More so than athletes in other sports, wrestlers tend to stick together. Wrestling is more than a sport, it’s a culture.
Take one step inside a sweltering wrestling room as practice ends and you get the idea.
For those at the top of the sport, the guys competing for county and state titles, they more often than not dedicate themselves to the sport year-round, a never-ending cycle of tournaments and training.
Mattituck junior Tomasz Filipkowski is one of those rare exceptions.
In the fall Filipkowski rushed for seven touchdowns with the Greenport football team while also leveling opponents from his linebacker position on defense. In the spring, Filipkowski plays lacrosse.
That he plays so many other sports throughout the year only makes his success in wrestling all the more impressive. The top returning wrestler for Mattituck, Filipkowski posted a 29-4 record last year as a sophomore and won the Division II county title at 160 pounds. He advanced to the state championship where he went 1-2 in Albany.
Mattituck coach Cory Dolson said if Filipkowski focused strictly on wrestling, there’s no telling how far he could go. But at a small school like Mattituck, it’s tougher for an athlete to narrow down to just one sport, Dolson said.
“That’s the kind of athlete he is,” Dolson said. “He doesn’t wrestle all year round and he’s still one of the top guys as a junior. That’s just the kind of ability he has.”
Filipkowski is the only returnee among the Tuckers three county champions from a year ago. He’ll begin the season back at 160, or possibly up one weight class at 170.
As he begins the season looking to build on his success from a year ago, Filipkowski’s focus is on staying consistent, Dolson said.
“He’s pretty good in all areas,” Dolson said. “He’s very explosive on his feet. He’s one of the best guys we have on bottom; he’s very hard to keep down, and he’s tough on top. He’s just has to work on little things that are going to help him beat better wrestlers now.”
Dolson knows Filipkowski won’t be sneaking up on anyone this year. And with a busy tournament schedule over the season, Filipkowski will get his chance to compete against some tough Division I wrestlers.
“We’re really looking for him to start beating the best guys in the county, not just the best guys in Division II,” he said. “We think he can be one of the best guys at 160, 170 in the whole county.”
While the Tuckers lost a large portion of their team from last year, they enter the season with big numbers and a lot of kids competing for spots. Dolson said there are 42 wrestlers this season, including junior varsity, compared to the typical figure of about 28.
“It’s just a lot of inexperience,” Dolson said. “It’s going to take time for these guys to get used to wrestling. They just got to get on the mat and start competing in matches.”
The Tuckers do return a few starters, including sophomore Brian Pelan, who placed fourth in Division II last year at 119.
He’ll wrestle either 120 or 126 this season. A varsity wrestler since eighth grade, he’s already a two-time all-league finisher.
One of the few returning seniors is Rich Koch, who also placed fourth in D-II last year. He’ll wrestle 145 this year.
“He’s a seasoned guy who’s been on the team since he was a ninth-grader,” Dolson said. “He’s got a ton of varsity experience so we’re going to be looking to him for some big wins.”
Ryan Bergen was a third-place finisher last year in D-II. He’ll bump up either one or two weights to 120 or 126.
At 182 junior Chris Baglivi returns to anchor Mattituck’s upper weights. Baglivi started for the Tuckers in dual meets last season.
With the Tuckers scheduled to open the season this weekend at a tournament at Bay Shore High School, competition for many of the other spots is still wide open.
“This week is a big week for us,” Dolson said. “This is the first year we’re going to have probably seven or eight wrestle-offs for starting spots. That’ll happen this week and then on Saturday we’ll see how everyone does.”
The competition remains the same for Mattituck in dual meets. Dolson said he expects Bayport-Blue Point, the two-time defending champion, to still be the team to beat.
Mattituck’s first league dual meet is Jan. 4 at Smithtown Christian. Until then the Tuckers have busy slate of tournaments and one non-league dual meet against East Hampton Dec. 14.