PEARL RIVER – When you’re a returning New York state finalist, the belief is that no one within your own section is supposed to challenge you.
That’s the weight of expectation that Pearl River senior Jake Kurzhals will deal with every time he steps onto the mat this season.
So when he fell behind against Putnam Valley’s Jared Eliopoulos during their 138-pound bout on Thursday, tension filled the gym at Pearl River High. To make matters worse, Kurzhals kept grimacing and grabbing his cramping calves.
“I was trying to stretch out the best that I could, but it just kept coming back,” Kurzhals said. “It’s a nuisance, but you just have to fight through it.”
A quick takedown in the second period changed Kurzhals’ outlook, as he came back to win an 8-4 decision for his 100th career victory. Jack Chesman (145 pounds), Anthony Malfitano (152) and Jack Fanshawe (160) followed with three straight pins, sealing a 46-31 win for the Pirates in the Division 2 (small schools) final of the Section 1 Dual Meet Championships.
“The anger started last year after we lost, and our team just couldn’t let go of it,” Fanshawe said. “Since the first day of practice, we’ve been motivated to win this match in this tournament. That’s what we’ve been working on. That’s been our goal.”
The Pirates built up an early 21-0 lead thanks to wins from Gannon Duffy (195), Jack Arnold (220), Oran Hamilton (285) and Jack Failing (99). Putnam Valley won four of the next five matches to claw back in it, but Pearl River was able to counter some of the Tigers’ best wrestlers with its own top guys.
“The weight classes were really close,” Fanshawe said. “It was really a battle out there. It was stressful and tense, and there was a lot of pressure. I feel like our good guys were going against really good guys from the other team.”
Man of the match: Jake Kurzhals, Pearl River — The senior survived a scare after going down 3-1 early in his 138-pound match, eventually winning an 8-4 decision. The victory was the 100th of his career, making him the 16th wrestler in Pearl River history to accomplish the feat.
“I know I can come back,” Kuzhals said. “I just thought to myself, ‘Just keep going,’ and I was able to make up for it.”
Turning point: Three straight wins for Putnam Valley, from Kyle Sams (120), Satoshi Abe (126) and Noah Kelvas (132), cut the deficit to 25-19. The Pirates’ lead appeared to be slipping away when Kurzhals went into a hole, but he rallied for an important win to halt Put Valley’s momentum.
Quotable: “I think that it is a statement,” Fanshawe said. “A lot of teams are going to come after us. Put Valley is going to see us again towards the end of the season and they’re going to want redemption. I feel like we have a target on our back and a lot of teams are going to try their hardest against us.”