The great majority of high school wrestlers are done for the season. It is those relatively elite few who are still toiling, pushing themselves through strenuous workouts in steamy wrestling rooms with the hope that their dream will be realized.
Members of this group — consisting mostly of county champions — will step onto the biggest stage in New York wrestling on Friday and Saturday at Times Union Center in Albany. At least those who have been there before have an idea of what to expect from the New York State Public High School Athletic Association Championships.
“The first time you walk out in the big arena, it’s crazy,” said Mattituck/Greenport senior Bobby Becker, who went 1-2 in the state tournament last year. “Now I know what I’m getting myself into, and hopefully I can do a little better.”
With all that Mattituck/Greenport has accomplished this season, what adjustments have the seven Tuckers, who qualified, made in their training for the state tournament?
Well, none, really. As they say, if it works, stick with it.
So far, things have been working just fine for the Tuckers. An argument could be made that they are close to capping the finest season in their history. They won all eight of their League VII matches for a second straight league title and fifth overall. They produced a 19-3 dual-meet record. They not only grabbed their second straight Suffolk County Division II team championship, but did so in dominant fashion, blowing away the competition and taking first place by 133 points over the runner-up, Port Jefferson. On top of that, they also produced a program-record seven county champions who have extended their seasons by earning a trip to Albany (the most they sent before was four). Mattituck/Greenport and Port Jefferson will represent Section XI’s Division II contingent in 12 of the 15 weight classes.
Now, that’s not bad.
Perhaps the only noticeable difference in Mattituck High School’s wrestling room lately has been the drop in the number of wrestlers still training. With less wrestlers, there is less noise and more room, perhaps, but the work ethic continues.
“We go hard the whole time,” said Becker.
After Mattituck/Greenport’s great success in the Section XI Division II Tournament, there was a quick turnaround for its seven county champions. They were given a day off, and then it was back to the mats. That is a wrestler’s life. Their coach, Cory Dolson, reminded them that their work is not finished.
“They can’t be satisfied with winning that [Section XI] tournament last week,” Dolson said. “It’s awesome, it’s great. You can celebrate and be happy, but you have to understand that this is a new season now.”
Becker (26-7), who was voted the Champion of Champions in the sectional tournament at 138 pounds, is the only one of the seven Mattituck/Greenport wrestlers to have wrestled at the state level before. It will be a new experience for eighth-grader Jack Bokina (24-8, 99 pounds), senior Brian Pelan (33-2, 132 pounds), freshman James Hoeg (30-7, 145 pounds), senior Christian Angelson (27-8, 170 pounds), senior Sal Loverde (30-5, 182 pounds) and junior Adam Goode (26-8, 195 pounds).
What they will find is a tournament in which every match is similar to a county final in terms of quality. That should hardly be surprising since most of the wrestlers in the state tournament are county champions. No one advances that far by accident.
“It’s the cream of the crop,” said Dolson, who has seen 22 of his wrestlers qualify for the state tournament in his eight years in charge of the team. “There’s not a bad guy in a weight class. Everybody’s a champion, for the most part. You’re not going to run into a bad kid up there, so you got to be ready to go. It’s a cool experience. You’re there with the best kids in New York State.”
The top six finishers in each 16-wrestler weight class make it to the state podium. To get an idea of how difficult that is, consider this: Louis Troisi is the only Tucker who did that; he took third place in Division II at 130 pounds in 2007.
“It’s time for us to start making that next step,” said Dolson.
Reaching the state tournament is a major accomplishment in itself. Asked how he rated it among his wrestling achievements, Pelan said: “It’s number one. It’s the best thing I’ve done so far.”
And then there is a young up-and-coming wrestler like Bokina. The eighth-grader is in his second season on the team, and he’s headed to the state tournament.
“It’s awesome,” he said. He added, “You got to set the bar higher now.”
Bokina has been training with his twin brother Luke and teammate T. J. Beebe. “It’s a big help,” he said.
Not all of those who will compete in Albany are champions, though. After finishing third in the Section XI Division I Tournament, Shoreham-Wading River senior Dominic Pirraglia received one of four at-large bids to the state tournament. The 182-pound wrestler will be making his first appearance in the state tournament.
James Szymanski (44-4), a junior, is an alternate in the 120-pound weight class. In order for him to compete, another wrestler would have to bail out, either because of injury or not making weight, according to Shoreham coach Joe Condon.
Szymanski (47-3), who also finished third in the section, has an impressive résumé worthy of a state tournament spot. But the numbers didn’t work in his favor. The at-large bids are determined by a formula, which includes prior finishes in sectional and state meets, as well as record and the section where the wrestler competes.
Szymanski finished fifth earlier this season at the Eastern States Classic, a tournament many consider more challenging than the state tournament because of the number of top-tier wrestlers that compete in it.
Last year, Shoreham’s T. J. Fabian received an at-large bid after finishing third in the county tournament and went on to become the fourth Shoreham wrestler in program history to win a state crown.
On Thursday morning, Section XI will send a couple of coach buses filled with wrestlers to Albany. They will check in to their hotel rooms and work out in the arena that night. On Friday they will weigh in, and then the action begins.
“So far, so good,” Dolson said of the training sessions. “I think they’re loose. I think they’re in a good place mentally and physically.”
“I just want them to stay focused and stay hungry and understand that the season, although successful so far, isn’t over,” he continued. “We’ve been having so much success from the beginning of the year to the end of the year. I tried to tell them the other day, ‘Why stop now? Why stop that feeling now? Let’s keep being successful all the way to the end.’ ”
Joe Werkmeister contributed to this article.