) will themselves have to overcome the loss of a key member of their program as the preseason favorite at 152 pounds, Alex Troshyn (3rd @145 last season) also decided to leave his shoes in the middle of the mat prior to the start of his senior year. Fortunately for the Golden Knights, who finished 5th in the standings a year ago, the wrestling gods giveth as much as they taketh away. While they are down one potential champion, they gain a replacement in 2014 #1 seeded 285-pounder, Anand Munkhjargal. The former Mayor’s Cup runner-up, along with defending PSAL champ, Albi Miraka, and GCW ranked Antonio Sanchez, make up a dominant 1-2-3 punch. Comparing it to another sport, trailing Madison late is the equivalent of trying to come back against the 2015 World Series Champion Kansas City Royals’ bullpen. 99 times out of 100, it just won’t happen! Even though it is the upperweights that may command a lot of the attention as a collective unit, Madison is most definitely not without some killers in the other parts of their lineup. If you are looking for a fourth person who is going to put up a massive number of postseason points, look no further than defending 126-pound champion, Brandon Santiago. A graduate of West Point and a former U.S. Army Officer, Ned Campbell is one of those men that inspires everyone with whom he comes into contact. It is this intangible that we are counting on when we say that when the dust settles, you should expect many unsung heroes to be the ones that put the Golden Knights over the top and into the conversation for top-3 team honors.
Velez, Hilton Flores/S.I. Advance
Returning Qualifiers: Kevin Velez (Petrides), Dominic Grant (Eagle Academy), Amir Johnson (Petrides)
With only a handful of teams and many undermanned brackets (2-4 entries), the City DII scene may be lacking in quantity, but they make up for it with quality. Back in 2015-2016 will be four-fifths of last year’s lightweight titlists. Back to defend the gold they won last February will be a pair of Petrides Panthers, Kevin Velez and Amir Johnson, as well as a wrestler from their chief rival, Eagle Academy, Dominic Grant.
Velez, who remains on track to become a four-time Small School City Champion, has been dominant in his first two years for the Panthers. In 2015, he needed to wrestle only one match to seize the top prize, pinning Brooklyn International’s Shahram Turakulov in 3:24 to repeat as the last man standing at the 99-pound weight class. Now a veteran in the state capital, the #3 ranked wrestler by GCW is optimistic that the third time really is the charm. In his two previous trips to the NYSPHSAA tournament, Velez has been kept out of the win column, losing to second-seeded Jack Bokina in the first round last season after dropping his opening match in 2014 to #1 Dean Raymond. As an upperclassman at a weight usually consisting of a much more youthful field, the hope is that Velez may be able to utilize his physical maturity to overpower his opponents.
Grant too made it look like child’s play in 2015, as the then freshman stuck both of his opponents en route to the title at 106 pounds. Seeded 1st in a bracket of four, he needed less than 90 seconds to dispose of Riverdale/Kingsbridge Academy (RKA)’s Shamir Stradford. It would be more of the same in the championship match as Grant established a sizeable lead against Farrujhon Yogdorov (Brooklyn International) before hearing the slap of the mat at the 4:23 mark. In his debut upstate, Grant took some lumps in losses to Warsaw’s Dylan Walker and Kyle Sams of Putnam Valley. Grant heads into his sophomore season ranked 6th by Gotham City Wrestling.com.
Last, but by no means least, is the sophomore, Johnson. The titlist at 126 pounds in 2015, the experts believe that he will remain at the weight class for a second straight season. Johnson had a strong rookie season for Petrides, not only winning an individual City crown, but also placing 3rd at the Mayor’s Cup. Like so many of the PSAL wrestlers, Johnson ran into a very difficult draw at the big dance, going 0-2 in Albany, which included an opening round to the eventual state 3rd place finisher, Nick Gaiser of Alexander. Johnson’s path back to the promised land is already off to an amazing start as he was the champion at the Metro vs. NYC Tournament held at Madison Square Garden in late November.
Turakulov, cited above in the write-up on Velez, can most definitely be in the conversation for City glory this season. He is a two-time finalist, losing at 99 pounds in 2014 and 2015 to Velez.
Wrapping up the cohort of medal winners from a season ago are Jeff Daurio and Tivaughn-Jamile Daughma. Daurio, who wrestles for Petrides, finished 4th at 106, while the Jane Addams product, Daughma, was the bronze medalist at 113 pounds.
McColgan, By MarcAntoni Macias
Returning Qualifiers: Kevin McColgan (Petrides), Joseph DiForte (Petrides), Jason Fallon (Petrides), Chris Taverez (Rucker)
By far the deepest range of wrestlers in the small school division, the PSAL will bolster four defending titlists, six runners-up and a 2014 silver medalist among the collection of blue chippers. Three of the four champions, Kevin McColgan, Joseph DiForte and Jason Fallon, call Petrides home, while the fourth, Chris Taverez, is from Rucker.
McColgan, who won titles at 106 and 120 in his first two years on the Petrides varsity, has gone pretty much untested at the City Championships. Last year, he recorded a 2-0 record, scoring a 12-4 major decision over Erik Bishop of RKA (2x 3rd placer) in the semifinals and then cementing his second crown in as many years with a 16-1 technical fall over Eagle Academy’s Daniel Bogie (only a sophomore in 2015-2016). Having already distinguished himself as a man among boys locally, McColgan will now turn his full attention towards breaking into the victory column upstate, as he has gone 0-4 thus far at the NYSPHSAA DII tournament. Should McColgan go on to win yet another City gold, he will extend his family’s streak to five years, as older brother, Dolan, was a PSAL champion in 2012-2014.
DiForte, one of only three PSAL wrestlers to win a match at the 2015 small school state tournament, joins McColgan in the quest for a career sweep. Winning his first title in 2014 at 120 pounds when he outlasted Jamar Graves (did not compete in the postseason in 2015; is a senior this year) of Eagle Academy by decision, the son of one of NYC’s finest, would again be cool as a cucumber down the stretch, defeating returning City finalist, Jean Marti to win the 2015 title at 132 pounds. Winless in Albany in 2014, DiForte took that first step towards eventually getting on the NYSPHSAA podium when he earned a 4-2 decision over Beekmantown’s Casey Provost in the wrestle back bracket. DiForte kicked off 2015-2016 with a runner up effort at the Metro vs. NYC Tournament, working his way into the title bout before being upended by last year’s state 5th place winner.
A true testament to what can happen if you continue to persevere, Fallon’s introduction to the PSAL DII tournament would be less than thrilling as he finished 4th in a four-man bracket in 2013. The following year, he took a very big step in his progression, moving up a spot on the ladder to bring home bronze as a sophomore. His movement forward would not be stagnated in 2015, as he won his only match of the tournament by fall in 5:12 over Baruch’s Wen Fen Deng to hoist the brass at 138 pounds. While he got goose-egged in Albany, dropping both of his matches at the Times Union Center, he did pick up valuable experience that will aid him in his senior season. Fallon currently sits in the #5 spot at 138 in the GCW polls.
Taverez, who delivered “the precious” to Rucker in the program’s inaugural year, went 2-0 at last year’s City Tournament, pinning Dayqoun Jackson of Jane Addams at the 1:11 mark of their semifinal match, and then finishing what he started with a narrow 7-6 victory over Sean Gillespie (only a sophomore; a potential future champion down the road) of Petrides in the 145 pound title match. 0-2 at the NYS tournament, the seeding committee did not do this young man any favors, as he was welcomed to the NYS DII tournament by an opening round loss to second-seeded Austin Whitney of Mexico.
Joining Bogie, Graves and Gillespie in trying to get over that hump by trading silver for gold in 2015/2016 will be a quarter of upperclassmen: Doniyorkhon Mukhamadiev, Glen Attard, James Schrepel and Najm Qachi.
Mukhamadiev, the junior out of Brooklyn International, lost an 11-7 war in the 113-pound finals to Eagle Academy’s Perez. He has since added considerable size and should be around 132 or 138 this season. All signs point at him making it three straight years on the podium.
Attard, who was bested in the 126-pound finals a year ago by Johnson of Petrides, could emerge as the man to beat at either 132 or 138. With Johnson electing to stay down at 126 pounds, the pavement has been laid for Attard to make his final season in a Baruch singlet one to remember.
Schrepel, who lost the 152-pound final by pin in 54 seconds to state placer Zafar Iskandarov last year, is hoping that a return trip to center stage will yield much more favorable results. He remains on track to place all four years of his career.
Qachi, who finished 3rd as a sophomore in 2014 and 2nd as a junior last year (both at 160 pounds), will breathe a little easier now that his nemesis, Eagle’s Vance Cuffee, has seemingly moved up to 170 pounds. Cuffee handed the Brooklyn International senior his only two postseason losses of 2014 and 2015. Hence, now that the obstacle has been removed, the road may be clear for Qachi to take the ride to Titletown.
Filling out the middleweights will be the following wrestlers who stood on the podium at the PSAL Championships in 2015: Mashhur Olimjonov (3rd at 106 in 2014, 4th at 120 in 2015) and Azizjon Saidmurodov (4th at 120 in 2014, 3rd at 126 last year) of Brooklyn International; Anthony Vasquez and Jared Quick, who took 4th and 3rd respectively at 126 and 152 pounds on behalf of Petrides; the 3rd and 4th place finishers at 132 pounds, Justin Ebron (Eagle Academy) and Yeshak Ayele (Rucker) and finally RKA’s Jackson Klavan, who notched a third place effort at 160 pounds.
Riverdale/Kingsbridge Academy also returns a pair of wrestlers who did not wrestle in the 2015 City tournament, but possess past credentials worth recognizing: Ethan Srebnick and Sothis Bishop.
Welgoss, Hilton Flores/S.I. Advance
Returning Qualifiers: Vance Cuffee (Eagle Academy), Robert Welgoss (Petrides), Mehrojiddin Aslov (RKA), Jayson Gomez (Eagle Academy)
As has been the pattern throughout this preview, the PSAL welcomes back the 9th-12th individual champions from a year ago up top. Capturing city bragging rights in 2015 were a pair of Eagle Academy wrestlers, Vance Cuffee and Jayson Gomez, as well as Robert Welgoss and Mehrojiddin Aslov from Petrides and RKA. Both Cuffee and Welgoss will be expected to close out this chapter of their scholastic careers by winning their third respective titles.
Cuffee, the cream of the crop at 160 pounds the last two seasons, will likely move up to 170 pounds in 2015-2016. Winless in his two prior trips to the NYSPHSAA tournament, if there was ever a time for all of the pieces to click into place, now is the time. The past two years, he has entered the big dance unseeded and as a result, was immediately thrown into the fire, losing his opening round matches of 2014 and 2015 to Alex Smythe of Eden (finished 3rd) and two-time defending NYS Champion, Alex Herringshaw of Holland Patent. In addition to a top 6 finish in the state capital, Cuffee will also be shooting for his first title at the Mayor’s Cup, as he captured 4th and 2nd in his sophomore and junior years.
Our other two-time titlist (3rd as a freshman in 2013), Welgoss, has himself experienced nothing but hardship at the DII State tournament. Claiming his first City title at 145 pounds in 2014, the wrestler from Petrides made the jump all the way to 170 pounds as a junior, pinning E.A.’s Zimba Hamm at the 5:13 mark to lock up the gold. However, identical to Cuffee, it has been a struggle getting over that last hurdle, as he has been pitted against the likes of NYS medalists Jason Hoffman of Hadley-Luzerne/Lake George and Burke Paddock (Warsaw) in each of his 1st round matches the past two years. Ranked 1st in all of Gotham, Welgoss should enjoy the inside track on seizing his first Mayor’s Cup title after finishes of 7th and 3rd in back-to-back appearances.
Aslov, a 3rd place performer as a freshman, would miss the postseason in 2014, but came back like a man on a mission as a junior, knocking off returning finalist Joe Arniotes (Petrides) in sudden victory to secure his spot on the bus to Albany. While he too was unable to put a check in the win column, he did garner experience, which can never be discounted. The graduation of two-time DII state champion Nathanael Rose does create an opening for either Aslov or Arniotes to move up to 195. However, if by some chance they end up in the same bracket again, expect the sequel to equal the first act.
At 285, Gomez and teammate Carmelo Batista give the Bronx based program a double-trouble feeling at the back end of the lineup. Squaring off against one another in the 2015 PSAL finals, it was the then freshman, Gomez, getting the better of his training partner, pinning Batista with 18 seconds remaining in 1st period. Gomez went 0-2 at the state tournament. As one of only five qualifiers back this season from last year’s bracket, the belief is that a top 6 finish is a realistic objective. Early signs suggest that there will not be anything close to a sophomore jinx for Gomez, as he has already competed admirably in two major tournaments this season, winning the Metro vs. NYC Tournament title behind a victory over 2015 NYS Private School State Champion/defending Mayor’s Cup gold medalist, Stanley Kaminsky (Poly Prep), and then wrestling his way to a top-4 showing at the Battle at the Beach on Long Island.
Joining Arniotes and Batista in holding membership in the runners-up club are RKA’s Alexander Mayer and Cristian Mejia of Fannie Lou. Mayer had the misfortune of being in the same 195-pound bracket as Rose and it did not go well for him, as the current Buffalo true freshman would earn the fall in 1:15. Mejia was not any more or any less blessed in the 220-pound final, as Rose’s teammate, 2014 state place finisher Miguel Perez, required only a tad bit longer (1:35) to wrap up his third career City crown.
Rounding out the field of upperweights will be: Dario Flores (Baruch; 4th in 2013 @132; 4th @160 last year), Gary Cruger (RKA; 4th @182), and Ali Gecir (Petrides; 3rd @195)
Stephen Hart/S.I. Advance
In what has developed as an annual shootout between Eagle Academy and Petrides for the top spot among small schools, Petrides once again seems to be set up to repeat as the City DII Champions.
The only DII school that appears in the Gotham City charts (#4, below only Poly Prep, Monsignor Farrell and Tottenville), the Panthers return a remarkable six individual city gold medalists, as well as a two-time runner up.
All seven of these student-athletes are GCW ranked, with Amir Johnson and Robert Welgoss sitting atop the polls at 126 and 170 pounds, Kevin Velez and Joseph DiForte occupying the #3 spot at 99 and 145 pounds, Kevin McColgan holding steady at #4 at 132 pounds, Jason Fallon sitting at the #5 slot at 138 pounds and Joe Arniotes claiming the sixth and final spot at 195 pounds. Now toss in Sean Gillespie (2nd in 2015), and all of a sudden there is a very real chance of Petrides capturing more than half of the individual titles that will be handed out this season. Should this scenario come to fruition, it is hard to fathom anyone being able to stay within striking distance of the Panthers.
Eagle Academy, who finished 17.5 points behind their rivals in 2015, will be solid as always, but will have to deal with the adjustment period that follows the graduation of two of the program’s all-time best wrestlers, four-time PSAL Champion/2x NYS titlist, Nathanael Rose and three-time PSAL gold medalist/2014 NYS placewinner, Miguel Perez. With bonus points a guarantee each and every time these two stepped foot on the mat, there will be slack that needs to be picked up now that they have moved on to the collegiate ranks.
While you can pencil in titles for their three defending champions - Dominic Grant, Vance Cuffee and Jayson Gomez, the truth is that it will take much more than that if they intend to hang with the their nemesis from S.I.