2nd Annual Diano Awards

Hey All,

It’s been a while since I last had the chance to sit at the old laptop and pound out an article for my loyal readers. Therefore, with graduate school set to resume next Tuesday, I knew that it might be long and far between before I had the opportunity to write. Hence, I decided that if I was going to fully commit to writing a piece, I might as well go big by bringing back the Annual Diano Awards. From what I recall, it was one of my more popular pieces from the 2009 season. Thus, I know that I need to give it my all if I am to match the warm responses that I received last year. I shall do my best.

Before I begin with the formal announcement of this season’s winners, I wanted to point out a few changes and key notes. First, unlike last season where the collegiate winners were all from the DI ranks, 2010 will mark our first non-Division I award recipients. I made this decision based on the fact that when giving thorough consideration to all of the available choices, it was these gentlemen who I felt were most worthy of the recognition. Plus, being that DI already gets the majority of attention in the mainstream media, I thought it would be a much deserved change to shine a light on one of the other NCAA Divisions. After all, the wrestlers at the DII and DIII, NAIA, and JUCO ranks work every bit as hard as their DI counterparts.

Second, those of you who remain dedicated to reading every word that I write might remember that I called the Adam Frey obit the hardest and least satisfying thing that I have ever written in my professional career. Despite having never met Adam, he has and continues to serve as a major motivating and inspirational force for me personally. With these sentiments in my heart, I decided that going forth, the National Collegiate Wrestler of the Year Award will be named in his honor….Adam becomes only the second individual to have an award given in his remembrance. In 2009, the NYS Collegiate Wrestler of the Year was named for Robert Nickerson, the father of the first recipient of the Award, Cornell University’s Troy Nickerson. While the junior Nickerson will not be repeating as the winner, I am happy to announce that a fellow Ivy League/EIWA student-athlete will follow in his footsteps.

Finally, as a reminder, I ask that you all recall that these awards are based on my own personal opinion and do not reflect the beliefs of other members of the LHW family. In addition, they are intended to be fun and should not be a source of anger or insult. I can promise you, when thinking about who I would name as winners, each and every category had several individuals that were in deep consideration. Unfortunately, because only one recipient can be named, several deserving gentlemen were not able to have their achievements acknowledged…Enjoy !!!

Long Island Scholastic Wrestler of the Year:

Nick Arujau (Syosset High School; 125)- A winner of his third NYS DI title in 2010, the future American University wrestler was nothing if not dominant this season. Compiling an overall record of 38-0 (27 pins; 6 TF), the top-50 national recruit concluded his scholastic career in grand fashion, defeating 3x NYS finalist, Justis Flamio, by a 7-5 decision. 2010 marked the second time that Arujau defeated the Section I wrestler for the title. In 2008, he bested the future U.S. Naval Academy wrestler in the 112-pound state final. Several weeks later, the four-time Nassau County Champion would play a prominent role in helping Team NY defeat Team WPIAL in the under-card of the Dapper Dan Wrestling Classic. Pitted against Fox Chapel’s Carson Brooks, it only took the Brave senior 3:36 to rack up a 19-0 technical fall to earn five team points in what ended up being the final margin of victory for the Empire Staters (26-21)….LHW would also like to acknowledge the accomplishment of Rocky Point’s Stephen Dutton. If not for the presence of Arujau, the 2x NYS Champion who is headed to Lehigh would have been a landslide selection for this award. Possessing an unblemished 48-0 record during his senior campaign, Dutton was one of, if not the most feared wrestlers in the Empire State. Unfortunately, what hurt Dutton was the fact that so many of the top names wanted to avoid him that he was unable to add that signature victory to his resume during the State tournament the way Arujau did when he beat the aforementioned Flamio….A 3x NHSCA All-American, it is likely that Dutton would have completed the sweep had he elected to attend the Virginia Beach based event in 2010…We wish both young gentlemen the very best of luck at the next level. They have made L.I. proud !

Long Island Collegiate Wrestler of the Year:

Vincent Renaut (U.S. Merchant Marine Academy; 165)- While originally from the New England area, Renaut was eligible for this award by virtue of the fact that he competes for school that resides on Long Island…A former NHSCA Senior National finalist, Renaut’s time at Kings Point had been steady, but not overly remarkable heading into his junior season. Coming off of a 2009 campaign that witnessed him going 0-2 at the NCAA DIII Tournament (losing both matches by a combined total of three points), Renaut had his work cut out for him in 2010, entering the national tournament unseeded. However, as a testament to his talent and determination, the Massachusetts resident came out as a man on a mission, turning all of the close losses in 2009 into close wins this season. Defeating the #5 and #4 seeds in back-to-back matches by scores of 4-3 and 5-3 respectively, Renaut received a mini break when the fellow unseeded wrestler, Justin Barowski (Delaware Valley) upset the #1 and #8 seeds in consecutive matches. The USMMA student-athlete would make the most of his fortune, defeating Barowski 3-2 to punch his ticket to the national final. Awaiting him in the championship match was the #7 seed, Orlando Ponce (Augsburg), the wrestler who knocked Renaut out of the National tournament the previous year by a close 7- score. 2010 would be a new year, new chapter, as the Cinderella story was completed with the Kings Point wrestler getting his hand raised following a 7-3 decision. The victory, would gave Renaut 30 wins on the season, marked the first national title for the school. His name will now forever be etched in the institution’s record book.

NYS Scholastic Wrestler of the Year:

Tyler Beckwith (Greene High School; 171)- The second Shamrock Wrestling Club recipient to win this award in as many years, Beckwith proved himself to be the best three-style wrestler in the Empire State. Since the last time that the Diano Awards were presented, all Beckwith did was go on to become a Jr. National Greco finalist, a Jr. Freestyle All-American (despite being injured during the placement rounds), as well as a put the finishing touches on his second straight NYS DII State title. Compiling a 45-0 record in 2010 (39 of these victories accompanied by some variety of bonus points), Beckwith saved his best performance for last when he won his unprecedented fourth NHSCA National title. In doing so, the #11 national recruit and future Binghamton University wrestler became the first wrestler in history to win the title for each grade level. Being the first is a distinction that shall belong to him alone forever (New Mexico’s Louis Trujillo also entered 2010 with the opportunity to win his fourth title. However, he was defeated in the semifinal round of the 130-pound weight class). Expected to be in the lineup for the defending CAA champions in 2011, if Beckwith is able to have half the true freshman season that last year’s winner, Kyle Dake, had, the Bears will be counting their lucky stars for landing his services. Already signed, it is unknown whether or not Beckwith intends to compete in Fargo this Summer. However, knowing how fierce a competitor he is, I would be surprised if he does not make the trip with the intention of winning the only titles that have escaped his grasp in his storied scholastic career.

NYS Collegiate Wrestler of the Year:

J.P O’Connor (Harvard; 157)- A 2x NCAA All-American heading into his senior campaign, the Crimson wrestler became just the third National Champion in school history (joining John Harkness-1938 and fellow former 4x NYS Champion, Jesse Jantzen-2004). Undefeated on the season with an overall record of 35-0, O’Connor, who in accordance with the emerging pattern is also a product of the Shamrock Wrestling Club, finally claimed the title that had eluded him in his three previous tries. Known primary for his strong defensive style and hard work from the top position, many NYers realized that 2010 was O’Connor’s year when he exploded for 14 points in a major decision over American University’s Steve Fittery (the 2009 Midlands Champion) in the National semifinals. As impressive as that win was, it would have been meaningless had the Harvard captain not put the finishing touches on his collegiate career the following evening. Pitted against a familiar for, Cal Poly’s Chase Pami, who defeated O’Connor in the round of 12 in 2009 to deny him the opportunity to become a 4x DI All-American. Having defeated Pami earlier in the season (December @ the Keen Vegas Invitational), O’Connor was likely confident leading into the match. However, it would be Pami who would strike first, securing the opening TD to take the early 2-0 lead (the first TD surrendered by O’Connor during the tournament). However, to his credit, demonstrating the heart and fighting spirit common of an Irishman, O’Connor battled back, scoring a take-down of his own to account for deadlock at 3-3 to end the opening period. O’Connor would regain the lead for good early in the middle stanza, taking bottom and successfully working for a reversal. The All-District Academic honoree would ride out the remainder of the period to lead 5-3 heading into the final two minutes. A Pami escape in the third would cut the deficit in half. However, as has been evident so many times before, you don’t score on O’Connor when the match is on the line. Defending countless attacks from Pami, O’Connor never looked back in claiming the 157-pound National title by a score of 6-4 (riding time accounted for the final point)…In wrapping up his 2010 championship season, O’Connor also claimed a piece of the program’s all-time career wins record (122), an honor that he will share with the aforementioned Jantzen.

National Scholastic Wrestler of the Year:

Chris Villalonga (Blair Academy; 140/145)- A wrestler who spent time at both 140 and 145 in 2010, it might be easier and quicker to name the major events that Villalonga did not win this season as a senior at the Blairstown, NJ based powerhouse. The #3 recruit from the class of 2010, Villalonga won just about ever event a scholastic wrestler can win this season. Starting the season at the Walsh Ironman, Villalonga relied on his amazing riding ability to notch his third straight title at the Ohio based tournament. A few weeks later, Villalonga set his sights on a fourth Beast of the East title, an accomplishment that he easily achieved, defeating Codey Combs by a score of 9-4. As if this was not enough, the Cornell University signee would ring in the New Year by jumping up to 145-pounds to compete in the Bethlehem Holiday Classic, a tournament he won by shutting out 2x NJ State Champion, Taylor Walsh 5-0 in the finals. Next up for the BA captain would be his fourth National Prep title, a feat he accomplished with ease, scoring bonus points in all five of his victories (3 pins; 1 TF; 1 MD). Unchallenged for the better part of his senior season, Villalonga was expected to be pushed in in the Dapper Dan Classic where he was matched up against fellow blue-chip recruit, Josh Kindig (headed to Oklahoma State). However, again, it was Villalonga doing everything that he had to to earn the “w”, scoring key near-fall points to emerge with a 6-2 decision. For his efforts, the Team USA representative was named his team’s O.W. for the event….Villalonga would put the finishing touches on his remarkable career in Virginia Beach, overcoming injury to win the NHSCA Senior National title. It was a fitting end for a young man who was represented his sport and his school so well these past four years. Coach Koll is getting a real gem !

National Collegiate Wrestler of the Year:

Jake Varner (Iowa State; 197)- By far, the most successful member of the class of 2010, Varner has the distinction of being one of the few wrestlers in history to make the National finals every year of his collegiate career. This season, Varner was as good as ever, showing an improved and more diverse offensive attack in going 32-0 and winning his second consecutive National title. Equally as impressive as the immaculate record and hardware are, is the way in which they were achieved. 2010 was not a year where Varner had a bunch of lambs led to the slaughter. Three times (four if you count the NWCA All-Star Classic), Varner had to defeat returning National finalist, Craig Brester of Nebraska. In addition, twice (including a 19-1 TF during the dual), Varner was asked to defeat eventual NCAA bronze medalist, Cam Simaz of Cornell. Add to that mid-season victories over the fourth-place finisher Taylor Hudson of Maryland, fifth-place finisher Eric Lapotsky of Oklahoma, OSU’s 7th place-finisher Alan Gelogaev, as well as a pair of “ws” over #8 Sonny Yohn of Minnesota, and you see that the undefeated record was hardly a walk in the park for the Cyclone senior. What makes all that he accomplished all the more special was the fact that unlike most of his collegiate peers who were in a position to focus exclusively on folkstyle during the offseason, Varner had to concentrate on freestyle as he was one of two active college wrestlers to make the U.S. World Team (Minnesota’s Dustin Schlatter being the other). Following up his collegiate career by recently finishing as the U.S. National runner-up in FS, it is evident that Varner is here to stay for the next decade at least. In this regard, he resembles last year’s Diano Award winner in this category, Jake Herbert, who after his coronation went on to win a silver medal at the World Championships.
Note: I am not taking any credit for Mr. Herbert’s immense accomplishment 🙂 Varner concludes his collegiate career with an overall record of 121-10.

Long Island Collegiate Rookie of the Year:

Kodie Silvestri (Nassau Community College; 141)- Of all of this year’s awards, it was this one that proved the most problematic. Throughout the process of selecting a winner, I kept coming back to three name, Silvestri, Drexel’s Joe Booth, and Hofstra’s Luke Vaith. Ultimately, putting aside the fact that Vaith had a win over the eventual winner, I decided to go with Silvesti on the grounds that he had the most impact on the success of his team. With HU experiencing a down year and Drexel still in the process of rebuilding toward a bright future, I decided upon Silvesti because his bronze medal performance at the National JUCO tournament was the most impressive postseason performance of the three. While immense credit is given to Booth and Vaith for finishing competing well in their conference tournament (both wrestle for CAA schools), I could not look past the fact that it was Silvesti who did it on the biggest stage of the season, the national tournament. Again, as I mentioned earlier, 2010 was a year that I wanted to give attention to a few of the less covered divisions of the sport. Therefore, the opportunity to feature a JUCO wrestler from nearby Nassau Community College certainly played a part in the selection. However, all in all, I do think that the multiple-time NHSCA All-American, Silvesti was a deserving recipient. Winning 30+ matches on the season as well as a NJCAA All-American honor, Silvestri has positioned himself well to join former NCC wrestlers such as Brandon Williamson and Bobby Ward (both NCAA DI National Qualifiers in 2010) on the DI level either next year or in 2012. In fact, with his only loss of the JUCO National tournament coming at the hands of eventual champion, Josk Kratovil of Harper, it is possible that the freshman from the Garden State was only two points away from being the best in the country at his 141-pound weight class. When you consider that the national runner-up,Vin Pisani (Iowa Central) who just signed with Edinboro University, lost to Kravotil by a score of 10-4, it is not hard to envision the bright future that Silvestri has before him.

National Collegiate Rookie of the Year:

Kyle Dake (Cornell; 141)- In picking the winner of this award, it came down to a pair of equally talented freshmen (Dake and Iowa’s Matt McDonough) who were crowned National champions in 2010. However, ultimately, what won me over was the fact that one of the choices was a true freshman (a true rookie) versus a redshirt freshman. In addition, looking at the fact that one was the only person from his team to win the national title versus the other who was one of three champions, it seemed to be that Dake had the bigger influence over the breakout success enjoyed by Cornell than McDonough did in helping the Hawkeyes to win their third straight National Team title. While I in no way am diminishing the accomplishment of the latter, it seems to me that that had Iowa been forced to go with Tony Ramos or J.J. Krutsinger, it is likely they still would have claimed the top spot in the national team standings. Without Dake, I am not convinced that Cornell finishes as highly as it did this season (2nd). In addition, while I cannot fault him directly, working against McDonough was the fact that a string of upsets in the bottom half of the 125-pound bracket left allowed him to advance to the National finals without ever having to beat a seeded opponent. When compared against Dake, who had to beat the #8 and #4 (returning National finalist Reece Humphrey) along the way, it struck me that the Big Red wrestler had the tougher path to glory. Had Indiana’s former National Champion, Angel Escobedo, defeated Iowa State’s Andrew Long and then was defeated by McDonough (avenging the Hawkeye’s only loss of the season), I might have thrown the edge to McDonough. However, without this victory, I was able to get past the courage and guts that Dake showed in winning the title despite being hampered by a nagging ankle injury that reportedly required injections prior to each bout. Compiling a 34-2 record in his freshman campaign (including a split with Oklahoma’s Zack Bailey and twice avenging his only other loss to Humphrey), Dake became the first wrestler in history (but likely not the last) to win back-t0-back Dianos in different categories.


Past & Current Recipients

Long Island Scholastic Wrestler of the Year:
2009- John Greisheimer (Wantagh High School; 152)
2010- Nick Arujau (Syosset High School; 125)

Long Island Collegiate Wrestler of the Year:
2009- Lou Ruggirello (Hofstra; 133)
2010- Vincent Renaut (U.S. Merchant Marine Academy; 157)

NYS Scholastic Wrestler of the Year:
2009- Kyle Dake (Lansing High School; 140)
2010- Tyler Beckwith (Greene High School; 171)

Robert Nickerson NYS Collegiate Wrestler of the Year:
2009- Troy Nickerson (Cornell; 125)
2010- J.P. O’Connor (Harvard; 157)

National Scholastic Wrestler of the Year:
2009- David Taylor (St. Paris Graham High School; 135)
2010- Chris Villalonga (Blair Academy; 140/145)

Adam Frey National Collegiate Wrestler of the Year:
2009- Jake Herbert (Northwestern; 184)
2010- Jake Varner (Iowa State; 197)

Long Island Collegiate Rookie of the Year:
2009- Steve Bonanno (Hofstra; 125)
2010- Kodie Silvestri (Nassau Community College; 141)

National Collegiate Rookie of the Year:
2009- Andrew Howe (Wisconsin; 165)
2010- Kyle Dake (Cornell; 141)

2 thoughts on “2nd Annual Diano Awards”

  1. Great selections, and it’s nice to learn about the collegiate wrestlers in the other divisions getting it done.

  2. Glad you liked them Bill….Also, thanks so much for improving the design/layout of the article. Your efforts added to the quality of the piece.

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