Welcome to 2016, #lohudwrestling fans.
The holidays offered some valuable time to be spent with family and friends, which is especially precious for winter sport athletes. Teams around the Lower Hudson Valley had the opportunity to rest their minds and their bodies before the second-half push, which comes into full swing this week.
The Section 1 Championships are less than two months away, with the New York State Championships to follow. There’s a lot to be decided between now and then, though. Even with temperatures dropping, the season is just starting to heat up.
Here are the top 10 things to watch in the second half of the season …
1. Eastern States Classic — In what has become the premier high school wrestling tournament in the region, the 14th annual Eastern States Classic will be held at Sullivan Community College Jan. 15-16. With 162 teams represented from six states, the field is often deeper than the New York State Championships. The best from the Lower Hudson Valley will flock to see how they stack up. (Yours truly will be on hand.)
2. Getting over the hump — It was a successful first half for many local wrestlers, but the true test will come at the Section 1 Championships. A handful of talented wrestlers who have been knocking on the door in recent years – such as Scarsdale’s Michael DaBramo, John Jay-EF’s Randy Earl, New Rochelle’s Jake Shore, Fox Lane’s Matt Grippi, Clarkstown North’s Maxim Kutsepau and Brewster’s Mike Larm, to name a few – are aiming to win their first section titles.
3. Collision course — While a handful of weight classes have clear front-runners, there are a few with two wrestlers who are steamrolling right toward each other. In Division 1, you can point to 120 pounds (Earl and New Rochelle’s Moises Tera), 132 (Carmel’s Kevin Knox and Suffern’s Peter Oliveto), 145 (Arlington’s Brady Robin and East Ramapo’s Romello Bradley), 152 (Brewster’s Grant Cuomo and John Jay’s Conor Melbourne) and 160 (Carmel’s Alex Leone and New Rochelle’s Jordan Wallace). In Division 2, 132 (Edgemont’s Kyle Aslanian and Putnam Valley’s Noah Kelvas) and 152 (Pleasantville’s Lou Quintanilla and Pearl River’s Anthony Malfitano) fall into that category.
4. Wide open — Some weight classes in Division 1 go much deeper than the top two. Perhaps the most unpredictable will be 99 pounds, where it appears to be anyone’s game. Others such as 126, 170 and 220 have at least five guys who feel like they’re capable of winning it all.
5. D2 upper-weights — From 160 pounds up in Division 2, things could get weird. There are defending champs at 182 (Edgemont’s Cliffton Wang) and 195 (Nanuet’s Connor Breit), but the other four weight classes – 160, 170, 220 and 285 – should keep everyone guessing. Throw all of the names in a hat, shake ‘em up and see who gets the lucky draw.
6. 170 could be a magic number — Which is the deepest weight class in Section 1? At the moment, you could make a strong argument for 182 pounds in Division 1. The top four in the rankings are no joke. Eastchester’s Nunzio Crowley and Suffern’s Stephen Lauro are defending section champions (Crowley placed fifth at states), John Jay’s Evan Frank is a returning section finalist, and Lakeland/Panas’ Alex Melikian is the only one from the quartet who has ever placed at Eastern States. By comparison, the current field at 170 looks watered down, with no wrestlers who have ever made All-Section. Melikian has stated that he intends to stay at 182, but could Crowley, Lauro or Frank be tempted to cut down to 170? Whoever does will instantly become the favorite.
7. What about 113? — The other weight class that would be in the running for the deepest in Division 1 is 113 pounds. Now that North Rockland’s Anthony Sulla (sixth in the state last season) has moved down for the second half, look out. He joins another defending section champ in East Ramapo’s Trey Wardlaw, who recently lost in overtime to DaBramo. Throw in Byram Hills’ Luca Errico and Suffern’s Dean Artrip, and you’ve got some serious talent.
8. And 132 in D2? — The headliners at 132 pounds in Division 2 are Aslanian and Kelvas, both of whom are former section champs, but there are others on the prowl. Pawling’s Jack Wrobel, Pearl River’s Emmet McCann, Nanuet’s Karl Burnich and Pleasantville’s Luke Pregiato add considerable depth to the field. Don’t be surprised if one or two from this group tries to get down to 126.
9. So who wins in D1? — The situation has only become more difficult to predict. Suffern entered the season ranked No. 1, and while the defending champs have dealt with some key injuries, the Mounties still feel good about their chances. John Jay placed second last year and made a statement by winning the Section 1 Dual Meet Championships in December, which has led some to believe that this is the Indians’ year. It will likely come down to those two teams, but others such as Arlington, East Ramapo, North Rockland, Fox Lane, Carmel and New Rochelle continue to show improvements. Division 1 (large schools) sectionals will be held on Feb. 13 at Arlington and Feb. 14 at Clarkstown South.
10. And D2? — It’s a two-horse race between Pearl River and two-time defending champ Putnam Valley. The Pirates earned some early-season bragging rights by outlasting the Tigers for the Division 2 dual meet title, and their lineup from 99-160 pounds can match up with any team in the section – including the large schools. But with five wrestlers whom it feels can win section titles, don’t count Putnam Valley out for the three-peat just yet. Division 2 (small schools) sectionals will be held Feb. 12-13 at Pearl River.