On Monday, February 15th, the Friars of St. Anthony’s High School put the finishing touches on what has been an unblemished season for the ages for the South Huntington based school, completing the triple crown (Dual Meet, League title, Catholic State) behind the individual efforts of seven champions. In doing so, the Toni Walters led team, which last won the CHSAA State title in 2002, dethroned the defending team champions, Monsignor Farrell, outscoring the Lions 286.5 to 225.5 to bring the hardware back to Long Island where it had been a mainstay prior to last season.
Getting the Friars started was returning two-time CHSAA State Champion, Chris Brienza. A 4th place finisher at the New York State Federation tournament last season, Brienza survived an early scare, falling behind 5-2 to Monsignor Farrell Sophomore, Paul DiStefano. However, demonstrating great maturity and poise, the St. Anthony’s senior gradually climbed back into the match, eventually taking the lead and seizing control by working extremely tough on top. With the match within major decision territory, Brienza put it away, earning the fall with 11 seconds remaining in the match to claim his third CHSAA State Champion. As a returning NYS placewinner, big things will be expected out of Brienza next week in Albany…Brienza’s title win made him the 100th Catholic State Champion in Friar history, the most among league teams.
Next up for St. Anthony’s would be junior Jimmy Morris. A 2-0 winner over his finals opponent, Donovan Melendez (Mount St. Michael) at the CHSAA Duals in January, the returning NYS placewinner (3rd @ 103 in ’09), Morris found the rematch much more to his liking, jumping out to a sizable lead and keeping the pressure on and cruising to an 11-2 major decision victory to earn his second consecutive CHSAA title. Only his third year as a wrestler, the improvement that Morris continues to make each passing year is remarkable and makes his potential ceiling so high that college coaches are sure to flock to him next season….Like his aforementioned teammate, much of Team CHSAA’s success next weekend will rely on the success of Morris. As humble a kid as you will ever meet, the Friar 112-pounder is deserving of all of the accolades that he has received the past two years.
Making it three in a row for the host school was returning CHSAA and NYS Champion, Grant Greene. In a rematch of the Nassau-Suffolk League finals, Greene virtually experienced deja vu, pinning Chaminade senior, Glenn McKenna, in the first period to clinch back-to-back Catholic titles. Regarded as the heir apparent to Fordham Prep’s Andrew Lenzi, as the face of the CHSAA next season, Greene, along with Lenzi, are regarded as the biggest title threats in Albany for the CHSAA. Having not lost a match to a NY opponent in quite some time (both losses this season has come to out-of-state competition), it seems that Greene is on a collision course with Section XI Champion, Damon McQueen (NYS runner-up last season @ 103) in the NYS finals.
Two weight classes later, St. Anthony’s would make it an even four when 130-pound Sophomore (who transferred to St. Anthony’s a few months ago) Jamel Hudson finished double-leg after double-leg in posting a 20-5 technical fall victory over top-seeded Joe Francolino over Monsignor Farrell. A relative unknown to the CHSAA finals prior to earning the Nassau-Suffolk League, Hudson’s ability is no secret to Section XI fans who watched him put together a very impressive freshman campaign for Bayshore High School last season. Joining Brienza, Morris, and Greene in scoring bonus points in all of his matches at the CHSAA State tournament, Hudson is no longer a stranger to any of us CHSAA enthusiasts. His potential is huge and it is going to be a pleasure watching him develop over the course of the next 2.5 years. Not ranked in any of the NYS polls, if Hudson wrestles next weekend the way he did last weekend, he certainly should be considered the “bad draw” for any seeded wrestler that has to face him.
Following his teammate, Mike Fodera’s loss at 152-pounds to Monsignor Farrell (and #4 ranked wrestler in NYS) senior, Ben Villaret, Brandon Meisner took what was supposed to be one of the highlight matches of the finals and quickly put it to bed, pinning St. Francis’s Brian Rogers in 50 seconds to earn his first CHSAA State title and punch his own ticket to the Federation tournament. The win on Monday avenged a loss to Rogers in 2009, when the 3x CHSAA runner-up from the Buffalo region defeated Meisner in the CHSAA State semifinals. Having posted a recent victory over Suffolk runner-up, Louis Puca (Huntington), the once overlooked Meisner is starting to look like a threat to place at the big dance. Win or lose next weekend, Meisner has had a fine career and picked the perfect time to earn his first title, doing so in front of the loyal Friar fanatics.
A battle of teammates in the 189-pound finals would yield St. Anthony’s their sixth title, as #2 seed Paul Alessandrini took an early 5-0 lead in the first period and then coasted in the last two and a half periods, winning a solid 8-3 decision over top-seeded Rob Sweitzer…Only a junior this season, Alessandrini will be back next season to try to double his pleasure, double his hardware.
Closing out the tournament and the title efforts for the new kings of the CHSAA was junior Jon Decir. Similar to Morris, when Decir first entered the Friar wrestling room three seasons ago, he was completely raw. However, to see him now, you would never believe that this fact. A CHSAA finalist semifinalist last season, the only thing that prevented this beast from being a finalist in 2009 was inexperience. Leading 8-0 in his SF bout against Jack Cambria from St. Joe’s Collegiate, Decir lost focus for a split second, getting put to his back and pinned. Hungry to avenge that loss, Decir was successful in pinning Cambria in the CHSAA Duals. However, realizing that this previous win would not mean a hill of beans if he did not come up big on the grand stage, the multi-sport athlete for the Friars come out like a man on a mission, taking Cambia to the mat and sticking him (in 30 seconds) with such force and determination that the latter actually suffered a leg injury and had to be assisted off of the mat…Decir possesses the type of natural athleticism not often seen among the big boys on the scholastic level. In some ways, he reminds me a lot of former NYS placewinner, John Kevin-Dolce (who finished 6th for the Friars in 2006), except for the fact that Decir appears much more polished and has a much more diverse array of offensive weapons…If I was a heavyweight in the NYS DI tournament next week, I would not sleep on this young man; He is dangerous at all times.
Getting his hand raised in what was perhaps the most anticipated match of the finals session was Chaminade senior, Troy Sampson, who avenged a 9-4 loss in January to Xavier’s Andrew Murano, by scoring the first two takedowns of the match and withering a late comeback effort from Murano to preserve a 7-6 victory and earn back-to-back trips to the Federation tournament. The son of former 4x Champion, John Sampson and the cousin of 3-timer Andrew, the amount of pressure that Sampson has carried on his shoulder these past four years is unimaginable. As someone who has chatted with the now 2x CHSAA State Champ, I can say with complete heartfelt honesty, if there was one young man who I was happy to see get the “w” on Monday, it was Sampson. His coaches describe him (and fellow 2x CHSAA State Champion, Brendan Fowler) as the hardest worker in the practice room. Above all else, he is just a helluva classy individual…As proud of Troy as I am, I would be remiss if I did not express the level of respect that I have for Murano as well. While I cannot say that I have ever spoken with the Xavier senior, everyone who I have spoken to who knows him has classified him as the personification of what the Catholic League is all about. While I was pleased to see Sampson win, I was equally saddened to see Murano not get his first Catholic crown….Regardless of who won this match, the CHSAA would have been represented with complete dignity at 140-pounds next weekend.
The biggest surprise of the tournament would have to have been the “come out of nowhere” performance of Salesian’s Nick Terp….In writing my CHSAA tournament preview, I suggested that the 171-pound weight class was pretty much a two-man race. However, after the effort that I saw out of Terp, I gladly eat my words and pay him the respect that I should have given him in that preview…Sitting as the #3 seed when the tournament began, Terp earned his way into the finals by virtue of a 16-3 major decision (in the quarterfinals) and a pin in the semifinals…With the title so close to attainment, Terp would make the most of the opportunity he had created for himself, countering a shot by top-seeded Tom Re’ (Kellenberg), and putting the senior Firebird on his back and keeping him there, earning the fall 45 seconds into the title match…This pin officially put the Salesian wrestler in the record book, as he became the first wrestler from his school to win a CHSAA State title.
Putting their final touches on what has been a pair of remarkable CHSAA careers were the previously mentioned Villaret and Lenzi. Joining Brienza as three-time CHSAA titlists, the two city boys have made it look too easy over the course of the past three years….Both Ironman Award winners (given to wrestlers who place all four years at this CHSAA State tournament), it has been a while since either was challenged in league play. Villaret, the winningest wrestler in Staten Island, New York City, and CHSAA history is regarded as a major DI prospect and will be looking to cap his career with his first NYS placement next weekend. His 10 second pin over Fodera won him the fastest fall trophy, as well wrapped up the most falls/least time award (3 in 2:06).
With regard to Lenzi, it would take an entirely new article to capture the impact that this young man has had on the CHSAA. A true student-athlete, the Fordham Prep senior will be looking to add on to a resume that already included a 2008 NYS title and a 2009 State finals appearance. A title next weekend will officially make him the most successful wrestler in Catholic High School history. However, it is not his wrestling that impresses me most about this immensely talented young gentleman. The product of two amazing parents (whom I met at the 2009 Cath. State tournament), Lenzi is possibly the most down to earth, unassuming, hard working teenager that I have ever met in the years that I have been covering this sport. In fact, if not for the University of Pennsylvania jacket (He has been accepted to the renowned Wharton School of Business) that he often wears, one would be hard-pressed to find him in a crowd because he makes no attempt to command the spotlight…Earning a 20-5 technical fall victory over Monsignor Farrell sophomore, Tim McCann, Lenzi was a freshman the last time someone survived an entire match with him at this tournament…Having posted a win over fellow former NYS Champion, Cody Ruggirello, at the Eastern States Classic, Lenzi will head into the NYS tournament as the top-seed.
Other wrestlers winning titles for their respective schools were 96-pound Champion Pat Skinner (Kellenberg) who secured a 14-6 major decision over Farrell freshman Blaise Rufo in a match that saw both guys put the other on his back at least once; 125-pound Vin Fischetti (Monsignor Farrell) who defeated Chaminade’s Jon Faglione for the third time this season, 13-1; 145-pound Tony Carlo who repeated as a CHSAA champion by virtue of 20-5 TF win over Kellenberg’s Anthony Alesandro, and Chaminade’s Fowler, who like Carlo, became a 2x Catholic State Champion when he locked up an inside cradle and pinned Canisius’s Casey Sheehan in 1:43…Of these four champions, only Skinner (sophomore) and Fischetti (junior) will be back next season to defend their titles….Carlo, who is remains uncommitted, turned a lot of heads at the Eastern States when he defeated returning NYS Champion Vinnie Digravio. He remains a dark horse to win it all in Albany this year and should be receiving a lot of phone calls from DI collegiate coaches in the near future….Fowler, who will be wrestling the final matches of his career in Albany has accepted an offer to play football at Villanova next Fall.