Send eight wrestlers into the New York State Public High School Athletic Association Championships and there’s a decent chance some good things are going to happen.
Four of the eight Mattituck/Greenport/Southold wrestlers who made it to Times Union Center in Albany on Friday secured a place in Saturday’s Division II semifinals. Then two of those four, seniors James Hoeg and Tanner Zagarino, went on to claim the first individual state championships in team history.
All these years and then, bang, bang, within minutes of each other, Mattituck had two state champions. “It’s crazy,” said coach Cory Dolson.
Hoeg, seeded second at 195 pounds, said a state title has been on his wish list ever since he was 6 or 7 years old. He made the most of his opportunity, beating the top seed, South Jefferson-Sandy Creek junior Joe Benedict, a 2016 state finalist, 10-2, for the crown.
“It’s definitely special to be the first person [from Mattituck] to win the states,” he said. “It’s been something I’ve been working for my whole life.”
Zagarino, the No. 1 seed at 220 pounds, wrestled next and came up with a 10-5 defeat of Midlakes senior Hammond Raes.
Last year Zagarino took third place in the state meet. That equaled the best finish ever by a Mattituck wrestler. Louis Troisi placed third in 2007.
Zagarino heaped praise for Dolson in interviews afterward. “I think Dolson is the best high school coach around,” he said. “I know that he deserved a state championship. … Dolson’s done so much for me.”
* Shooting through the semis
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 at 120 pounds. After his arm was raised, Bokina slapped a spirited low-five with Cory Dolson.
Jack Bokina attacked relentlessly in his 126-pound semifinal and was rewarded with a pin of Adirondack junior Kevin Spann at 5 minutes.
Tanner 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 James Hoeg, in thorough control, win by technical fall over Pioneer senior Taylor Smith, the No. 3 seed, at 4:15.
* Pain? What pain?
Maybe it was a case of mind over matter. Then again, it could have just been the pain-relieving power of a state championship.
Tanner Zagarino had been dealing with a banged up shoulder, not to mention other ailments that are part and parcel of a grueling wrestling season. They didn’t stop him, though.
“Despite all my injuries, my shoulder, a couple of days ago I think I may have broke a rib, but I persevered and … it didn’t matter,” said Zagarino, who wore a black brace on his right shoulder and a wrap around his chest. “I knew that I could win a state championship.”
* Bokinas hope to be back
Having two twins wrestling in the state finals is a neat thing. Luke Bokina and Jack Bokina would have preferred they ended up as state champions, but finishing second isn’t shabby at all for the Mattituck juniors.
“Overall, it was a good tournament,” said Jack Bokina, who was beaten, 12-4, by Schuylerville junior Orion Anderson in the 120-pound final. “Obviously, we didn’t get the result we wanted, but it was all right.”
Luke Bokina wrestled right after his brother in Saturday night’s finals and lost, 5-1, to Locust Valley senior Jonathan Gomez at 126 pounds.
“They had a great tournament, man,” Cory Dolson said. “We knew it was going to be difficult. The Bokinas work so hard and every year they get better. They improve every single year, and it’s a testament to the hard work that they put in and the time and the effort. They do the right thing, and that’s why good things happen to them. They got another year, right?”
That thought had occurred to Luke Bokina. “We both pretty much had nothing to lose,” he said. “We’re both juniors. We both have another year.”
* A boost to Albany’s economy
The state tournament was expected to pump more than $1.3 million in spending into the area, according to the Albany County Convention & Visitors Bureau. Hundreds of wrestlers, along with coaches and families, were a boost to Albany hotels, restaurants, shopping malls and attractions.
Photo caption: Mattituck senior James Hoeg wrestles in the 195-pound finals Saturday. (Credit: Ray Nelson)