ALBANY – Close friends and practice partners since the time they joined Norwich’s varsity wrestling team, Tristan Rifanburg and Frank Garcia have not only been largely instrumental in each other’s success, but that of the Purple Tornado program.
Thus it was rather fitting on Saturday night at the Times Union Center that both Rifanburg and Garcia concluded their scholastic careers as state champions, winning Division II crowns at the New York State Public High School Athletic Association wrestling championships.
Rifanburg won the 145-pound title for his third state title and Garcia successfully defended his 152 title. Also winning state Division II titles Saturday were Waverly’s A.J. Burkhart (99), Lansing’s Jimmy Overhiser (120) and Sidney’s Austin Dean (285).
“It’s unbelievable,” Norwich coach Terry Hagenbuch said of his two seniors. “I said last year was a good ride but … those two guys are something else.
“If you have a son you’d want him to be like them.”
Rifanburg completed a dominant run through the tournament by defeating Camden’s Garrett Mitchell by technical fall, 15-0, in 5:00 of their title match.
He seized control early with a takedown in the first minute, then put Mitchell on his back not long after to take a 5-0 lead and it was evident at that point that career victory No. 249 was a mere formality.
“It’s obviously a big stress relief, it’s all finished now,” said Rifanburg, who won three of his four matches this weekennd by technical fall. “The third (title) was probably the best one, less stressful.”
Garcia defeated Lewiston-Porter’s Andrew Shomers by a 6-1 decision in the 152 final. After a scoreless first period, Garcia got an escape early in the second period and then a takedown with under a minute to go in the frame to take a 3-0 lead. A two-point near fall early in the third period effectively sealed the title.
“I knew he was going to go in tight, I really opened up my first few matches here and I think I showed him I can be pretty explosive on my feet.” Garcia said. “I wasn’t too nervous when it was 0-0 after the first, and once I started to build a lead, I just stuck with it.
“Last year, it was great. This one was a little better, being able to add that ‘two’ to it.”
The partnership between Garcia and Rifanburg won’t end just yet, as both will join Binghamton University’s program next fall.
Still, the friendship weighed heavily on Garcia’s mind in the aftermath of their title victories.
“I don’t know how many state champions can say they had a partner that made it as far as they did every single time,” “said Garcia of Rifanburg. “It’s been a bonding thing, and we’re going to keep it going at Binghamton.”
Burkhart captured the 99 title with a 3-0 win over Schuylerville’s Orion Anderson. Holding a precarious 1-0 lead after two periods after withstanding several takedown attempts by Anderson, Burkhart went on the offensive in the third period and got a takedown in the final minute to clinch the victory.
“I knew if I get that first takedown in the third period, that would seal the deal,” Burkhart said. “I knew Orion was tough … he came out right at me but I stayed in good position like I had to and that helped me win the match.”
The title victory followed a close call in the semifinals when Burkhart ousted top-seeded Drew Shafer of Palmyra-Macedon in triple overtime, riding out Shafer over the 30-second ultimate tiebreaker to earn his title shot.
“I’m just so happy the way he wrestled,” Waverly coach Charlie Hughes said. “And he put a lot of work in, this just didn’t just happen this weekend.
“(Against Anderson), this is the most focused and prepared for a match that we’ve seen.”
Dean capped an unbeaten season with a 5-3 overtime victory over Herkimer Saquoit Valley’s Dan Appley, getting a takedown with 17 seconds remaining in overtime after ducking under a takedown attempt by Appley.
The state title came a year after a difficult 14-13 semifinal loss to Alfred-Almond’s Connor Calkins en route to a sixth-place finish.
“My coaches told me I needed to find a new gear,” said Dean of the difference between this year and last year. “Last year I found it, but I needed to get an even higher gear, and I got it thanks to my coaches, my family and my teammates.”
Overhiser won his title with a 6-2 decision over Adirondack’s Derek Spann. After spending last season at prep school Wyoming Seminary after previously attending Corning, the senior navigated his way through a weight class that featured four former state champions.
“”I knew it was a gauntlet to run through, but it was a challenge I was up for,” Overhi”ser said. “(Winning) in a bracket like this, it means a lot.”
While five Section 4 wrestlers captured state titles Saturday, Newark Valley’s Benny Baker came one victory short, losing to Eastport-South Manor’s Adam Busiello by an 11-1 decision.
Busiello got a takedown just 12 seconds into the match and later got a reversal and three-point near fall in the second period to take a 7-0 lead.