News Based on facts, either observed and verified directly by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.
Yorktown’s Tornambe, Carmel’s Venables 3-Peat as Champs; Somers’ Ball Repeats
By Tony Pinciaro
WHITE PLAINS – Neil Paulercio had the best start to his high school wrestling career, winning a Section 1 Division I (large school) title his freshman year for BRIARCLIFF/BYRAM HILLS/VALHALLA/WESTLAKE.
Paulercio had his hopes of four titles dashed last year with a third-place finish. Once the season concluded, Paulercio dedicated himself to a berth in the 2024 131-pound final and experiencing the euphoria he did freshman year.
“That fueled me a lot and made me put my head down, eat healthier and work even harder,” said the Valhalla High School junior. “I didn’t take any breaks. On my feet, I always felt comfortable, so it was important for me to work on getting better on the mat (bottom) and I’ve seen myself grow.”
Paulercio didn’t have to concern himself with wrestling too much from the defensive position. Instead, Paulercio was the aggressor in his four sectional matches and he added the exclamation point to his season, to date, with a 4-2 victory over Somers/North Salem’s Liam Dwyer in the Section 1 Division I 131-pound final Sunday at the Westchester County Center.
Paulercio was one of three B/BH/V/W wrestlers to win sectional titles as the team won its first-ever sectional title with 120 points.
Along with Paulercio, seventh-grader Vincnzo Mannello was the 101-pound champion. Mannello, who attends Westlake Middle School, becomes the second seventh-grader in the last decade to win a sectional title. He was also selected as the most outstanding lightweight. Nick Fortugno, a Byram Hills student, won the 108-pound title for his second consecutive championship. He moves ahead of his older brothers – John and Justin – in the sibling hierarchy for titles as each won one.
The champions in Division I and Division II (small school) advance to the New York State Public High School Athletic Association Wrestling Championships, Feb. 24-25, at Albany’s MVP Arena.
Paulercio and Dwyer had split four previous meetings this season. Dwyer had won two of the first three, but Paulercio beat Dwyer in the divisional qualifier last week.
Paulercio secured a takedown 20 seconds into the match and then asserted control.
“I went into the match knowing I had to get to what I do best because I know he’s tough, but I needed to be tougher,” Paulercio said. “Once I got that takedown it really boosted my confidence because I knew I could control the match.”
Now Paulercio is preparing for Albany and is psyched for another opportunity at a state title.
“This feels amazing,” Paulercio said. “I haven’t felt this good of a feeling like this since my freshman year.
“I’m going to Albany and I’m going to open up, go out and do my thing.”
Briarcliff/Byram Hills/Valhalla/Westlake coach Joey Grippi had high praise for his individual and team champions.
“I am so proud of the whole team,” said Grippi, who is assisted by brother Peter. “Everyone worked hard all year and played a part in this. The guys bought in and showed hard work pays off. We had a great tournament and everyone did a great job. This is a great accomplishment for these guys and the program.”
The Tornambe family has a new head when it comes to sectional wrestling titles as Joe Tornambe won his third consecutive championship.
The YORKTOWN senior pinned Tappan Zee’s Parker Trento in 43 seconds to take the Section 1 Division I 138-pound title.
Tornambe surpassed his uncle, Steve, who was a two-time sectional champion at Ossining. Tornambe is also the first Yorktown three-time sectional champion.
“It makes me feel good because I like to get on my uncle’s nerves, a lot,” said Tornambe, with a laugh, about having family bragging rights. “It definitely will be fun.
“It’s cool that as a family we have that tradition of winning. It’s cool to keep that going. My dad and my uncles, Steve and Anthony, have impacted me so much. It’s always fun being around them. I’m very thankful for them because all of them have been huge mentors.”
Now Tornambe turns his attention to the state championships where he is aiming to leave Albany as a champion.
“This definitely means a lot to be a three-time champion,” said Tornambe, who will attend Sacred Heart University in September and also wrestle. “I’ve worked really hard the past five-six years and as much as I have wanted to be a three-time sectional champ, I’m ready for competing at the states. I’m going for it all!”
Tornambe’s younger brother, Gio (101 pounds) and George Gjerji (285) were runners-up.
PUTNAM VALLEY senior Esuar Ordonez was motivated to win a second sectional title coming into the season. He would recently receive added incentive from his older brother, David, who is in the Air Force.
“It’s been a journey and it’s been hard,” Ordonez said. “He’s been sending me letters saying he can’t wait to see me win sectionals and that really motivated me. I got started in wrestling because of my brother.”
Ordonez made his brother and family proud, pinning his opponent in 58 seconds in the Section 1 Division II 2 131-pound final.
Ordonez becomes Putnam Valley’s first consecutive champ since Will Carano won in 2019-2020. Putnam Valley has also had at least one sectional titleist every year since 2012.
“This year I really focused on sectionals, but more of a stepping stone this year,” said Ordonez, who is 33-3 on the season and owns 120 career victories. “It’s one step in the process. Coming back and winning it two times shows what I’ve been working for.
“I want to give a shout out to my family and friends. My mom comes to all of my competitions and my girlfriend came to watch today, on her birthday. And, of course, to Coach Carano, who has been with me my entire five years.”
Teammate Jaden Tesher, a junior, was the dominant 285-pound champion, to give the Tigers a pair of champs under the tutelage of longtime PV Coach Will Carano, and Alexander Gecaj finished second at 215 pounds.
CROTON senior Fred Smithwick made sure he was prepared for the Section 1 Division II 170-pound championship match.
“Honestly, last year was upsetting because I didn’t prepare myself mentally for my final,” Smithwick said. “I was surprised I was a finalist. This year, my senior year, I couldn’t go out empty-handed, especially after coming in second six times this year.”
Smithwick will now be referred to as a Section 1 wrestling champion after he posted a 9-4 win over Edgemont’s Kenny Saito in the Section 1 Division II 170-final.
Smithwick and teammate/drill partner Henry Martin (152 pounds) made history, becoming the first multiple sectional champions in one year in program history.
Martin psyched up his teammate when he told him that he wanted to see Smithwick in the finals and win a sectional title, also. Smithwick used that motivation in the third period as the score was even at 4-4 with under one minute remaining in the match.
Smithwick executed a shot attempt, resulting in a mad scramble. Smithwick was able to control his body and gain control of Saito for a takedown and two additional back points.
“I remember everything my coach taught me to do in that situation and I knew it would work,” Smithwick said.
Smithwick and Martin are off to Albany in hopes of winning a state championship. The sectional win has shown Smithwick just how good he is.
“Honestly, I feel like growing up I was always good, but not good enough,” Smithwick said. “Today, I showed that I could be that guy. When I won I knew exactly where my parents were and I immediately pointed at them. Everything I do and have accomplished is for and because of them, my coaches and my teammates.”
PLEASANTVILLE’S Asa Nunberg was facing a four-point deficit as time was winding down in the Section 1 Division II 190-pound title match.
Nunberg found the inner strength to score the final four points against top-seeded Kyle Peske of Hen Hud. Then Nunberg capped his spectacular rally with a quick takedown to post a 10-8 overtime win.
“I was focused, but I also didn’t want to let myself down,” said an emotional Nunberg. “He had pinned me at Hen Hud and I lost to him in the counties. I didn’t know if I believed in myself.”
Once Nunberg forced overtime, he continued being assertive offensively.
“I’ve struggled with my offense in my wrestling career, but I set it up and I went for it,” Nunberg said. “This is amazing and my number one feeling. I’m thankful to all of my coaches and teammates who have helped me get here after I got cut from the basketball team in seventh grade. I never thought I could do this.”
Jesse Straus was also a champion, winning the 116-pound title.
CARMEL senior Leo Venables continued to add to his impressive wrestling resume.
Venables registered a first-period pin to win the Section 1 Division 1 170-pound title.
He is the first Carmel wrestler to win three sectional titles and repeated as the 170-pound champion.
“To just really accomplish something great and not only being a part of the sport it helps my confidence and shows how hard I’ve worked and when you put in the work it pays off,” said Venable, who will attend Life University (Georgia) in September and also play rugby.
Even though Venables had won consecutive sectional titles coming into the season, he did not allow himself to become complacent.
“The way I was processing it was this was the last year I was going to wrestle so I put it all out there and worked as hard as I could to see how good I was at my peak,” Venable said.
Three straight sectional titles and 134 career wins indicates how good Venables is.
Nikita Rusnak was the 152-pound runner-up as the No.6 seed.
Ryan Ball of SOMERS/NORTH SALEM showed that he is an elite Section 1 wrestler after winning the Section 1 Division I 116-pound championship.
The Somers’ sophomore won his second straight title and became the first Tusker to win consecutive championships since the great Brian Realbuto ran off five in-a-row from 2008-2012.
Ball said this title was a result of him staying with the same process he used last year. The only addition was that he increased his workouts.
Brewster’s Thomas Looby, Jr., almost secured a takedown to end the first period with a 2-0 lead. However, the officials ruled the takedown came after the horn. Ball used this to his advantage when he took bottom to start the second period, resulting in an escape and immediate takedown for a 3-0 lead.
“I like starting from bottom, so either way it was win-win for me,” Ball said.
When the horn sounded ending the match, Ball jumped up and acknowledged his large cheering section.
“I want to thank my dad for helping me through every way, giving me tips, and my family, coach and teammates for supporting me to achieve this,” said Ball, who is 43-3 this season.
BREWSTER senior Ian Sutherland had one question he asked of himself.
“I was thinking, ‘How good could I be if I trained as hard as I could but graduating knowing I could be better?’ ” Sutherland said.
Sutherland answered his own question emphatically as he won the Section 1 Division I 190-pound championship with an 11-0 major decision.
Sutherland is Brewster’s first sectional champion since Grant Cuomo won three in-a-row from 2016-2018.
There was little doubt that Sutherland was not only the best 190-pounder in the section, but one of the most dominant wrestlers. He was not challenged in his four wins.
While others might have been nervous going into a sectional final, Sutherland was cerebral.
“I was able to control my speed and my emotions,” he said. “I was able to stay calm and composed using mental preparation and visualization.”
Sutherland said he was going to go home, watch the Super Bowl and eat some wings before returning to practice Monday to begin the next sequence in his quest.
“I am extremely thankful for this accomplishment. This makes me feel one step closer to the reality of being a state champion.”
OSSINING’S Anthony Lofaro was the 152-pound champion and FOX LANE’S Alexander Berisha won the 285-pound title. This was Berisha’s second straight sectional title which gives him bragging rights over older brother Marc, a champion in 2022.
PEEKSKILL had a pair of top-four finishers in Nasser Jones (third at 190 pounds) and Martin Palomaque (fourth at 160). HEN HUD had three second-place finishers – Ismael Andrade (152), Kyle Peske (190) and Mason Dietz (285).
Examiner Media – Keeping you informed with professionally-reported local news, features, and sports coverage.