Kwasi Bonsu came out of nowhere to win a county wrestling championship last winter. So far this season, he’s proving that it was no fluke.
The senior is already off to an 8-0 start, including a win at the King of the Mat Tournament in Hewlett on Dec. 10. There, he pinned his first opponent in 30 seconds and had 6-4 and 11-4 decision wins before outlasting Chaminade’s Claudio Pinto 5-1 in the 189-pound final.
Last season, Bonsu went from being a virtual unknown to a 37-1 record heading into the state tournament, where he won two matches in the consolation bracket after losing his opening bout. Now that he’s the huntee instead of the hunter, Baldwin coach Jim Murphy made sure that Bonsu was ready to handle his newfound fame.
“I sat him down and told him that you’ve got a gigantic bullseye on your back and you’re going to get the best out of everybody,” Murphy said. “If you step out there, you’ve got to perform.”
Bonsu is the new face of the team that has plenty of talent and depth. On the same day Bonsu won the King of the Mat with Murphy in his corner, Baldwin’s other split squad took the Paul Grammatico Tournament at Valley Stream South.
“They wrestled really well,” Murphy said. “We had a bunch of the younger classmen really bought in and some of them won the tournaments [and] some of them took second place. But any time you’re in a varsity level tournament, you’re doing well.”
Junior Paul Clement defeated teammate Ari Guerra in the 172-pound final and had a tournament-best four pinfalls in a combined six minutes. Derrick Coolbaugh was victorious in the 285-pound category, freshmen Franz Byron (132) and DeVonte Young (126) were the other second-place finishers, and Matthew Feeney and Jaylen Phillips (285) placed third.
Junior Rodney Mills (215) has also made an impact this season, advancing to the final of the King of the Mat a week after winning the Hank Paris Tournament on Dec. 3 thanks to a pinfall 1:34 into the championship match. He won seven of his first eight bouts overall.
Clement and Guerra’s success thus far is even more notable with 172-pound senior Jayson Rivera missing the first part of the season due to injury. Rivera finished third in last year’s Nassau Division 1 qualifier and also won the 2021 Hank Parris tourney.
“He’s going to be right there for the county title,” Murphy said of Rivera.
Murphy is also expecting strong finishes for brothers John (152) and Jacob Wornian (132). John, another third-place finisher at last year’s Nassau D1 event, was a finalist in the Hank Paris Tournament and finished fourth in the King of the Mat, while Jacob had a pinfall win against Jericho during the Dick Drab Cup tournament.
Murphy said tournament-wise, his Bruins are “easily a top 10 team in the county” and he wouldn’t be surprised to see wrestlers like Bonsu, Phillips, Coolbaugh, Rivera, Mills and John Wornian advancing to the state tournament.