CROSS RIVER – With much of its team fighting its way back from a stomach bug and only two days to go before one of the biggest tournaments of year, few would have criticized John Jay for taking a cautious approach into Wednesday’s dual meet against visiting Pearl River.
But that’s just not how this Indians’ team is wired.
They trotted out their full lineup and won by a comfortable 45-21 margin, and even that didn’t satisfy the reigning Division 1 champs.
“We just really expect more from ourselves,” senior Ray Cotto said. “We all put in so much work, and it sounds unreasonable, but we expect nothing but perfection from ourselves. None of us are perfect — almost everyone on this team has at least one loss on his or her record — but the goal for this team is perfection. And you’re not going to achieve perfection unless you’re striving for it.”
Thanks to the new power league alignment, John Jay and Pearl River were able to face-off for the first time in recent memory. The matchup also pitted the Division 1 dual meet champs against the winner in Division 2, making it a de facto championship for Section 1.
“There were no easy matches,” Pearl River coach Grier Yorks said. “It was nice that the small school champs met the big school champs. They were better than us, but we gave a good account of ourselves. There’s no question, they can crown themselves as the best team in the section.”
The Indians opened with wins from Julianna Duva (99 pounds) and Chris Cook (106), but the Pirates won the next three matches to take a brief 12-9 lead. Brian Roberts (113) and Dante Simeti (120) were expected to win, but Vlad Sidorenko pulled off the most notable upset of the day at 126 pounds.
The sophomore outlasted Matt Kramer, an All-Section junior, with a 6-5 decision.
“I really didn’t think he was going to beat that kid,” Yorks said. “Kramer is better than him on paper — there’s no doubt about it — but you wrestle on the mat.”
John Jay bounced back with wins from Louie Cree (132) and Cotto (138) and wouldn’t relinquish the lead from there.
The most highly-anticipated match came at 152 pounds, where Princeton-bound senior Conor Melbourne squared off against Pearl River’s super sophomore Jack Chesman. Melbourne prevailed with a 7-2 decision, but he was still critical of his performance.
After reaching the finals of the Eastern States Classic last season, Melbourne wants to be at his best heading into the prestigious tournament this weekend.
“I got an early takedown, but I didn’t wrestle that great of a first period,” he said. “Jack is a really tough kid, though, and I turned it up a little bit in the second period with a nice takedown and some back points. But I’m looking ahead to Eastern States, and I need to wrestle better than I did today.”
The Indians finished with wins from Evan Frank (195), Halil Gecaj (220) and Bim Gecaj (285) to seal Pearl River’s fate.
The Pirates were left holding their breath after 160-pounder Steve Connelly landed awkwardly on his neck and had to be taken away in an ambulance. Thankfully, the injury didn’t sound as bad as it looked.
“He got his back bent over, a hyper-extension,” Yorks said. “The trainer found a really tender spot right on the spine. He’s moving his hands and feet, and most likely he’s fine. It could be where the muscle inserts in that spot. But once you get tenderness in the spine, you don’t take a chance. They made the absolute right call.”