PUTNAM VALLEY – Despite being one of the smallest schools in Section 1, Putnam Valley’s wrestling team continues to defy the odds.
The Tigers have won back-to-back Division 2 (small school) sectional titles and should have a legitimate shot at a three-peat this year. Many of their top performers last season were underclassmen and they have a notable influx of new wrestlers heading into the 2015-16 campaign.
“It’s starting to develop a culture here,” junior Satoshi Abe said. “We’re probably the most successful program at Putnam Valley, so I think guys are just inclined to try and be a part of that success.”
Coach Will Carano credits the local youth program for producing wrestlers who are ready to compete at the varsity level at an early age. The fruits of those labors are littered throughout the modest wrestling room at Put Valley High.
Abe and sophomore Kyle Sams are two prime examples. Both won their first section championships last year and will be favored to get back to the state tournament in Albany this season.
“You’ve got two guys like Kyle and Satoshi who are 360-day-, 350-day-, maybe 340-day-a-year wrestlers,” Carano said. “They bring something special into the room because that’s what they do with their lives. That’s the heart and soul of who they are. They build their world around getting better in the sport.”
Sams, Abe and sophomore Mikey Bruno, a 2014 section champ who placed second last year, form what Sams coined “The Big Three” for the Tigers. But there are two seniors who missed sectionals last season due to injury and could provide Putnam Valley with a huge boost.
Noah Kelvas is a former section champ who sat out last season with a knee injury, while Jared Eliopoulos was off to a strong start before dislocating his elbow.
“We’re just lucky this year because we had some guys graduate and walk away, but we had some guys reappear,” Carano said. “If we can keep them healthy and keep them strong, I think they’ll help us stay in the hunt for that title. I really do. They’re that kind of impactful wrestlers. They’re that tough.”
Alec McDonald, Mike Nolan and Rudy Gonzales give the Tigers three more returners who placed in the top six at sectionals.
There are plenty of teams nipping at Put Valley’s heels, most notably a Pearl River team that fell just nine points short of tying the Tigers last season, but the target remains solely on the little school from up north.
“It’s hard,” Sams said. “You have to commit your full self to it. You can’t go out on the weekends. It’s just all wrestling for the whole season.”