South Side's two-time county wrestling champion Kyle Mosher eyes state title in senior campaign

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Kyle Mosher entered South Side High School’s side doors on Monday slightly out of breath after a six-lap pre-practice run around the track. As he headed into the auxiliary gymnasium, he passed banners hanging above a trophy case that displays Rockville Centre’s best wrestlers — win leaders, champions, qualifiers and all-stars.

Mosher’s name is everywhere.

The 17- year-old senior became the first wrestler in anyone’s memory to join the South Side team as a seventh-grader, and placed sixth in the county that year. He claimed the county 99-pound title the next year, and earned his second one last February as a junior, at 145.

Placing in the top five in New York in each of the last four seasons, he has lost tough matches in the semifinals. But this time around, he said, he is more confident than ever about attaining his chief goal — winning a state championship in February.

“I feel this year that I’m able to not let the pressure go to my head and just wrestle to my best ability,” Mosher said. “I have a feeling that it’s going to be a good year, and I’m just excited for the post-season.”

He impressed at the Walsh Jesuit Ironman in Ohio, one of the toughest and most prestigious high school wrestling tournaments in the nation, placing third in the 160-pound weight class. After the competition, which wrapped up on Dec. 8, Flo Wrestling ranked him fifth in the country among high school wrestlers.

He returned home for South Side’s Frank Giampaolo Cyclone Tournament last Saturday, which featured wrestlers from 15 schools around Long Island. He won each of his four matches by technical falls in the first period to claim his sixth tournament championship.

“He’s a step above everybody in Nassau County right now,” said South Side wrestling coach Mike Robinson.

A family of wrestlers

Alongside Mosher’s name on the banner outside the auxiliary gym are those of his uncles, Greg and Bud Linkner.

Greg won 86 percent of his matches, finishing with a 102-16 record before graduating from South Side in 1985. Bud, who started on the team as an eighth-grader, graduated in ’83, racking up 106 wins while falling to opponents just 24 times.

Early in his senior season, Mosher’s high school record stands at 210-35, according to his father, Don, who also wrestled at South Side.

“There’s little evidence of our existence anymore with this guy putting his name everywhere,” Bud Linkner told the Herald, laughing.

“They held all the records,” Mosher’s grandfather, Bill Linkner, said of his sons, “until he showed up.” A wrestling coach at Valley Stream South from 1964 to 1976, Bill recalled realizing that his grandson was destined for great things on the mat while watching him win tournaments as a fifth- and sixth-grader.

Bill, who now lives in South Carolina, watched the Ironman tournament earlier this month on his computer, and said it was an indication of what Mosher can accomplish this season. Mosher defeated Dominic Mata, of New Jersey, and Thayne Lawrence, of Pennsylvania, who were ranked No. 4 and No. 6 in the nation, respectively, before the tournament.

“If it’s a pin, or if it goes the distance — he never quits,” Bill Linkner said of his grandson. “He goes full-speed, and if he’s behind, he never lets up. He goes right to the end.

“He always thinks he has a chance to win, and that’s the way he wrestles,” he continued, noting the confidence and sportsmanship Mosher exudes in every match. “He’s very aggressive.”

Mike Davey, South Side’s wrestling coach from 1972 to 2007, still volunteers at practices, and noted that Kyle’s flexibility sets him apart. When on the mat, he can reach back and grab an opponent’s head, and make it look easy, Davey noted.

He recalled coaching Greg and Bud during his 35-year tenure. Mosher’s older brother, Craig, also wrestled at Kellenberg Memorial High School.

“It’s passed on from generation to generation,” Davey said.

‘A sense on the mat’

“He’s got the lineage, the experience, he’s been there time and time again and been so close that I think this year, all the pressure’s off,” Robinson said. “I think he’s just going to go in there, have fun and win the state title.”

Robinson, the wrestling coach at South Side since 2010, recalled first seeing Mosher wrestle in sixth grade. Knowing he would dominate middle-school competition, he helped persuade the school district to allow Mosher to join his squad the following year.

Since then, he has grown and developed into an elite wrestler. Robinson, who coached renowned mixed martial artist Chris Weidman in wrestling at Baldwin High School until he graduated in 2001, said he was lucky to get a second athlete of Weidman’s caliber. He noted that though Weidman’s strength was unparalleled, Mosher is the most technically skilled wrestler he’s ever coached.

“He just has a sense on the mat,” Robinson said. “He knows every position where he’s at, and he can wrestle through every situation.”

At Monday’s practice, Mosher worked on moves with senior teammate Connor Alfano before showing the younger wrestlers how to do a ninja roll and swim move to turn the tables on an opponent.

Alfano, who grew up with Mosher — the two attended Floyd B. Watson Elementary School together — said he goes up against him every day in practice, and that his “insane” wrestling ability makes him the perfect training partner. “Iron sharpens iron,” Alfano said. “That’s what Coach always says.”

His goal is to take Mosher down by the end of the season, but his versatility makes it a daunting task, Alfano said. “I’ll wrestle him eight times in one day, and he’ll pin me with eight different moves,” he said. “He’s got a whole arsenal.”

Getting over the hump

At the end of his sophomore season, Mosher discovered he had torn his labrum in his left shoulder. He couldn’t wrestle for six months. “I was dying to get back on the mat,” he recalled.

He returned with an urge to improve his wrestling by training harder and mixing in more advanced moves. Despite winning his second county championship in four years as a junior and placing 5th in the state tournament, “I felt like I still wasn’t completely back,” Mosher said. “…Now, I feel like I’m 100 percent back and I’m feeling better than ever.”

Set to attend Columbia University in Manhattan next fall, he realizes this is his last chance at a high school state title, and Robinson said he believes Mosher’s focus on getting ready for collegiate wrestling over the next year will propel him to achieve that.

This year, Mosher said, he is concentrated most on winning close matches and improving his focus in the semifinals of the state championship in February, which he fully expects to reach.

“A lot of kids that win all the time, then they lose, they can’t take that; they can’t figure it out,” Robinson said. “He gets it. He understands.”

Still unsure whether he wants to wrestle at 160 pounds, or in the 154-weight class, Mosher said he’ll be ready either way. His family of wrestlers will be watching.

“Pressure doesn’t bother him,” Bud said, noting Kyle’s recent performances against top wrestlers in the country. “… He goes right out after them.”

Editor's note: The print version of this story incorrectly stated that Kyle Mosher and Connor Alfano attended Francis F. Wilson Elementary School together. We regret the error.