Wantagh added to its rich wrestling history when the Warriors took home the inaugural New York State Division I dual meet championship in dramatic fashion.
Trailing by seven points to Minisink Valley, the Warriors gutted out a 37-28 victory at Onondaga Community College on Jan. 27 aided by two standout wrestlers bumping up in weight classes to achieve clutch pins. James Langan moved from competing at 182 pounds during the tournament to 195, while Jonathan Loew went from 195 to 220. Despite the weight difference, longtime head coach Paul Gillespie said he felt confident that both Langan and Loew could utilize their athletic talents to record key points when it mattered most.
“They both had pins and what is what won the tournament for us,” Gillespie said. “It was terrific to watch.”
Senior Justin Vines, the defending county champion at 126, was also reshuffled in the state finals going down to 132 to post a 5-3 win against Connor Greiner after winning three bouts at 138 earlier in the day. Wantagh also achieved victories from Aidan Araoz (113), Charles Maier (120), Joseph Conklin (152), Ben Rogers (99) and Josiah Encarnacion (106.)
“When one kid let down the others picked it up,” Gillespie said. “That’s what a championship team is all about.”
Gillespie said it was fitting for Wantagh to garner the state’s first dual meet championship after making similar history 55 years ago. Wantagh’s Pete Henning became the first-ever individual state champion at 99 pounds during the inaugural New York State championships held in 1963.
“We’re the first state champions in to era,” Gillespie said. “It’s wonderful.”
The comeback win in Syracuse moved Wantagh to a perfect 31-0 on the dual meet season. The perfect mark included a similar rally in the Nassau County dual meet championships on Jan. 20 when the Warriors defeated Massapequa by the same 37-28 score after trailing by six with five matches left. Wantagh grabbed the lead for good when sophomore Matt Rogers won a 16-3 major decision against top-seeded John Casamassina.
“He really stepped up,” said Gillespie of the Rogers win that gave Wantagh a 29-28 lead. “He’s the real deal and he’s only a 10th-grader.”
With the dual meet season now in the rear view mirror, Wantagh now turns its focus to capturing a team title at the individual Nassau County championships at Hofstra this weekend. The Warriors edged Long Beach by 15.5 points last year and won the event six of the last seven years.
Wantagh set the stage for a strong Hofstra showing by shining at the Nassau County individual qualifiers at North Shore High School on Saturday with 18 wrestlers qualifying for the championships by placing in the top four of their weight classes. Nine Warriors came home with individual titles: Ryan Alesius (285), Josiah Encarnacion (106), Araoz (113), Maier (120), Vines (132), Conklin (160), Rogers (170), Langan (182) and Loew (195.)
The individual county championships are set for Saturday and Sunday at Hofstra’s Mack Sports Complex. The New York State Championships take place Feb. 23-24 at the Times-Union Center in Albany.