To put it all in perspective, as New York State Public High Schools Athletic Association executive director Robert Zayas did during the pre-finals ceremonies, over 20,000 young men wrestle in New York State. The top 30 were crowned Saturday night in the 55th annual NYSPHSAA Championships at Times Union Center in Albany.
Four Mattituck/Greenport/Southold wrestlers were among the finalists who paraded into the arena for the finals. Mattituck has never had a state champion wrestler before.
With Mattituck coach Cory Dolson and his assistant coaches dressed as if they had just walked off the pages of GQ Magazine, the Tuckers sensed that something special was at hand.
After all those years of failing to produce a state champion, Mattituck now has not one, but two of them.
James Hoeg and fellow senior Tanner Zagarino both claimed coveted state titles within minutes of each other.
“This is the best moment of my life, no doubt,” the top-seeded Zagarino said after his 10-3 defeat of Midlakes senior Hammond Raes in the Division II 220-pound final.
The second-seeded Hoeg made history by officially becoming the first Mattituck state champion, beating No. 1 Joe Benedict, a junior from South Jefferson-Sandy Creek, 10-2, at 195 pounds.
“I guess he is the first one to win a state championship, but I guess we can say we’re co-first ones,” Zagarino, who wrestled immediately after Hoeg, joked with reporters. “It’s not my fault they put James in front of me.”
Following a cautious start, Hoeg (51-2, 206-23 for his career) took over against Benedict (45-3), a 2016 state finalist.
“It’s something I’ve been working all my life for,” Hoeg said. He added, “I can’t even describe the feeling.”
Looking zoned in and focused, Zagarino (41-4, 146-25 for his career), who had pinned his first three opponents in the tournament, worked the third-seeded Raes over. Afterward, Zagarino gave Dolson a bear hug and raised both arms triumphantly.
Last year Zagarino finished third in the state tournament, equaling Louis Troisi’s showing in 2007 for the best finish by a Mattituck wrestler at the state level. In retrospect, Zagarino believes that third place helped him in the long run. “That third place is the biggest motivation,” he said.
Speaking of his newly crowned state champions, Dolson said: “I’m just very proud of the hard work that these kids put into it. I’m just happy for them.”
The first two Tuckers to wrestle in the finals, twins Luke and Jack Bokina, a pair of juniors seeded third, lost to tough opponents.
Luke Bokina was beaten, 12-4, by top-seeded Schuylerville junior Orion Anderson at 120 pounds. It is the second state championship for the exceptionally strong Anderson (41-1), who has a 145-7 career record.
Anderson went right to work, building a 6-1 lead after one period before tacking on six points in the third period. Following the match, Luke Bokina (45-6, 144-33 for his career) shook hands with Anderson, removed his headgear and then shook Dolson’s hand before walking off.
Jack Bokina faced a tough customer himself in Locust Valley senior Jon Gomez at 126 pounds. The athletic Gomez (39-1), a three-time state finalist who did a backflip before the match, lost a contact lens during the third period, but didn’t allow it to detract him from his goal. He handed the lens to a trainer and went back to work, putting the finishing touches on a 5-1 victory. Jack Bokina (47-4, 162-41 for his career), a fourth-place finisher in last year’s state tournament, looked disappointed but calm as he walked off the mat.
Three of Mattituck’s finalists won semifinals in dominant fashion, the sole exception being Luke Bokina, whose escape point with about 57 seconds left in the third period brought him a 3-2 triumph over Wayne senior Matt Caccamise. After his arm was raised, Bokina slapped a spirited low-five with Dolson.
Jack Bokina attacked relentlessly in his semifinal and was rewarded with a pin of Adirondack junior Kevin Spann at 5:00.
Zagarino, looking spry and strong, attacked barely two seconds into his semifinal against Olean senior Jordan McLaughlin and built an 8-0 lead before pinning his opponent at 3:03.
Zagarino then joined Mattituck’s coaches on the side of a mat to watch Hoeg, in thorough control, win by technical fall over Pioneer senior Taylor Smith, the No. 3 seed, at 4:15.
Mattituck’s four other wrestlers in the state tournament weren’t as successful. T.J. Beebe (138 pounds) went 1-2 and finished the season with a 42-5 record. The senior went 152-41 for his career. Carmine Vergari (27-10), Thomas Hoeg (29-16) and Jake Skrezec (25-15) all went 0-2, respectively, at 145, 152 and 160.
Prior to the finals, Mattituck was honored for being recognized for the second year in a row as the top Division II team in the state by the New York State Sportswriters Association.
As far as the team scoring went, Mattituck (99.5 points) finished second to Central Valley Academy (110), but that didn’t seem to bother Dolson.
He said, “Nothing’s going to ruin our smiles tonight.”
Photo caption: Mattituck/Greenport/Southold senior Tanner Zagarino, talking to coach Cory Dolson, won a state title along with teammate James Hoeg. (Credit: Ray Nelson)