Local Grapplers Thrive at Section 1 Championships 2023

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By Tony Pinciaro

Leo Venables, Carmel, 172-pound Section 1 champ

FREEDOM PLAINS – Josh Hametz completed a meteoric rise to his HORACE GREELEY wrestling career. The senior, who began wrestling his freshman year and had one win, is now a sectional champion.

Hametz exerted himself 20 seconds into the Section 1 Division I (large school) 132-pound final and came away with an impressive 7-3 victory over North Rockland’s Robert DePolito. The score is not indicative of a four-point differential as Hametz was never in jeopardy Sunday at Arlington High School.

The 13 Section 1 Division I and Division II (small school) champions earned an automatic berth to the New York State Public High Athletic Association Wrestling Championships, Friday-Saturday, Feb. 24-25 at MVP Arena in Albany. The wild cards for each section will be released this week. Suffern won its first sectional team title since 2015, amassing 118 points, 15 more than second-place Mahopac (103). Ossining (100), North Rockland (96.5) and Clarkstown North (83) rounded out the top five.

Hametz was looking forward to wrestling DePolito once again. DePolito pinned Hametz twice during his sophomore year.

“I’ve grown so much in my four years,” said Hametz, who will attend Cornell and plans on majoring in Mechanical Engineering. “I was excited to wrestle him to show him I was a different wrestler from the last time he wrestled me and he was not going to expect it.”

Josh Hametz, Greeley, 132-pound Section 1 champ

After Hametz registered the first takedown, he kept DePolito on the mat the remainder of the period. Hametz opened the second period with an escape from bottom and secured a double-leg takedown at mat’s edge for a 5-0 lead.

“When we were in the neutral position I had it in the back of my mind that I could take him down,” Hametz said. “I always go into a match hard and aggressive. That’s my style.”

Hametz had an interesting thought regarding his championship.

“If you would have told me my freshman year this is where I was going to be my senior year I probably would have laughed in your face,” Hametz said. “This is amazing and I feel blessed. To think, I only started wrestling my freshman year and had one varsity win to now wrestling for and winning a sectional title.”

Ryan Ball literally grew up on a wrestling mat. The SOMERS’ freshman went to numerous high school and college wrestling matches with his father, Chris, a former Yonkers wrestling coach and Peekskill High School wrestler.

Third-seeded Ryan Ball of Somers brought home the 110-pound Section 1 title, as the first Tusker to win a championship since 5-time champ Brian Realbuto.

So it was only natural Ball would become a wrestler. The freshman debuted with a fifth-place finish at the 2022 Section 1 Division I Wrestling Championships. Now, Ball is a sectional champion.

The third-seeded Ball beat top-seeded Diego Gonzalez of Tappan Zee, 8-6, in the 110-pound final. He becomes Somers’ first titlist since the great Brian Realbuto won his fifth sectional championship in 2012.

Ball grabbed the lead for good midway through the second period with a decisive takedown. In the third period, Gonzalez selected bottom, but Ball kept him there for the final two minutes.

“Once he shot, I was unable to get two moves in so as he was attempting to take me down, I was able to maintain the leverage and took him down,” said the soft-spoken Ball.

The top-seed had secured three takedowns and immediately let Ball up early into the second period. However, Ball made an adjustment and Gonzalez was unable to get a shot attempt in. Ball knew he was in control in the third because Gonzalez was unable to break Ball’s grip in the second period.

“It feels really good,” Ball said. “I’ve dreamt of this moment since I started wrestling and since my dad began taking me to wrestling tournaments when I was younger.”

Add another sectional title for the Fortugno family as youngest brother, Nick, joins older brother Justin. The BYRAM HILLS’ freshman posted a thrilling 2-0 victory on a takedown 29 seconds into overtime against Mahopac’s Charles Pryzmylski in the final. Ironically, Fortugno and Pryzmylski are friends and have drilled together at Empire Wrestling Academy

Following his championship, Nick was on a facetime call with brothers Justin, also a sectional titlist, and John, a wild card. The brothers are at Wisconsin-Whitewater and also wrestling.

Mahopac’s Joseph Ramirez looks to take charge vs. Arlington’s Dillon Arrick during his victory via a 2-1 decision in the championship match at 118 pounds.

Fortugno was driven to raise his level of wrestling after not placing at the 2022 Section 1 Division I Wrestling Championships. While he put in the work, he credits his older brothers with having a major hand in his improvement.

“They helped me get to this point and I want to thank them for that,” Fortugno said.

The 102 final featured numerous shot attempts by each wrestler and excellent defense. The score remained scoreless through two periods after Pryzmylski chose bottom to start the second, but Fortugno was unyielding wrestling from top.

Once the one-minute overtime period began, Fortugno turned up the intensity. He saw an opportunity for his strength and went for it, resulting in the only points.

“I knew my double-leg is very good so I decided why not go for it,” Fortugno said. “The only way to win is to be aggressive and fire off shots.”

Now, Fortugno will seek his brothers’ advice regarding wrestling in the state championships. First, though, he is enjoying his title.

“It feels great and it’s also a relief to have your hand raised and know that I concluded my Section 1 season with great work,” Fortugno said.

Joe Tornambe found himself in a difficult situation, trailing Fox Lane’s Justin Gierum going into the final minute of the Section 1 Division I 126-pound final. Adding to this, the YORKTOWN junior still had not scored a point. That would change in the blink of an eye.

Tornambe reversed Gierum and while doing so, secured a cradle for two back points which were the difference in a 4-3 victory.

Tornambe has won consecutive sectional titles and is even with his uncle and Mahopac coach, Steve Tornambe. Tornambe, who leaped out of his seat matside when his nephew prevailed, won twice, when it was just one Section 1 tournament, at Ossining. He also finished fifth in the state his senior year.

Even though he was trailing 2-0 midway through the third, Tornambe remained composed.

“I’ve been working on my bottom wrestling a lot and I trusted myself that I could get out by just continuously moving,” Tornambe said.

Prior to his winning move, Gierum ran legs off two previous whistles so Tornambe was prepared and did not allow it. Once Tornambe executed the switch, he noticed something and took advantage of it.

“I saw his head in his knees so I locked up the cradle as hard as I could,” Tornambe explained. “Even though the cradle was tight, I was as careful as possible so I didn’t get reversed.”

Tornambe hit the switch with one minute remaining in the match and was awarded two back (near-fall) points with 24 seconds on the clock.

“This feels really good and I will enjoy it, but it’s back to work Monday as I get ready for states.”

Tristan Robinson-July, Ossining, 160-pound Section 1 champ

Tristan Robinson-July was oh-so-close to a sectional title in 2022, only to finish second. The OSSINING senior came away from that February day learning something about himself.

“I learned that I never wanted to feel like that again and I felt that I didn’t give it my all,” said Robinson-July, the 160-pound champ. “I also learned that the only person who can beat me is me. So this time, because it was my last chance I was going to stay calm and go for it.”

Robinson-July, the No. 1 seed, established himself early and rolled to a 7-1 victory over second-seeded Stephen Carroll of Lakeland/Panas.

It was Robinson-July’s third victory over Carroll this season.

Robinson-July knew that Carroll, also a senior, would come into the match with that same hunger to win a title. As a result, Robinson-July made an adjustment off of his first two wins against Carroll.

“I knew he would be expecting me to use my single-leg takedown, which I used the first two matches against him, and I knew he would be ready for it,” Robinson-July explained. “I knew I’d have to go with something else so I went to the duck-under on the first takedown.”

The title almost didn’t happen as Robinson-July explained a shoulder injury made him not sure if he could wrestle. He recovered and achieved his goal.

“I can’t explain it,” Robinson-July said. “I’m kind of in a state of shock, but it feels so good to win it.”

Leo Venables came into the Section 1 Division I Wrestling Championship as somewhat of an underdog despite being the returning champion at 172 pounds. The CARMEL junior pointed out that throughout the regular season he was seeing himself in various rankings ranked lower than what he felt he deserved.

Venables made the rankings moot as he pinned Nyack’s Sam Szerlip in the third period to win his second consecutive 172-pound title.

Venables, who pinned his first three opponents in under one minute, was leading Szerlip, 10-4 before the finalizer.

“Being lower-ranked this season definitely motivated me,” Venables said. “It made me work harder to get better and win it.”

Venables scouted the semifinal match between second-seeded Szerlip and third-seeded Ian Sutherland of Brewster, who had beaten Venables earlier this month. He knew that either opponent was going to be tough.

Once Venables widened his lead on Szerlip, he maintained his intensity.

“I couldn’t take my foot off the gas because if I did, it would have given him confidence and he would’ve been back in the match,” Venables said.

MAHOPAC finished second to champion Suffern as senior Joe Ramirez won a grueling 118-pound title with a 2-1 victory over two-time sectional champ Dillon Arrick of Arlington. It was Ramirez’s second victory over Arrick this season. He beat him in double overtime in the Mid-Hudson in December.

After Ramirez took a 2-0 lead with 43 seconds remaining in the second period, he spent the remainder of the second and the entire third period fending off Arrick escape attempts from bottom.

What made this grueling on Ramirez was that Arrick was continuously moving on bottom. This forced Ramirez to use his quickness and strength to stay behind Arrick.

“I had to stay calm in the third period because if I panicked it was not going to go in my favor,” Ramirez said. “I knew he was going to go for rolls so I had to time them, stay in good position and stay tight. I’m really pleased with my top wrestling and I feel it has improved this season.”

The title was gratifying for Ramirez following a fourth-place finish at 110 last year. Looking back on it, Ramirez said he didn’t have the right mindset so he re-dedicated himself to wrestling by working harder in the wrestling room.

“Winning the title feels great,” Ramirez said. “Looking back on my freshman year when I didn’t make divisionals, then sophomore year no sectionals because of Covid and then last year. I felt this could be my year and I came out on top at sectionals.”

Teammate Chris Morris was the 152-pound runner-up.

One year after older brother and current Sacred Heart University wrestler, Marc Berisha won a sectional title, younger brother Alex added a second consecutive championship. The FOX LANE sophomore decisioned New Rochelle’s DeAndre Woods, 13-7, to win the 189-pound title giving the Berisha family a trip to Albany.

This was Berisha’s second win of the season over Woods. He posted a 6-2 victory in the Shoreline Tournament 189 final.

“Seeing my brother win it last year made me want to win it more this year,” Berisha said.

Berisha was in control of the match in the first period, registering a couple of takedowns, dictating tempo and forcing Woods to open up.

“I felt I had to come out strong, which I did, and I felt that I wrestled like I wanted to and do what I wanted to do,” Berisha said. “It feels good to be a sectional champion.”

BREWSTER had a pair of third-place finishers in Thomas Looby (102 pounds) and Ian Sutherland (172).

PUTNAM VALLEY’S Esuar Ordonez concluded the 2022 wrestling season wanting more.

“Last year, I placed third at 132 pounds and although I was proud of that achievement, I went in expecting much more from myself,” said the junior.

“That loss in the semis taught me that I needed to work harder on and off the mat. It also taught me I needed a better mentality when I wrestled if I wanted to come back this year and win the title.”

Ordonez did just that as he pinned Shawn O’Mara, Jr., of Hen Hud to win the Section 1 Division II 132-pound title and earn his trip to Albany.

In the process, Ordonez, who had three pins, made veteran Putnam Valley Coach Will Carano the Section 1 leader with 35 sectional champions.

Along with his title, Ordonez was selected by the coaches as the most outstanding lightweight wrestler.

Carano summed it up in one phrase when discussing Ordonez.

“You get what you earn and Esuar raised his standards as a competitor by putting in the reps,” said Carano, who created the Putnam Valley wrestling program and has been its only varsity coach. “From last year’s tough loss at sectionals, Esuar has been locked in on what he wanted to accomplish this year, and one was to dominate at sectionals. Next, is to get on the podium at Albany.”

Ordonez wasted little time in dictating the match. A quick takedown led to a first-period pin.

“It feels amazing to be a section champ,” Ordonez said. “I’ve been working in day-in day-out for this title since the season started. I’ve aimed for this achievement since I started my varsity wrestling career in eighth grade.

“It just felt so amazing to win and help my amazing coach Carano on breaking the record for the most sectional winners.”

Carano, a sectional champion at Mahopac, started the program with a modified team in 1999. When Putnam Valley High School opened in 2000, the varsity team debuted with seventh- and eighth-graders.

“I convinced the school to let me run a varsity program with seventh- and eighth-graders year one,” Carano said. “In year two we had eighth- and ninth-graders. In 2004, was our first year with a true high school team of ninth- through 12th-graders.”

Carano surpassed legendary Fox Lane Coach Joe Amuso Sr., a member of the Section 1 and New York State wrestling halls of fame. Amuso also has more than 400 wins.

“I have been so lucky in my career to know and watch many great men like Joe Amuso Sr. do his job at such a high level for much longer than me,” Carano said. “I have the deepest respect and admiration for Coach Amuso, Sr., so the record is an incredible honor.”

Alex Pastena established the groundwork as Putnam Valley’s first sectional champion in 2004. Carano cites Pastena’s title as the starting point for the program’s progression into elite status.

“I don’t remember the year, but several years after 2004 is when the program really found its groove, starting with Pastena,” Carano said.

Putnam Valley had another top-three finish with 191 points on 10 placefinishers. Along with Ordonez, other Tigers’ finalists included Nicholas Paonessa (118 pounds), Alexander Gecaj (189) and Jaden Tesher (285).

Paonessa, a freshman and the sixth seed, had an excellent tournament. He upset second-seeded Kevin Panzer of Pawling, 4-2, in overtime.

PLEASANTVILLE’s Luke LaMagna entered the Section 1 Division II Wrestling Championships with a different approach following his 2022 runner-up finish.

“Last year taught me not to get all worked up about it being a final match,” said the senior and captain. “Last year I was anxious going into the finals which led to my poor performance. I just came in thinking of it as a normal match.”

LaMagna’s adjustment made a major difference as he pinned Nanuet’s Patrick Green at 1:43 of the 132-pound final to win his first sectional title.

LaMagna had three first-period pins totalling three minutes and four seconds.

Off the opening whistle, LaMagna secured a takedown in the first 10 seconds. From that point on, he was not going to be denied.

“Winning a sectional title means a lot, especially since it is my first one. It shows how much I have progressed as a wrestler in my high school career. I am excited to see what I can do at the state tournament.”

LaMagna said he plans to speak to assistant coach Len Balducci about what to expect in Albany. Balducci was a four-time sectional champion and four-time state place-finisher.

The Panthers finished in fifth place and had nine top-six finishers. Alex Wish (102 pounds) and Ciaran Egan (110) were runners-up.

HEN HUD junior Kyle Peske was prepared to make it a special day for him and his home crowd.

Peske, who finished fourth in the 2022 Section 1 Division II Championships at 172 pounds, brought the Hen Hud faithful to its feet with a pin of Putnam Valley’s Alexander Gecaj in the 189 final.

“Wrestling in my home gym definitely helped,” Peske said.“Seeing all my friends and family in the stands gave me that extra strength to put on a show.”

Peske also drew inspiration from last year.

“Placing fourth last year was an accomplishment for myself, but I saw all of the winners last season and I knew that was something I wanted to experience,” Peske said. “I worked extremely hard and stayed focused throughout the season and I knew I wanted winning a sectional title was my goal at the end.”

Teammate Mason Dietz will be joining Peske in Albany. The sophomore pinned his way to the 285-pound title.

Peske and Dietz highlighted the 10 Hen Hud place finishers which fueled the Sailors to a fourth-place finish with 187 points.

Shawn O’Mara, Jr., and Giovanni Gioia were also finalists.

Croton had two finalists in Henry Mason (145 pounds) and Frederick Smithwick (160).

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