State wrestling: Columbia has ups, downs on opening day

CaptionCloseAlbanyColumbia's wrestling team had dreams of an 8-0 Friday and four nice rides to the semifinals. Instead, it went 3-4 in the winner's bracket then rallied for a rugged 5-1 slog in the consolation bracket. A hard day's night, to be sure.And...

24 February 2017 Friday 23:14
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State wrestling: Columbia has ups, downs on opening day




Columbia's wrestling team had dreams of an 8-0 Friday and four nice rides to the semifinals. Instead, it went 3-4 in the winner's bracket then rallied for a rugged 5-1 slog in the consolation bracket. A hard day's night, to be sure.

And you can bet the rest of Section II is rooting for the Blue Devils to keep grinding, too, at Times Union Center on Saturday.

Really, the future of the section depends on it. Because of how seeding and "power points" are awarded in the NYSPHSAA's bracketing calculations, all local teams are affected based on how the weekend winds up for wrestlers like Columbia's.

"Future generations are at stake," said Frank Popolizio Jr., an assistant coach at Shenendehowa who knows many of the wrestlers through club level.

Mind you, he's not prepared to call Friday a disappointment for the section yet. This has to play out into Saturday, and it's certainly not all on Columbia's shoulders. But not faring well — meaning, advancing — sure seemed like the early storyline. Of the 41 Section II participants, only 18 advanced to the second round unscathed.

Only eight remain in the semifinals. There were already whispers at it being a down year, considering Division I only drew one "wild card" seed for a participant who didn't win a sectional title Feb. 11 in Glens Falls. Division II drew 11.

The talk of quality and quantity will be further examined Saturday, for sure.

Shenendehowa was another bellwether. The traditionally strong program had a quiet day, though Kiernan Shanahan is in the 145-pound semifinals. Otherwise, it was an ultra-rare year Plainsmen coaches like Popolizio didn't have to stay through the multiple wrestle-back rounds.

Of course, wrestlers advancing also helps their cause in the future. High placings can bolster seeding in future years. Those points can also be used to protect a wrestler for a wild-card bid if they don't happen to win a sectional title.

So Columbia may not be chasing championships anymore, but a lot is still at stake. Coach Anthony Servidone, right after 195-pounder Dylan Dubuque lost a second-round match in overtime, wasn't immediately sure where his guys' minds and hearts would be for the late-day matches.

Their four best wrestlers had lost a total of one match heading to downtown Albany.

"Our kids could have checked out after their state championship goals were over but they showed resiliency and fought back hard," Servidone said. "We battled and scraped back by focusing on the little things like in any sports — fundamentals."

The matches Saturday are known as the "blood rounds."

There's only one way for semifinalists to become state champions. They must win their first match around 10 a.m. Everyone else is done with one more loss.

Section II still has 10 wrestlers in contention for as high as third place. That means as many as three more consecutive wins:

In Division I, Antoine Grace (Queensbury, 106); Michael Gonyea (Columbia, 113); John Devine (Columbia, 126); Christian Gramuglia (Burnt Hills, 145); Kyle Jasenski (Albany Academy, 160); Dylan Dubuque (Columbia, 195).

In Division II: Matt Laporte (Hoosick Falls, 113); Fritz Scheffler (Tamarac, 160); Dillon Warner (Schoharie, 182); Ryan Harper (Duanesburg, 195).

Of note, Jasenski was a particularly interesting showcase of how seeding is not an exact science.

He won a sectional title but was still seeded below the guy he beat in the final.

Eoghan Sweeney (Niskayuna) earned an eight seed (through Betkanyon a wild card) and won his first match before losing to the No. 1 seed in the second round. Meanwhile, Jasenski lost right away to the No. 2 seed ... then wound up beating Sweeney again in wrestlebacks. Bracket busting: Section II did some damage to the bracket, too. Ballston Spa 182-pounder Jake Cook upset a No. 7 seed in the first round; In Division II, 113-pounder Matt Laporte (Hoosick Falls) knocked off No. 1 seed Eli Rodriguez of Norwich, who had been 34-6 entering states; Tamarac's Fritz Scheffler plowed through a No. 5 seed in the first round. Then there was Glens Falls' Lucas Sanders, who beat a No. 1 seed in the quarterfinals, as the senior advanced to the semis in his first try in downtown Albany.

What it's worth: According to the Albany County Convention & Visitors Bureau, more than $1.3 million in spending will hit Albany during the two-day state wrestling meet.

That includes nearly 1,600 hotel nights and about $70,000 in local tax revenue for the county

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