Any opponent who looked at Mike DiNardo and took him lightly was making a big, big mistake.
Mahopac’s 195-pounder doesn’t have the bulging muscles and distinct definition that we so often associate with high-end wrestlers. But what he does have is an unparalleled killer instinct.
Overlook DiNardo at your own risk. Do so, and you’ll soon be looking up at him from your back.
“I would say I have a pretty high level of technique,” DiNardo said. “I spend almost all of my time wrestling and not much in the weight room. So when I went up against some opponents at 195 that were really big and strong, I just trusted in my technique and got the job done.”
DiNardo was an absolute pinning machine in his senior season, leading Section 1 with 31 victories by fall — 26 of which came in the first period. Two of those first-period pins came in the state quarterfinals and semis, as DiNardo dominated his way into the New York state finals.
He eventually lost a tight, two-point match to two-time state champ Christian Araneo of Ward Melville, but no local wrestler came as close to a title. That made DiNardo the choice as this year’s Journal News Westchester/Putnam wrestler of the year.
“He is not the most physically cut-up kid,” said John Degl, who has trained DiNardo since he was 7 years old at Iowa Style Wrestling Club in Somers. “He is actually soft looking, but he is strong and very flexible. His limberness and how aggressive he is leads to those pins. Being jacked is nice, but the timing on top moves is even more crucial and he is an expert with his (arm) bars.”
DiNardo’s journey to becoming a state title contender was not without road blocks.
He earned recognition as an eighth-grader by winning his division and qualifying for the Section 1 Championships, but he suffered a back injury at sectionals that would linger for the next two years.
“My freshman and sophomore years were really frustrating because I broke my lower back, and whenever I thought I was healthy and ready to get back on the mat, it would act up again,” DiNardo said. “During my sophomore year, the same question kept coming to mind if I wanted to continue wrestling. I didn’t know if my injuries were going to keep me from wrestling ever again.”
There were still doubts as he entered his junior campaign, especially considering he decided to make the jump from 152 to 182 pounds. But it soon became clear that his injury issues were behind him.
“As the season was progressing his junior year, he was improving and gaining more confidence with each match,” Mahopac coach Dennis DiSanto said. “About halfway through the year, I thought that he would be the first seed and clear favorite to win the section.”
And that’s exactly what he did. DiNardo won his first section championship as a junior and went on to place fourth in the state.
That made him a viable contender entering his senior year, and he didn’t disappoint. And although DiNardo said he “didn’t get the outcome I wanted” after his 3-1 loss to Araneo in the state final, his performance earned him an offer to wrestle next year at Johnson & Wales University.
His story is a testament to his resiliency, and his knack for quick pins should make him a force at the next level.
“It’s just amazing how far he has come,” DiSanto said. “Mike is kind of quiet and I learned that if you leave him alone and give him the space he needs to mentally prepare himself, he can get in the zone and be unstoppable.”
Coach of the year: Bill Swertfager, John Jay — Some thought that it would be another year before the Indians, who were loaded with sophomores and juniors, would be able to surpass Suffern for the top spot in Section 1. But Swertfager developed his young talent quickly, as John Jay captured the Section 1 Dual Meet title and its first Division 1 (large school) sectional championship since 2010. There’s a reason he’s considered the Godfather of Section 1 wrestling.
The rest of The Journal News Westchester/Putnam wrestling all-stars:
First-team: Garrett Semenetz, Jr., Mahopac
Second-team: Mikey Bruno, So., Putnam Valley
Honorable mention: Len Balducci, 8th, Pleasantville
First-team: Justin Lopez, Sr., Yonkers
Second-team: Brandon DiDomenico, Jr., Lakeland/Panas
First-team: Michael DaBramo, Sr., Scarsdale
Second-team: Kyle Sams, So., Putnam Valley
Honorable mention: Luca Errico, Fr., Byram Hills
First-team: Satoshi Abe, Jr., Putnam Valley
Second-team: Moises Tera, Jr., New Rochelle
Honorable mention: Andrei Nesbit, Sr., Horace Greeley; Mason Sundheim, Sr., Port Chester
First-team: Jake Shore, Sr., New Rochelle
Second-team: Noah Kelvas, Sr., Putnam Valley
Honorable mention: Louie Cree, Jr., John Jay; Mike Muldoon, Jr., Mahopac
First-team: Kevin Knox, Sr., Carmel
Second-team: Jared Eliopoulos, Jr., Putnam Valley
Honorable mention: Kyle Aslanian, Sr., Edgemont; Ray Cotto, Jr., John Jay; Josh Rauch, Jr., Fox Lane
First-team: Matt Grippi, So., Fox Lane
Second-team: Ahken Chu, Sr., Carmel
First-team: Conor Melbourne, Jr., John Jay
Second-team: Aaron Wolk, Fr., Horace Greeley
Honorable mention: Sumner Kataka, Sr., Woodlands
First-team: Grant Cuomo, So., Brewster
Second-team: Jordan Wallace, Jr., New Rochelle
First-team: Adam Santoro, Sr., Fordham Prep (Valhalla resident)
Second-team: Jake Logan, Fr., New Rochelle
Honorable mention: Sebastian Burbano, Sr., Hen Hud; Lou Quintanilla, Sr., Pleasantville
First-team: Nunzio Crowley, Sr., Eastchester
Second-team: Cliffton Wang, Jr., Edgemont
Honorable mention: Elijah Ngbokoli, Sr., Hackley
First-team: Alex Melikian, Sr., Lakeland/Panas
Second-team: Evan Frank, Jr., John Jay
Honorable mention: Jordan Artope, Sr., Hen Hud; Josh Grant, Sr., Yorktown
First-team: Mike DiNardo, Sr., Mahopac
Second-team: Stephen Nadler, Jr., Horace Greeley
Honorable mention: Derek Estrella, Sr., Sleepy Hollow
First-team: Jon Clune, Sr., Fox Lane
Second-team: Halil Gecaj, So., John Jay
Honorable mention: Khaled Dassan, Sr., Yonkers
First-team: Mike Larm, Sr., Brewster
Second-team: Bim Gecaj, Jr., John Jay
Honorable mention: Ethan Raff, Sr., Scarsdale