In the foyer outside the gymnasium of Pawling High School hangs a plaque commemorating the wrestlers who earned section championships. Not much was done to the plaque last year, aside from brushing a little dust off.
That will soon change.
Jack Wrobel and Alex Santana will be added to that list of names after capturing wrestling titles in the Section 1 Division 2 tournament on Saturday.
“We’re a comeback crew,” said Wrobel, a junior who earned his 100th career win in the semifinals. “We were never that great, but now we’ve got a bunch of guys wrestling and doing pretty well.”
Matt Kuhlmann and Paul Bellucci also made the final, helping Pawling accrue 196.5 points for fourth place at Edgemont High School in Scarsdale. Pleasantville took first with 236 points, ahead of Putnam Valley (220.5).
Our Lady of Lourdes, which restarted its dormant wrestling program last fall, finished 11th and had Lucca Ardovini-Booker and Chris DiMeglio place in the top five of their weight classes.
“We did well,” said Santana, a freshman who won the 99-pound title. “We’re one of the smallest schools so to place (fourth) means we did really well.”
Santana got a 6-0 decision over Nanuet’s Chris DiModugno in the final. Wrobel scored a 5-0 decision over Edgemont’s George Mellor for the 138-pound title.
Wrobel said that reaching the milestone didn’t enter his thoughts before the tournament. He was motivated only by a quest to win a championship and assuage the bitterness he held after finishing third last season. He worked extensively on footwork and movement last offseason and that drive, Tigers coach Joe Amuso said, “sets an example for all the other kids in the program.”
He and Santana earned berths to the state tournament, which will be held Feb. 24-25 at the Times Union Center in Albany.
“I’m very proud of the team as a whole,” Amuso said. “We had 11 kids place in the top five and that’s by the far the best Pawling has ever done at a sectional tournament.”
In fact, the 10th and most recent name added to that plaque in 2015 was Chris Santana, Alex’s older brother. The elder Santana also placed in the state tournament that season. He was a hard-nosed aggressor while Alex is more a technician, Amuso said. But the two now share something in common: section championships.
Alex Santana missed three weeks this season, dealing with a bruised patella, and entered the tournament seeded seventh. “I wasn’t surprised,” he said of the lower seed. “I missed time … But winning gave me a lot of confidence.”
It also gets his name on the plaque and gets him on a trip north in two weeks.
“I can’t wait to put on that singlet and wrestle and try to get on that podium,” Wrobel said of the state tournament. “I feel like I’m good enough to be on top.”
Booker, a junior, took fourth in the 182-pound circuit for Lourdes, losing a 1-0 decision in the waning seconds of his third-place match. DiMeglio, in his first season wrestling, pulled out a 4-3 decision in overtime of a consolation match to take fifth in the 160-pound class.
“It’s a good feeling knowing we started fresh in October and in February, we’ve got two kids in the top five,” Warriors coach Stephen Price said.
Lourdes discontinued its wrestling program in 2015, but it was revived last fall when Price was hired and assembled a short roster. With only 12 wrestlers — and not enough participants to fill each weight class — a number of matches were forfeited and Lourdes went 3-7 in the regular season.
“But the kids overcame a lot of tough challenges and did their best,” Price said. “I can’t say enough about them.”
He praised the toughness of this group, in particular Owen Corrigan, a captain who pushed through a shoulder injury in December to qualify for the sectional tournament, and Ken Rogan, who went 9-1 this season.
The success of DiMeglio and Ardovini-Booker, both of whom are expended to return, could help in building the team next season.
“A lot of our freshmen and sophomores (on the team) are talking to their friends and trying to get them to try out,” Price said. “We’re optimistic and anticipating bigger and better things next year.”
Stephen Haynes: firstname.lastname@example.org, 845-437-4826, Twitter: @StephenHaynes4