Finishing as a county runner-up in wrestling is a nice achievement and something to be proud of, especially in Suffolk County, widely regarded as the top wrestling section in New York State.
And yet, at the same time, it’s awfully bittersweet coming so close to that top step on the podium.
Ethan Schmidt and Colby Suglia know the feeling well. Last year the Mattituck/Greenport/Southold wrestlers were both county runner-up finishers.
Now they know what it feels like to be county champions.
“It felt like a hole was filled,” said Suglia.
The two juniors, both seeded first in their weight class, reached the top step of the podium Friday night in the L. Robert “Doc” Fallot Section XI Division II Championships at Center Moriches High School. Their experience losing in county finals last year helped in two regards. One, it served as motivation. Two, it gave them a level of comfort in knowing what it would be like to step onto the mat, under the spotlight, with the eyes of a packed gym focused on them.
“It was tough to get [second place last year], but I’ve always wanted to get first, so this year I really proved myself and I got the job done,” said Schmidt, whose older brother Tim was a county champion for Mattituck as a senior.
Ethan Schmidt applauded after his 9-4 defeat of Bayport-Blue Point senior Branden Kruger in the 170-pound final.
“I thought I wrestled pretty well,” said Schmidt (34-10), who pinned his first two opponents, Port Jefferson’s Julian Nunez and Southampton’s Moises Molina, in a combined time of 1 minute, 22 seconds. Then he scored a 14-5 major decision against Hampton Bays’ Joseph Gaudiello in the semifinals.
“It feels great,” Schmidt said. “Some people just want to get the season over with … I wanted to get to counties this year and prove a point. My brother only won counties in 12th grade.”
Mattituck coach Cory Dolson liked what he saw from Schmidt.
“He wrestled well,” Dolson said. “He did what he was supposed to do. He was the number one seed coming in and he wrestled like the number one seed.”
As did Suglia.
Although he is certified to wrestle at 195 pounds, the class he has wrestled virtually all season, Suglia competed at 220, where his speed came in handy.
Because of two speedy pins in the bouts preceding his final, Suglia was in a back room, talking to Dolson and loosening up when he was taken by surprise and suddenly called to the mat for his final against Center Moriches senior Brad Sakellarides. “It screwed me up a little bit,” he said.
A Sakellarides takedown put Suglia in a 2-0 hole early. It was 2-2 in the second period when it appeared as if Suglia began wrestling angry. He said, “I was angry halfway through the match because, one, I came out slow and I was late, which didn’t help, and I wasn’t wrestling my best match.”
Suglia went on to throw Sakellarides to the mat several times, finding the strength to slap down a 9-3 victory. That earned him a chest bump and a slap on the back from Dolson.
After a first-round bye, Suglia pinned Shoreham-Wading River’s Anthony Giordano in 1:10 and Mattituck’s Tyler Marlborough in 3:31 to reach the final.
Asked about the expectations that come with being the No. 1 seed, Suglia (36-5) said: “You got to live up to the dream. You got to live up to it. It definitely brought pressure, but we went into it knowing that we were the best wrestlers.”
Dolson said: “We say pressure is a privilege, right? You want to have the pressure as the number one seed. That’s kind of how we look at it.”
Mattituck junior Cole DiGregorio, in only his second season of wrestling, ascended to the final at 138. He had the misfortune to run into Mount Sinai senior Joe O’Brien, who won by technical fall, 17-1. O’Brien raised his impressive record to 43-4 while DiGregorio, who Dolson called one of the hardest workers on the team, dropped to 22-9.
“We had a really good day,” Dolson said. “We had a great round in the wrestlebacks. We had four kids in the wrestlebacks that all took third place.”
Third-place finishes by Ben Webb (145 pounds), Malachi Boisseau (152), Antonio Jimenez (160) and Marlborough were big in helping Mattituck secure third place in the team standings. The Tuckers finished with 164 1/2 points, ending up behind two-time state dual-meet champion Mount Sinai (272) and Elwood/John Glenn (227 1/2).
With their newly won titles, Schmidt and Suglia earned places in the state tournament Feb. 22 and 23 at the Times Union Center in Albany.
“None of these championships are guaranteed, you know what I mean?” Dolson said. “So, for these kids to win them and be successful and get a chance to go up to Albany as juniors is huge … Now we got to go upstate and win some matches.”
Notes. In addition to winning the team title, Mount Sinai took a couple of individual awards. Joe O’Brien (138) was selected the champion of champions and Matt Campo (152) turned in the most pins in the least time, four in 3:38. Center Moriches’ Jordan Titus (120) was named the Most Outstanding Wrestler.
Photo caption: Mattituck/Greenport/Southold’s Ethan Schmidt was a 9-4 winner over Bayport-Blue Point senior Branden Kruger in the 170-pound final. (Credit: Robert O’Rourk)