This article is from 01/21/14
Wrestling in the placement matches at the Eastern States Classic is nothing new for Brandon Lapi. After all, the Amsterdam senior earned a spot on the podium at the top-notch tournament in his freshman, sophomore and juniors years.
However, Lapi made the finals for the first time on January 11th in a loaded 138-pound bracket and took full advantage, defeating Locust Valley’s Sam Ward 4-2 to capture his first Eastern States title.
The win also elevated Lapi to the #1 position in the NYS rankings at 138 pounds, as the field at SUNY Sullivan was packed with most of the state’s top grapplers at the weight.
“It’s a really great feeling to be able to win it in my last year, my last chance,” Lapi said. “I knew it would be really tough. It felt like it was pretty much the state tournament, with all the guys that were there. That made it really exciting.”
Lapi has had a lot of exciting moments in a sport he started when he was five years old. At a young age, he became involved in a club with his current head coach Ken Benton and saw many parts of the country, from Virginia to Nevada to Ohio to Iowa, placing in elite events like the Reno Tournament of Champions.
But his travels weren’t limited to his younger years. This past offseason is a great example.
Lapi began with a drive to Ithaca in March for the Long Island vs. Upstate Challenge where he defeated Hauppauge’s Chris Mauriello (a 2013 NHSCA National champion) in a dual that ended tied.
“That was a good experience,” he said. “It was really nice to see Cornell’s wrestling room and to see Kyle Dake and the whole Cornell team. It was nice to be a part of the Upstate team – I knew pretty much all the guys.”
He later joined another Empire State All-Star squad (New York Kong) on a journey down to Florida for the Disney Duals. In the Sunshine State, Lapi split time at 145 pounds with fellow NYS runner up Frank Garcia of Norwich for the squad that went all the way to the finals of the prestigious event.
“We had a really tough team,” Lapi said. “A few guys were second in the state and pretty much everyone else was a state champ. It was a lot of fun. I wrestled some really good competition and we had a great time at Universal and other places. I made some friends and I see those guys all over at tournaments.”
But there were more than just domestic destinations on Lapi’s schedule. In the summer of 2013, he went with the Journeymen Wrestling Club (where he has trained since he was about 10) to Europe for some freestyle (and cultural) experiences.
“We practiced all week and then had a tournament in Austria," he said. "It was right downtown and it seemed like everyone in the town was there. It was definitely different. And then, in Italy we also had a tournament at the end – it was at a private beach. It was pretty neat.”
So after hitting multiple states and countries, Lapi returned to the Albany area to get ready for his final high school season. He said he felt he made significant strides, especially in his mat wrestling.
All of the work has served Lapi well as he has already racked up more than 25 victories and recently reached the 250-win milestone for his career, according to his father Jim Lapi. His lone setback of 2013-14 came up at 145 pounds against 2013 NYS third placer Joey Butler of Burnt Hills.
In that match, Lapi led 1-0 after two periods. And he rode Butler effectively for nearly the entire third stanza . . . until the Burnt Hills star picked up the reversal with just three seconds remaining for the final 2-1 margin.
“It was tough. I didn’t feel at the top of my game – I had a couple of stitches rip out of my hand during the match,” he said. “But I can’t be holding back. I need to open up my offense on my feet so I don’t get in that situation.”
Opening up his offense is one of the things he plans to work on as he thinks about wrestling at the next level.
The senior said he has spoken to a number of schools, such as (alphabetically) Binghamton, Bloomsburg, Bucknell, Clarion and Ohio, among others, and will take some visits in the near future.
“I definitely want to continue wrestling after high school,” he said.
But, first things first. Lapi said he came into his final scholastic campaign with a few goals. Getting into a good college was one of them. The others? Win Eastern States, win Section 2 (for the fifth time) and win the state championship.
The NYS tournament is a place he has already made an impact - notching third as a freshman, fourth as a sophomore and second at 132 as a junior.
“Every day, I go into practice thinking about a state title,” he said. “It was really exciting to be in the finals last year. Hopefully, this time, I’ll win it. It would be the icing on the cake – something I worked for my whole life.”
And winning that crown would mean more than ending his own career in style.
“My coach [Benton] is retiring,” he said. “I’ve known him for a really long time, I’m always around him. We go hunting all the time. He’s like another dad for me. I hope I can win the state title not only for me, but for him in his last year too.”
After three trips to the medal stand at the Eastern States Classic, Brandon Lapi earned the gold. After three trips to the podium at the New York State championships, he’ll have a chance to do the same in Albany.
Brandon Lapi wanted to thank a number of people.
"I want to thank my coaches George Randy Bowmen, Kenneth Benton, Ken Pfeiffer, Pat Reilly, Frank Popolizio, James Lapi, Mitch Clark, John Clark, Rob Waller, Gene Mills, Steve Hromada, Anthony Ciolino, Troy Letters, Mark Gillen, Paul Ochal, Jeff Blatnick and I am sure there are more that I have missed. Thank you to them also.
I would also like to thank my Uncle Ed Chamberlain who passed away at a wrestling event in Lake Placid, NY watching me. He was my biggest supporter and never missed a match. Also thanks to my Uncle Ben Chamberlain who spends all his free time scouting my competition and my mom Brenda, my dad Jim and my sisters Breanna and Sherry (wrestling managers) who have supported me and given up so much for me."