Clarke fresh off historic season


Clarke wrestling coach Mike Leonard dubbed last year as “a top-five season” historically after his star senior won the school’s first-ever state title after being among four county Division II champions. And the staff believes more success is in store for the program despite moving up to the top division.

Thanks to a growing enrollment, Clarke is now slotted in Conference 4A with Lynbrook, Mineola, Plainedge, Valley Stream South and Wantagh. But the transfer really isn’t much of a difference, according to assistant coach Mike Leonard Jr., since the team had already called Conference 1 home previously.

“We’ve always put our schedule together in which we test our athletes at the level that they’re at,” Leonard Jr. said. “Prior to the last 8-10 years, we were Division 1. So we’re used to that and we structure our schedule around that to get our best competition.”

The early season has so far yielded positive results with a victory over Valley Stream South in Clarke’s first dual match and comfortable fifth-place finish at the Sprig Gardner tournament at Kennedy High School in Bellmore last weekend, with three first-place finishes and seven top-four showings. The Rams’ 202 points were 88 clear of sixth-place Port Washington.

“We have a lot of guys who can do well,” Leonard Jr. said. “We’re looking forward to seeing what those guys can do that have proven themselves at the Division 2 level.”

Justin Soriano has so far lived up to the billing left by state-champion brother Jordan by collecting four pins in a combined time of 5 minutes, 24 seconds. His first three pins were under 30 seconds, including a tournament-best 11 seconds in the quarterfinals.

Soriano, who went 19-1 last year en route to the county title, may not be as concerned about trying to match his brother’s accomplishments as he is trying to be a leader.

“Without his brother being here, he’s really come out of his shell,” Leonard Jr. said. “He’s a lot more vocal as a leader where in the past he’s been a little bit more lead by example. He is the guy who will work the hardest in the room.”

Senior Jack Forte also dominated with three pinfalls and a 17-4 major decision win in the 160-pound final. A week earlier, he defeated teammate Justin Gonzalez in the final of the Battle at the Beach tournament in Long Beach.

The 110-pound final also had a unique matchup with Richard King besting teammate and practice partner Alex Frank by a 9-6 decision. King had a technical fall victory and a 14-7 decision win during his journey to the final, while Frank had two pinfall wins in just over 30 seconds after a first-round bye.

“It was a great match,” Leonard Jr. said.

Gonzalez, a sophomore, had three straight pinfall victories before falling in the 152-pound final in the Sprig Gardner. Hard-working eighth grader William Grassini, another county champ, jumped from the 102 to the 118-pound class and senior Daniel McGrady (160) is flashing potential under the tutelage of Forte.