This article is from 12/10/13
Here's a look at Section 2 this season. For preview articles on other areas of the state, see the bottom of this article.
In 2008, Section II featured four state champions and in every year since, the Section has had at least one NYS gold medalist. In 2013, it was Shenendehowa’s Nick Kelley at 138 pounds. Who has a good chance at continuing the streak of Division I state titlewinners from Section II?
There are several candidates who return after strong performances at the Times Union Center a year ago.
Brandon Lapi lived up to his billing as the number two seed at 132 when he earned silver behind current Columbia wrestler Matt Leshinger. It was another state medal for Lapi, who has made a habit out of doing well in Albany, with second, third and fourth place finishes in his career at Amsterdam. He’d like to add a championship as well in his senior campaign.
The large school division has another finalist back – Shenendehowa’s Levi Ashley, who is currently ranked 13th in the nation by Intermat at 195 pounds. Ashley made a midseason move up from 182 pounds and never looked back. After upsetting the number three seed in the opening round by major, he won a pair of close matches to reach the title bout against now-Cornell wrestler Dan Choi of Syosset.
Nick Kelley was the talk of Section 2 at 138 pounds last year and rightfully so, but Joey Butler of Burnt Hills showed that he’s a force to be reckoned with as well when he took third at the same weight at the state tournament. Butler pinned his first two foes at the Times Union Center before losing to multi-time NYS runner up Vincent Deprez of Hilton. However, that was his only setback as he picked up one more fall and a 5-0 blanking of Tommy Dutton of Rocky Point to notch bronze. What will he do for an encore in his last scholastic season?
“Joey Butler is very good, no question about it,” said Columbia head coach Anthony Servidone. “For him to do what he’s doing at the state level is incredible because he’s truly a part-time wrestler. He’s a three-sport athlete. It’s a credit to him and the Burnt Hills staff.”
Like Butler, Golan Cohen of Colonie wrestled in the third place match at the Times Union Center, winding up fourth at 106 pounds after an overtime contest with Jon Haas of Section 5. The senior also had a solid showing in Fargo.
The final placer back for another shot is Queensbury’s Franky Nassivera who was sixth at 170. The Queensbury wrestler won three times in Albany to cap off a season in which he captured more than 40 victories, including 25 by fall. In fact, one of those pins was against Division II state champion Adis Radoncic.
What Other Super Seniors Look For Big Finales?
Shaker’s Blake Retell has represented the Section three times at the state championships in his career. He’s won at least one match each time and came closest to placing in 2013 with a 2-2 mark. Now there’s one more chance to get on the medal stand before Retell leaves for the University at Buffalo.
“I think Blake is set for a solid senior season,” Servidone said. “I know he wrestles just about year round and he’ll be in the mix at the state level in the 126/132 neighborhood.”
A pair of lightweights, Josh Logiudice of Guilderland and Anthony Sgorrano of South Glens Falls went 1-2 in Albany last year. Both were defeated at the tournament by Section 9’s Chris Cuccolo. With their experience, they could be factors statewide this time around.
Logiudice’s teammate Mike Lainhart and Columbia’s John McHugh both made appearances at the Big Show in 2013 as well and will look to return and get their hands raised at the Times Union Center.
“John got through the 126 pound class in the Section that was pretty deep,” Servidone said. “He didn’t have the showing he wanted at the state tournament, but I expect he’ll do well this year.”
Speaking of Columbia, Angelo Kress came into the state tournament as the second seed after winning Most Outstanding Wrestler honors at the Section II qualifier. He put together a 42-win season that included 33 pins and began well in Albany with a fall before running into the eventual second and third placers.
“Angelo had a broken thumb going into the tournament,” Servidone said. “He went through and did the best he could. He had some great opponents. He’s ready for a really good senior year.”
The two-time Section II champion has the potential to make a lot of noise as a senior. In addition, fellow Blue Devil Jimmy Devine won around 40 bouts in his junior campaign with more than 20 falls. He was second behind All-State wrestler David Almaviva at 145 pounds at the state qualifier last year and looks to finish his Columbia career on top of the Section II medal stand.
In the upperweights, Colonie features the powerful duo of Wayne Burt and Austin DiCerbo, a pair of silver medalists at the Section II tournament.
“Burt and DiCerbo are back and I think they’re both capable of placing this year,” Servidone said. “DiCerbo did very well at heavyweight last year. He was third at Eastern States and that tells you a lot right there. Almost all of his losses last year came against [two-time placer] El Shaddai [Van Hoesen]. He didn’t have the points to get to the tournament, but I fully believe that if he did get there, he would have been a state placer. Burt could definitely go far.”
Who Else Could Make an Impact?
Jesse Porter made waves on the national stage in July when he nabbed second (Greco) and fifth (Freestyle) at the Cadet Nationals in Fargo. The 2011 Section II champion was unable to contend in the postseason as a sophomore due to an injury, however, he has been very active in the offseason and will be a contender at the state level. He began the 2012-13 campaign at 132 pounds, but will be several classes higher.
Speaking of the Plainsmen, also keep tabs on Kevin Parker, who nabbed a runner up finish in the section behind Blake Retell last year at 120 after wrestling in Albany in 2012 at 99 pounds.
Another wrestler who competed in Albany in 2012 but didn’t make a return appearance last year is Dominic Inzana of Saratoga Springs. He injury defaulted to fourth at the Section championships in 2013 after a season with around 35 wins at 113. (He was beaten by Eoghan Sweeney of Niskayuna early this season).
Inzana's teammate, Richard Schrade had over 40 victories with just four losses prior to the Section championships (three to the previously mentioned Logiudice). Schrade topped state qualifiers such as Johnny Devins, Garon LeClair and Dean Raymond and will look to get himself a ticket to Albany this time.
In the middleweights, Jake Ashcraft of Burnt Hills made strides last year, qualifying for the state event and winning a match there by fall to finish off a 40+ victory campaign. Keep an eye on some of his teammates as well, including Christian Gramuglia and Tony Papa. Gramuglia racked up an impressive season with more than 25 wins at 99 pounds a year ago, while Papa recorded 37 wins at 182, taking second in the section behind Shenendehowa’s Ali Hashimee.
“Jake Ashcraft looks great and should do big things at 160 or 170,” Servidone said. “Gramuglia looked great last year before he got hurt and he’s very tough. I expect a really good year for him as well.”
A few others to potentially track? Bethlehem’s Chris Tangora was fourth at 195 a year ago with over 20 wins. He made his mark nationally by earning All-America honors in Cadet Freestyle in the summer of 2012 and “should be right in the mix this year”, according to Servidone. Sophomore Joseph Clemente of LaSalle also had over 20 wins and also has earned national recognition in Freestyle and Greco Roman. In addition, Servidone mentioned that Clemente’s teammate Max Tempel (formerly at Averill Park) has had success in the international styles, including the New York Cadet title in Greco at 113 in May. Tempel had over 30 wins at 106 in 2012-13 and took fourth in the Section. Others who could make some noise – Columbia’s Kyle Greene, Queensbury’s returning 126-pound runner up Kody Bruno and Burnt Hills upperweight Nico Fragale.
Last year, Shenendehowa won the team title by more than 85 points. The Plainsmen lost some superstars, with state champion Nick Kelley and two-time NYS bronze medalist David Almaviva now at Binghamton University. In addition, Section II titlewinners Ali Hashimee and Corey Ali and runner up Zach Joseph graduated. However, Levi Ashley and Jesse Porter will be tough opponents for anyone and additional returning Section medalists such as Kevin Parker, Dietrich Hartman, Kevin Guardino, Jordan Maynard, Kevin Leonard and Anthony Dinallo will look to keep the Plainsmen on top against some strong challengers.
“Shen is very formidable, especially with a healthy Jesse Porter back. He’ll have a good year regardless of what weight he goes," Servidone said. "Even with the guys who graduated, they still have a deep and balanced team. I think it will be a good race. You could see different teams win the league dual meet championship, the class championship and the Section II championship. There could be three different winners. But I think at this point, Shen and Burnt Hills are the top two.”
Burnt Hills took third last year in the Section event and will look to move up the ladder on strength of three Section silver medalists – Joey Butler, Tony Papa and Nico Fragale as well as bronze winner Jake Ashcraft. Christian Gramuglia will be among the others to give the team a boost. “They have some top wrestlers and also pretty good balance,” Servidone said.
Looking to challenge is Servidone’s Columbia team, the 2013 second place squad. The Blue Devils bring back a host of medalists, including four finalists - champions John McHugh and Angelo Kress and second placers Kyle Greene and Jimmy Devine. The team graduated a trio of top three placers – two-time All-Stater El Shaddai Van Hoesen, Chris Morrissey and Will Martin – but will look for returning fifth/sixth place medalists John Devine, Matt McHugh, Dom Poggoli and Rafi Gonzales to climb higher this season.
“We think we can make a run,” the coach said. “We’d like to think we can compete with anyone. We have a good core that has wrestled everywhere – very experienced guys who have been around for a long time. Come March 1, we’ll be disappointed if we don’t have a bunch of guys standing on the podium.”
Another team capable of impacting the team standings is Colonie. The Raiders boast some very tough wrestlers, including state placer Golan Cohen and the upperweight duo of Wayne Burt and Austin DiCerbo. All three of those grapplers won more than 40 matches in 2012-13.
“Colonie could definitely make a push,” Servidone said. “They’re right up there. They were young last year, but have a lot of tough wrestlers.”
In addition, Queensbury can’t be left out of the conversation after a fourth place finish a year ago. The squad will be driven by All-Stater Franky Nassivera, Section II runner up Kody Bruno, bronze medalist Dillon Deckert and three other returning placers.
While Kelley won it all in the large school division representing Section II, Luis Weierbach did the same in the small school tournament. After a fifth place performance in 2012 at 99, the West Point-bound wrestler from Hoosick Falls put together an undefeated season that culminated in a state championship at 106 pounds.
Joining Weierbach in the Saturday night finals was Schalmont’s Nick Gallo. The junior followed up a top 8 showing as a tenth grader at 152 with a run to the title match at 160 (where he was beaten by Warsaw’s Burke Paddock). After going from top 8 to second, can Gallo go one step higher on the podium in his junior year?
“Definitely keep an eye on Nick Gallo,” said Hoosick Falls Wrestling Club's Michael LaPorte. “He’s right there where he needs to be. I believe you’ll see him at the top of the podium this year.”
Another 2013 medalist, Carter Merecki of Salem, will return after grabbing fourth at 120 pounds in Albany. He was one round from placing in 2012 at 106.
“He’s another kid that certainly puts in a ton of time,” LaPorte said. “I’d like to see him step it up another notch this year and he has the ability to do it.”
“[Merecki] is a smart wrestler who capitalizes on situations well,” said Hudson Falls head coach Mike Prendergast. “He knows the game and is very tough to deal with. He also has some great coaches who help him peak at the right time of the year.”
Who Else is Set to Return?
Connor Lawrence of Duanesburg came within one match of All-State status at 152 pounds, with his losses coming against the eventual fourth and fifth placers. He won 45 matches as a sophomore, with 31 pins, and will be a middleweight to watch.
“Connor goes all over the place to get better,” Prendergast said. “I could see him getting to the podium this year. He made some weight jumps over the years, but has started to level out and find his niche.”
He wasn’t the only Section II representative to win in Albany. Two-time state qualifier Geno Brancati of Hudson Falls entered the Times Union Center as the number three seed at 170 pounds and began well with a major decision. He was then sent to the consolations by eventual state champion Adis Radoncic and was eliminated in his next contest. However, with his experience at the biggest tournament of the season, and a 40-win campaign, he should be a contender in the upperweights.
“He’s a captain this year, even though he’s in 11th grade. He’s a veteran and we’re looking for him to take advantage of his last two trips to Albany," Prendergast said. "He has some motivation and knows what it takes to be successful at this level. He’s a good team player, so he’ll bounce between 170 and 182 but I expect 170 at the end. This year, he’s looking to get to day two at the state tournament and to the podium.”
Like Brancati, Daniel VanDyk of Salem (126) and Corinth's Garon Leclair (99 pounds) picked up a victory in the state capital.
“VanDyk did well and has a great workout partner in Carter Merecki,” Prendergast said. (Returning qualifier Ryan Matuszak isn't listed in the NWCA Scorebook for Corinth).
We'll also be watching Albany Academy’s Matt Morris. The 2012-13 113 pounder was 41-1 during the campaign prior to the state tournament. He remained very active in the offseason, including in the international styles and will look to translate that into a strong finish in 2014.
“Matt practices with us in the offseason and he looks really good,” Servidone said. “I expect big things from Matt before he goes to Williams College next year and wrestles there. He’s smart and a really hard worker. I wouldn’t be surprised if he ends his career as a state champ.”
Who Else Could Have a Breakout Year?
Jason Hoffman of Hadley Luzerne/Lake George was mentioned by several people as a wrestler to watch. As an eighth grader, he won more than 20 matches at 138 pounds, taking fourth in the section. (He defeated state qualifier Ryan Matuszak).
“Jason is definitely someone to keep and eye on,” LaPorte said. “He should do some really good things. He’s improved a lot; really worked hard. He had a great eighth grade year on varsity and should make even more of an impact this year.”
In fact, half of Hoffman’s losses were to either multiple-time state qualifier John Diekel (now at Air Force) or Freddy Pechette of Ravena (a winner of around 30 matches a year ago who is also a grappler to keep tabs on this season).
“I’m not sure where everyone will wind up weight-wise, but the 145 class could include some really tough kids,” LaPorte said. "Michael Matatt [of Hoosick Falls] was sick last year at sectionals – he lost to some kids there he had beaten before. He’s very tough, very physical. Tyler Green from Schuylerville too. He’s a really good kid who I don’t think people will see coming. He’s flying under the radar a little bit.”
Flying under the radar is something 99 pounders sometimes do because of their age. There will be some high quality ones this year, according to LaPorte, as decorated youth wrestlers such as Schuylerville’s Orion Anderson, Galway’s Dillan Palaszewski and Duanesburg’s Zach Lawrence will take the mat.
“There will be some really fun matches at that weight class this year and I’ve watched those guys for years," LaPorte said. "It will be exciting to see them on the varsity. They’re all very good.”
Another lightweight to keep in mind is Weirebach’s training partner, Nolan Foster of Hoosick Falls. Weirebach mentioned one of the keys to his undefeated title run was the work he did with Foster in the room.
“Nolan has put in a lot of work, like 80 matches,” LaPorte said. “He’s been working really, really hard and it shows. Some kids he lost to last year - in the offseason, he turned around and beat them handily. He’s made great strides and I think expectations are high for him. He could see the state podium for sure.”
Some others mentioned as threats? Morris’s Albany Academy teammate Sam Delarge took second at 132 and Prendergast said he “always started strong out of the gate and could be dangerous”. Andy Mollevik of Duanesburg had 40 wins at 145, including over Section champion Kyle Mulcahy. And speaking of the Mulcahy family, Prendergast mentioned that Tyler Mulcahy is a solid wrestler who could do some damage. (He had 35 wins a year ago and split with state qualifier Dan VanDyk). Steve Culbert of Galway, a 30+ match winner at 138 and All-Section wrestler is also one to watch.
At 220 pounds, Schalmont’s Marcus Ramundo looks to break through after notching silver in the section. He collected victories over state qualifiers Luke McKee and Joe Sprung along the way. Also in the higher classes, his teammate Tim Flower is the highest returning placer at 182 following a 30 win season.
Hoosick Falls captured the team title by less than four points over Duanesburg in 2013. The Panthers bring back champion Luis Weierbach and runner up Nolan Foster as well as two other placers – Colby Davendonis (third) and Garrett Wright (fifth). [Davendonis was hurt in football and will miss a portion of the season]. In addition, Tom Peabody, who has been plagued by injuries the last few years, is capable of making a run at the sectionals in the lightweights if healthy. However, the squad loses the contributions of three medalists, including All-State grappler Brad Burns and Section II runner up Bryan Sherman. Will Hoosick Falls garner enough points for two in a row?
“I could see Hoosick Falls repeating as champions or being very close to the top of the pack," Prendergast said. "They’ll have a very good team again.”
Looking to stop a repeat is Duanesburg, the second place squad a year ago that, like Hoosick Falls, has some key returners and some graduation losses. Connor Lawrence will lead the charge along with bronze finishers Devin Van Vlack and Andy Mollevik and fourth placer Shane Barberis. However, champion Jeff Senecal and two other placers could be missed.
“When it comes to tournament time, Joe Bena always has his kids ready to go,” Prendergast added. “You know Duanesburg will always be a threat.”
Also looking to be in the thick of things are Corinth and Schalmont, who were third and fourth in the team standings in 2013. Corinth loses gold medalist Kyle Mulcahy but returns a pair of titlewinners as well as a third and fourth placer. Meanwhile, Schalmont also said goodbye to one medalist while bringing back champion Nick Gallo, runner up Marcus Ramundo as well as three other medalists.
“It’s always a battle to be in the top five in the small school division,” Prendergast said. “I don’t think anyone will run away with it; I think it will be a tight race.”
Indeed, there are a number of schools who could be in the mix. Several others were mentioned, including Cobleskill, Hudson Falls, Granville and Salem.
Prendergast didn’t predict exactly where his team will finish, but does like what he sees to date.
“The team worked really hard in the offseason, some of them at Journeymen,” he said. “They know they have to fill in some big gaps from last year because we graduated a lot of seniors. I think we’ll be a gritty team that’s always fighting in close dual meets. It’s the hardest working team I’ve had here; a real blue collar group. They know that’s what it will take to have a successful season.”
Thanks to all the contributors to this article, especially Anthony Servidone, Michael LaPorte and Mike Prendergast.