“If you don’t believe, than you don’t belong.” So are the words that adorn the homepage of the St. Anthony’s High School wrestling website. The concept of belief in one’s self is a trademark in the wrestling room of the South Huntington based perennial Catholic High School Athletic Association (CHSAA) powerhouse. However, in all honesty, it is a slogan that could easily be applied to the league as a whole. Fresh off of a 2010 campaign that witnessed the Catholic boys put forth their best collective performance in my lifetime (finishing sixth in the overall team standings behind six place-winners, three finalists, and a State Champion), the CHSAA is primed and ready to not only match last season’s efforts, but surpass it on all accounts. With seven individual Catholic State Champions/NYS Qualifiers back from last season, the talent is certainly there to make this year one for the record books. And, who better to lead this charge than the young men who inspired our theme, the defending champion Friars of STA.
Competitive, if not altogether strong at every weight class, the Tony Walters/Keith Eckert led Friars have already begun to open a lot of eyes on Long Island with duals wins over the #2 (Hauppauge), #4 (Connetquot), and #6 (Sachem East) teams in Suffolk County. So successful have the St. Anthony’s program been that in the recent NYS rankings, they found themselves in the #6 spot in the large school division, a location that they fully intend to improve upon this weekend when they take part in the annual Union-Endicott Duals….Sitting at the head of the table and serving as the backbone for the defending team champs are five returning individual champs in the persons of 2x CHSAA Champion Jimmy Morris (@112 ’10;@103 ’09), 2x Champion/3x Finalist Grant Greene (Champ @119 ’10; Champ @112 ’09; 2nd @112 ’08), Jamel Hudson (Champion @130 ’10), Paul Alessandrini (Champion @189 ’10), and Jon Decir (Champion @285 ’10; 6th @285 ’09)…Of this quintet, it is 2009 NYS bronze medalist, Morris and fellow senior, Greene, who normally commands the most attention. A 3x NYS Finalist/2009 Champion as well as a multiple time All-American, the Northwestern bound student-athlete has emerged as the poster boy for the CHSAA following the graduation of 2x NYS Champion Andrew Lenzi (formerly of Fordham Prep; Currently the starting 149-pounder for the University of Pennsylvania). Should Greene reign triumphant in his quest to cap his scholastic career with a second New York State DI title, he would join the aforementioned Lenzi as the only wrestlers in league history to accomplish the feat.
As if five returning champs were not sufficient enough, the Friars also feature the kind of supporting cast that would make most national top-25 teams jealous. With 10 additional former or returning CHSAA State place-winners on their roster, it could be said that even without the big-5, this team would be considered a heavy favorite to go all the way again for the second consecutive year….Add in a quartet of newcomers the likes of 2010 Louisiana State Champ/former NHSCA Freshman All-American Daryian Riley, fellow transfer Lou Morello (former Suffolk County qualifier from Bay Shore High School), 2010 NYS Schoolboy State Champion Fred Dunau, and former NYS Youth State place-winner Joey Russ, and you have the closest thing to a dream team that the CHSAA has ever seen. While still months away from the postseason, it is not a stretch to say that the Catholic High School scoring record may very well be in jeopardy this year thanks to the A-Z quality and depth possessed by our top-ranked institution. As publicly and privately admitted by several of the CHSAA coaches, 2011 truly is a battle for the silver medal
Residing at the forefront of this race for second place are two schools that seemingly do not share much in common, aside from their ability to step on the mat and get the job done, Monsignor Farrell High School and Kellenberg Memorial High School. Whereas the Lions of Farrell will rely on the strength of a core group of five upperclassmen that have combined for 12 All-Catholic finishes, as well as a trio of talented super sophomores, and a fab frosh, it will be the overall depth of the KMHS Firebirds that Head Coach/CHSAA Chairperson Chris Alfalla hopes will make the difference in deciding who earns the #2 spot in the final team standings. With upwards of 20 young men earning their spots in the most recent Catholic State rankings (yet to be finalized), much like St. Anthony’s, the Uniondale centered school turned some heads a few weeks ago when they upset returning Nassau County champions, Long Beach, in dual play.
Under the guidance of Louis DeStefano, the Lions feature standout All-American Vin Fischetti, who in addition to earning his first CHSAA State title, also was a NYS place-winner (5th @125), as well as a NHSCA Junior AA. Complementing Fischetti will be fellow senior Joe Francolino, who like his much heralded teammate has been a place-winner every year of his school career, including a runner-up finish @130 in 2010…While not there yet, a trio of juniors who are well on their way toward earning Ironman (recognition for placing all four years) Awards are 2x Catholic finalist Paul DiStefano (@103 ’10; @96 ’09), 2010 runner-up Tim McCann (@135), and 2x bronze medalist Paul Schianodicola (@112 ’10; @103 ’09)…Other returning wrestlers of note include: Blaise Rufo (2nd @96 ’10), Chris Amendola (5th @96 ’10), Paul Hartnett (5th @119 ’10), Gunnar Rufo (4th @140 ’10), and Andrew Psomas (6th @145 ’10)…Similar to St. Anthony’s, Farrell will welcome its own impact freshman, 2010 Schoolboy State Champion, Rich “Man Child” Sisti, who might be the best upper-weight prospect the CHSAA has seen in a number of years.
Representing the firepower for the Firebirds will be defending Catholic State Champion (@96) Pat Skinner…Skinner, a product of the Ascend Wrestling Club, just missed All-NYS honors last season, coming one victory short of a spot on the podium. 2011 marks the year that he gets over the hurdle and reaches the pinnacle. With an early season win over the #2 ranked wrestler in Nassau County, Krishna Sewkumar (Long Beach), Skinner appears well on his way towards achieving all of his goals and more…However, despite being a team leader, Skinner will not be alone, as he will be joined by six other returning place-winners from last season, Lawrence Vacchio (3rd @96 ’10), Chris Vono (4th @103 ’10), Tim Davison (4th @112 ’10), Chris Federlin (4th @119 ’10), Andrew Foertsch (6th @103 ’10) and fellow 2x All-Catholic student-athlete Zach Indovino (4th @125 ’10; 6th @103 ’09)…Another wrestler to watch is James Sullivan who despite entering the year having never placed in the Catholic State tournament, has been about as clutch for KMHS as possible. Highlighted by a 3-2 decision over 2010 Nassau County finalist, Edison Tigre, Sullivan has compiled nearly 20 wins versus only a single defeat thus far this season. In doing so, he has rapidly moved up the charts and is now considered a serious threat to win individual hardware in his senior campaign….A pair of Perrones, Tom (ranked 5th @96) and top freshman Chris (6th @96) will provide further depth to impressive collection of lightweights in the Kellenberg wrestling room.
In the midst of something of a rebuilding year, but never a team that can be counted out are the Flyers of Chaminade High School. Only a few years removed from a remarkable run of six straight CHSAA State team titles, the Marianist institution, under the tutelage of Hall-of-Fame coach, George Dlugolonski, finds itself in the position of having to rebound from the graduation of its only two CHSAA State Champions in 2010, as well as the loss of former NYS Schoolboy State Champ/2010 All-Catholic wrestler, Danny Fowler, who prior to the start of his sophomore season, decided to leave his shoes in the center of the mat to focus on other athletic endeavors…What this means, is that if the Flyers of new are to uphold the reputation and tradition established by their brethren, the onus will fall on the shoulders of their five former/returning CHSAA place-winner, 2x All-Catholic Jon Faglione (2nd @125 ’10; 6th @96 ’08), 2x All-Catholic Mikey Jones (5th @130 ’10; 6th @112 ’08), Mike Rizzo (4th @130 ’10), Peter Rooney (5th @103 ’10), and 2009 place-winner Bobby Wallace (4th @96)…Returning starters Declan Gray and Sean Andrews will also be asked to step up, as will blue-chip freshman, Danny Jones, who placed 4th in Nassau County as an 8th-grader for Garden City High School…Matt Muffucci (ranked 4th @96) should provide a spark for CHS at the front of the line-up.
Another team that always seems to be lurking towards the top is Buffalo based St. Joseph’s Collegiate Institute. The proud alma mater of current University of Buffalo starting 125-pounder, Taylor Golba, the Pete Kennedy led squad should be viewed as serious challengers in several weight classes including 285 which features 3x All-Catholic/Ironman Candidate Jack Cambria, who has made it to the CHSAA State finals the past two years after taking 6th as a freshman. Fresh off of his title at the renowned Teike-Bernabi Holiday tournament, Cambria has a score to settle with St. Anthony’s, whose wrestlers have defeated him both times in the Catholic finals…Other upperclassman who will be asked to assume a position of leadership will be Cambria’s primary workout partner, the #2 ranked wrestler @215 James McClary who finished 6th at this weight class in 2010…Completing the quarter of go to guys for SJC will be Liam Kearney who sits in the top spot @145, and Pat Mang, who after missing all of the 2010 season with an injury, returns to the line-up pumped to improve upon the 6th place performance that he put forth as a freshman in 2009….Additional ranked wrestlers Travis Berube, Brian Pilski, and Matt Matre will provide the complementary talent that might make it possible for Kennedy and company to enjoy their first top-4 finish is quite sometime.
Adjusting to life after Lenzi will be the Rams of Fordham Prep who finished sixth last season in the team race…With a pair of returning All-Catholic wrestlers serving as their only ranked student-athletes, FP is going to need to get contributions from a number of unsung heroes if they are to fully capitalize on the immense point totals that are sure to come from heavyweight Max Kinder (3rd @285 ’10) and Pat Argast (6th @174 ’10)…For the most part, 2011 might best be described as the calm before the storm in the FP program. With 2010 Schoolboy State runner-up John Argast (yet another in the line of brothers who have represented Fordham Prep with class and honor) expected to join Rams as a freshman in 2012, it will not be long before they have another NYS champion prospect in their room. Patience is a virtue, and the hardest thing to do is be patient when you know there is a stud on the way.
If you are looking for a Cinderella story to cheer for this season, look no farther than the Gaels of Iona Prep. Still a relatively new program (first season was 2007), IP has its best chance ever to achieve a top-10 team finish. Featuring the straw that stirs the drink (to borrow from Reggie Jackson) in 2x All-Catholic wrestler Connor Mullins (3rd @103 ’10; 6th @96 ’09), the New York City region school is a team of steady contributors, rather than superstars. Joining Mullins among the ranked are Brian Anderson (3rd @160), Chris Armentano (4th @152), Mike Mobarack (4th @285), Connor Gallin (5th @285), MJ Dellaera (6th @103), and Mike Fanelli (6th @125). If all seven of these young men wrestle up to their abilities, there is no reason why the Gaels should not achieve the top finish in program history.
Another team in a similar boat to the aforementioned Gaels is St. John the Baptist. Like the team the precedes them in this preview, the Cougars are a team make-up of solid guys who on any day of the week can pull the upset and shake up the homeostatic dynamic of the CHSAA…Spotlighted by 2009 Catholic State bronze medalist, Jimmy Gill (their best bet for a CHSAA finalist), who missed the 2010 season due to injury, SBJ is far from a one-man show. In addition to their All-Catholic lightweight, the Cougars and coach David Bartoli should receive valuable contributions from the following ranked wrestlers: 2010 CHSAA place-winner Mike Jamieson (6th @96 ’10; ranked 5th @112), Joe Pidel (ranked 5th @145), and John Force (ranked 4th @171).
Lacking in overall depth, but featuring at least one wrestler to keep an eye on are the programs from Mount St. Michael (Aaron Hunt- 6th @189 ’10…Ranked 3rd @189), Niagara Catholic (David DeVaughn-5th @140 ’10; Ranked 3rd @152), Salesian (David Rivera; Ranked 4th @140), St. Joe’s by the Sea (Joe Savino…Ranked 4th @189), Xaverian (Anthony Biz…Ranked 4th @215), as well as a dynamic duo from Xavier (Dee Giorgu, Ranked 5th @103 & Joe Vitale, Ranked 6th @112).
Flying under the radar, but hoping to exceed expectations will be (in order of 2010 finish): St. Peter’s Boys, St. Francis (Buffalo), Canisius, Holy Trinity, Nichols, St. Mary’s, and The Gow School.