February 18th, 2002—This was the date the last time a team other than Chaminade High School could lay claim to the New York State Catholic High School Wrestling title. For the past seven years, the Flyers, under the of guidance of Head Coach, George Dlugolonski, have dominated this tournament, held annually during Presidents’ day weekend. However, as the six-time champions embark upon the start of the 2008/2009 season, they find themselves in a role that they are not accustomed to, that of underdog. Having lost all four of their 2008 Catholic State finalists (two champions) to graduation, the Mineola, NY based school projects on paper as being no better than the third best team in a continually progressing CHSAA. If the six-time champs have any hope of extending their streak to seven, they will need to rely heavily upon their trademark depth. But alas, for the first time in as long as I can remember, the question of the hour has become, will the mighty Flyer depth be enough to overcome the power and polish possessed by the mini juggernaut that is Monsignor Farrell High School? The Lions, which feature three returning Champions from last season are expected to be the class of the league.
“This is one of our most balanced and hard working teams; we have set high goals for the season.” These were the words that Monsignor Farrell Head Coach, Lou DeStefano, himself a proud alumnus of the the Staten Island based high school, chose when describing his team. And, if possible, DeStefano may have been acting modest when he said them. Anchored by three returning Catholic State Champions, seniors Connor Hanafee (1st @112) and Kevin Hartnett (1st @119), as well as junior Ben Villaret (1st @125), the Lions are primed to bring home the hardware for the first time since 1990. In addition to the aforementioned, Farrell is led by seven other returning All-Catholic wrestlers from last season. They are: Tony Carlo (3rd @135), Vin Fischetti (4th @ 96), Marc Pirozzi (4th @103), Antonio Sparaco (4th @152), Chris Psomas (4th @160), Joe Francolino (5th @96), and Tim Monaghan (5th @119)…If this display of returning stength was not enough to strike fear into the other teams in the league, consider the fact that the Lions are said to have added anywhere from 15-20 top quality freshmen to the team by way of their feeder program, the Lions Wrestling Club. Headlining the laundry list of new faces are Paul DiStefano (96-pounds), Paul Schianodicola (119 pounds), and Tim McCann (112-pounds)….Already this season, the Lions are showing that they are for real, having finished 2nd atthe prestigious Clyde Cole Tournament in Oxford, NY. With a highly anticipated match-up with Section VIII power, Wantagh, scheduled for December 19th, it may not be long before the entire state knows that the Lions are the kings of the wrestling jungle.
Another team expected to challenge for top-team honors is St. Anthony’s. The last team to win the State title prior to the Chaminade run, Antoni Walters’ Friars have become known over the years not so much for their depth as they have for their ability to produce some of the most skillful individual wrestlers on all of Long Island. 2008/2009 should prove no different. After finishing last season as the bronze medalists in the CHSAA, the Huntington based institution will go as far as their foundation of seven All-Catholic wrestlers will take them. Led by a trio of returning finalists, Chris Brienza (1st @96), Grant Greene (2nd @112), and Nick Auriemma, with a couple of breaks, St. Anthony’s could most definitely pull off the upset and reign victorious in February. Complementing the aforementioned trio will be a quartet of All-Catholic wrestlers, Brandon Meisner (4th @130), Jon Randazzo (5th @103), Brandon Ayala (5th @130), and Ricky Randazzo (placed 3rd @103 in 2007; 2nd @96 in 2006). Seniors Colin Pryor and Anthony LaCalamita should help fortify St. Anthony’s…Following an opening 50-9 dual loss to Glenn, the Friars will be anxious to return to the mat and show just how talented a group they can be when they are firing on all cylinders.
Expected to claim the bronze in 2008/2009 are the previously mentioned returning champs, the Chaminade Flyers. Gone from the lineup are mainstays Ryan Conway, Joe Petrone, Carl Petrucelli, and Joe Maggio. However, as was the saying when I was a student at CHS from 1998-2001, the goal of every season is never to rebuild, but to reload. At the forefront of this reloading will be captains Ryan Neugebauer (3rd @112) and Sal Rizzo (6th @160). While the Flyersdo feature seven additional All-Catholic competitors, including the return of Brendan Fowler who sat out all of 2008 with an injury, the key to their success will be the ability of Coach Dlugolonski to get the most of out of every member of his team. This is especially true of junior Troy Sampson (4th @125). Sampson came to Chaminade HS as a member of the greatest wrestling family in school history. The son of a former 4x Catholic State Champion and the cousin of a former 3xer, a lot is, was, and will be expected of Troy during his time in Crimson and Gold. For Chaminade to have an outside shot at claiming their eight consecutive title, most experts say that it will require Sampson to finally claim the title that has thus far escaped his grasp the last two seasons. Other wrestlers who will be asked to come up clutch include: Glenn McKenna (3rd @96), Alex Erickson (5th @189), Jon Faglione (6th @96), Mike Jones (6th @112), and Dan Gehrig (6th @130). In their first outing of the new season, Chaminade managed a ninth place finish at the Baldwin tournament behind titles by Sampson (135) and Fowler (215).
Looking to improve upon their fourth place finish from last year are the Firebirds of Kellenberg Memorial High School. Two years removed from the school’s best showing (2nd/6 Individual champions in 2007), KMHS, under instruction of League Commissioner, Chris Alfalla, will have their hearts and minds set on a return to glory. Leading the charge for the institution in the Marianist tradition will be one defending champion and one former champion in the persons of Andrew Pappas (1st @135) and John Tanner (6th @103 in 2008; 1st @96 in 2007). Other grapplers that will be asked to step up and contribute include: Joe Fiore (3rd @145), and Fred Zaccheo (5th @215).