Trey Wardlaw has won on many more occasions than he’s lost in his high school wrestling career. But if you’ve ever watched his demeanor during one of his matches, you’d never know it.
Win, lose or default, the East Ramapo senior internalizes his emotions. His facial expression is stoic, never giving his opponent any insight into what might be going on in his mind.
“I try not to overthink things,” Wardlaw said. “Earlier in my career, I always had butterflies in my stomach before matches. But I’m a senior now, so I don’t really have that.”
To some, the nonchalant body language from the 106-pounder may have been an indication that he simply didn’t care. And when Wardlaw took a few unexpected losses early in the 2015-16 campaign, some wondered if he had grown complacent after winning a Section 1 title as a junior.
As it turned out, he was saving his best for last.
After losing to Yonkers senior Justin Lopez in a tight 6-5 decision in the section final, Wardlaw was given a second chance as a wild-card selection for the New York State Championships. He ran into Lopez again in the quarterfinals, avenging his previous loss with a 2-1 decision in overtime.
Wardlaw made it all the way to the state finals, becoming the first wrestler from Ramapo to do that since 1975. Now he’s the latest Journal News Rockland wrestler of the year.
“This is a huge accomplishment for us,” Wardlaw said of winning the award. “We don’t really get recognized for a lot of stuff – not a lot of good things – so I feel like this could change people’s perception over how Ramapo is.”
Even though Wardlaw didn’t start wrestling until he was in seventh grade, East Ramapo coach Ryan Kearns knew he had to have him.
For a smaller kid, Wardlaw has tremendous athleticism, which made him a perfect fit to fill one of the lighter weights in the Titans’ lineup.
“I hounded him, and he went for it,” Kearns said. “I was always a small wrestler, so I try to recruit the little guys more because, what are they getting picked for? The football coach isn’t going after them, the basketball coach isn’t going after them, so I try to get those guys. It’s an untapped resource of tiny, athletic guys.”
Wardlaw picked up the sport quickly and made varsity as a freshman, amassing 24 wins. He really began to gain confidence when he was a sophomore by placing third in the section at 99 pounds. By the time he was a junior, “he just came in and dominated,” Kearns said.
He figured to be one of the best returning wrestlers in the area this season, but there were some hiccups. Prior to the start of the Eastern States Classic in mid-January, Wardlaw had already compiled five losses.
“I took some losses early that I would really like to take back, but they’re all learning experiences to me,” he said. “I didn’t really dwell on it too much. I had my coaches and my trainers to pick me up and tell me it’s a long season and to keep going.”
Wardlaw was picking up steam heading into the Section 1 tournament, but the one-point loss to Lopez in the finals threatened to end his final season prematurely. The wild-card berth into states gave him new life, and he came out on top of an epic final meeting with his rival in Albany.
“I respect him, and he respects me,” said Lopez, who ended up placing third in the state. “I respect his game. It’s definitely been a fun rivalry.”
Since his eye-opening performance at states, Wardlaw has been drawing interest from college coaches. He intends to further his career, and there is little doubt that he has the talent to do so.
Any college coach will have to get used to Wardlaw’s blank expressions, but his ability to never get too high or too low has helped him lift up the once-failing East Ramapo program.
“It’s nice that Trey helped shine a light on a lot of the positive things that go on in this district,” Kearns said. “I think it’s his personality. He doesn’t get riled up easily. It’s hard to tell whether he’s excited or upset. Win or lose, he would come off the mat with the same attitude: ‘What can I do to improve?’ ”
Coach of the year: Ryan Kearns, East Ramapo — It’s been a long journey, but Kearns has revitalized a program that almost went under a few years ago. The Titans upset Rockland County powerhouse Suffern to reach the semifinals of the Section 1 Dual Meet Championships. They also placed fifth overall at sectionals, their best showing in recent memory, and had Wardlaw reach the state finals after entering the tournament unseeded.
The rest of The Journal News All-County wrestling team:
First-team: Mark Acheson, So., Tappan Zee
Second-team: C.J. McMonegal, Fr., North Rockland
Honorable mention: Ziaire Benjamin, Jr., East Ramapo
First-team: Trey Wardlaw, Sr., East Ramapo
Second-team: Sean McGarvey, Jr., Pearl River
Honorable mention: Will Marin, Jr., Suffern
First-team: Anthony Sulla, Sr., North Rockland
Second-team: Dean Artrip, Jr., Suffern
Honorable mention: Dylan Urban, Fr., Pearl River
First-team: Brendan Henry, Jr., Tappan Zee
Second-team: Luis Lema-Lema, Jr., East Ramapo
Honorable mention: Luis Cuevas, Jr., Suffern
First-team: Patrick Canty, So., Suffern
Second-team: Mike Arciero, Sr., Clarkstown North
First-team: Peter Oliveto, Jr., Suffern
Second-team: Dylan Mateo, Jr., Nanuet
First-team: Jake Kurzhals, Sr., Pearl River
Second-team: Maksim Kutsepau, Sr., Clarkstown North
Honorable mention: Brice Artrip, Jr., Suffern
First-team: Romello Bradley, Sr., East Ramapo
Second-team: Anthony Guccione, Jr., Suffern
Honorable mention: Jack Chesman, Fr., Pearl River
First-team: Anthony Malfitano, Jr., Pearl River
Second-team: Brian Nicpon, Jr., Suffern
Honorable mention: Chris Cruger, Jr., North Rockland
First-team: Daniel Price, Jr., Nyack
Second-team: Tim Henion, Jr., North Rockland
First-team: Stephen Lauro, Sr., Suffern
Second-team: Jhavon Innocent, Jr., East Ramapo
Honorable mention: Erik Anderson, Sr., North Rockland
First-team: Josh Jean-Baptiste, Jr., East Ramapo
Second-team: Michelangelo Caruncho, So., Clarkstown North
First-team: Connor Breit, Jr., Nanuet
Second-team: Joel Feliciano, Sr., East Ramapo
First-team: Jake Spreckman, Sr., Clarkstown South
Second-team: Leo Pamphile, Sr., East Ramapo
Honorable mention: Jack Arnold, Sr., Pearl River; Tyrell Jackson, Jr., Suffern
First-team: Edwin Rodriguez, Sr., Tappan Zee
Honorable mention: TJ Groesbeck, Sr., Suffern
Honorable mention: Jahkem Collins-Martinez, Jr., East Ramapo; Tyler DiLorenzo, So., Pearl River