ALBANY – In just about every postseason tournament of Trey Wardlaw’s varsity wrestling career, the same competitor always seems to be standing in his way.
The East Ramapo senior has met Yonkers senior Justin Lopez in the Section 1 Championships for three consecutive seasons. As sophomores, Lopez beat Wardlaw to earn a fifth-place finish. As juniors, Wardlaw reversed the result in the section final to earn his first title. And two weeks ago at Clarkstown South High, Lopez flipped the script again to claim his own section championship.
As fate would have it, the ongoing rivalry would have one more chapter — this time on an even bigger stage at the New York state championship tournament at the Times Union Center on Friday.
Wardlaw and Lopez had their final meeting in the 106-pound quarterfinals, and it turned out to be their closest match of all. Tied 1-1 after regulation, Wardlaw came away with a 2-1 decision that took three overtime periods to decide.
“I saw that I could have him in the quarterfinals and I was like, ‘That’s my opportunity to get him back for getting me back in the section final,’ ” Wardlaw said. “It’s been back-and-forth, all the way back to our sophomore year, so it’s definitely been a fun rivalry. There’s a lot of respect between us.”
Wardlaw is one of eight local wrestlers who made it through the Division 1 (large school) quarterfinals and into Saturday’s semifinal round, which begins at 10 a.m. North Rockland senior Anthony Sulla (113 pounds), Fox Lane sophomore Matt Grippi (138), John Jay junior Conor Melbourne (145), Fordham Prep senior and Valhalla resident Adam Santoro (160), Eastchester senior Nunzio Crowley (170), Lakeland/Panas senior Alex Melikian (182) and Mahopac senior Mike DiNardo (195) also punched their tickets.
Like Wardlaw, Crowley had to get past a familiar opponent in Suffern senior Stephen Lauro to get to the semis. He gutted out a 3-2 decision over Lauro after winning more convincingly with an 8-0 major decision in the Section 1 finals.
“A lot of people always say, ‘It’s always harder to beat a kid more than once,’ ” Crowley said. “He knew what was going to come. He knew what I did on top, what I did in (the) neutral (position), and he was very prepared.”
Grippi knows all about that theory.
His quarterfinals opponent was Warwick’s Charlie Johnson, whom Grippi had beaten twice during the regular season. But the third meeting was more tense, with Grippi falling into a 2-0 hole before rallying to squeak by with a 5-4 decision.
“He is a great wrestler,” Grippi said of Johnson. “He came out with a great game plan and it got me flustered. I wasn’t able to get any offense going the whole match. I would probably say that was one of my worst performances. But as my coaches told me, ‘Survive and advance. There are no style points. Just do what you need to win.’ ”
On the Division 2 (small school) side, only two local wrestlers made it through to the semis — Putnam Valley sophomore Mikey Bruno (99) and Pearl River senior Jake Kurzhals (138).
Bruno earned his 100th career win in the process with a 10-8 decision over fourth-seeded Eli Rodriguez of Norwich in the quarters.
“Once I realized it was my 100th win, it was pretty cool because it was such a tight match,” Bruno said. “Every match up here is tight. No matter what the score is, something can always happen, so I just needed to wrestle hard the whole match.”
Kurzhals, who was a state finalist last season, had to limit his practice time leading up to the state tournament due to a left ankle injury that he suffered at sectionals. But nothing was going to keep him from his final run at a state title.
“Today it felt the best it has been,” Kurzhals said of the ankle. “Once the adrenaline kicks in during my match, I don’t feel it and just wrestle. Afterwards it’s sore, but I just iced after each match. I feel like I’m wrestling the best I can with the circumstances I am in. I’m just going to keep giving it my all.”