Last year was one of the easiest I’ve been around for when it came to picking the Journal News Westchester/Putnam wrestler of the year. There was only one local wrestler who won a state championship — Mamaroneck’s Youssif Hemida — which made my decision straightforward and painless. No one could argue with the choice of Hemida because he accomplished something that no one else in the Lower Hudson Valley did.
It’s a much, much different scenario this time around. While Section 1 has never had the type of depth that it showed at the state championships last weekend, the locals didn’t claim any state titles. As a result, there are several wrestlers you could make a case for as award-worthy. Since this will be a very tight race, I’m enlisting help from YOU, the fans.
I’ve narrowed it to down to the top four and written out the key accomplishments for each. (Although you can write-in a different choice if you’d like.) I should note that the vote will not decide whom the award goes to, but it definitely could have some influence.
Here are the top four candidates for the 2016 award …
Mike DiNardo, Mahopac — You could argue that no wrestler in Section 1 was as dominant as the 195-pound senior. DiNardo went 40-3 this season with a staggering pin total of 31 — 26 of which came in the first period. He was one of four state finalists from Section 1, and none came as close to winning it all. DiNardo just missed out on the title in a 3-1 loss to defending champ Christian Araneo. The only possible knock on DiNardo is that he placed fifth at the Eastern States Classic, while others on this list made the finals.
Matt Grippi, Fox Lane — The only underclassman on this list is a solid bet to capture the award eventually, but has his time come already? The 138-pound sophomore has been well-known in the Section 1 wrestling scene for years, but he took it to another level this season. He lost just two matches — one in the Eastern States finals and one in the state finals — both at the hands of Yianni Diakomihalis, considered by many to be the best wrestler in the state. Grippi, who finished with a record of 51-2, should be the face of Section 1 wrestling for the next two years.
Alex Melikian, Lakeland/Panas — Fans of Section 1 knew a little bit about the 182-pound senior before the season began, but by season’s end, he was basically a household name. Melikian transferred from Kennedy Catholic for his final high school season and made waves, going 37-4 with a relentless style on the mat. He won a section title by defeating another one of the best wrestlers in the area, John Jay’s Evan Frank, and placed fourth at Eastern States. Melikian also became the first Lakeland wrestler to ever reach the state finals.
Adam Santoro, Fordham Prep — Yes, the senior from Valhalla came up shorter than the other three on this list at states, finishing fourth at 160 pounds. But he also accomplished something that none of the others did by winning a prestigious Eastern States title in January. Of the two big high school tournaments in the area, Santoro was the only local to reach the top of the podium at one of them. He finished 41-2, including a win over eventual state champ A.J. Aeberli.
Now go vote!
If you can’t see the poll, either refresh the page or click here to vote.