The wrestling room at John Jay Middle School has been bustling all week with more than 40 of the best that the Lower Hudson Valley has to offer. In the midst of this organized chaos, there’s been one sparring match that seems to draw more attention than the rest.
As they have for the past decade, Fox Lane junior Matt Grippi and Brewster junior Grant Cuomo have been getting after each other with an intensity that’s palpable.
“I was thinking about that the other day, just the fact that Matt and I have been training together for 10 years,” Cuomo said after practice on Monday. “The fact that we’re both around the same weight and the same caliber, it’s made both of us that much better. I’m a big reason why he’s where he is today, and he’s a big reason why I’m where I’m at.”
The two became friendly as young pups at Iowa Style Wrestling Club in Somers, developing a strong bond over the course of many practices and tournaments.
They share first-place medals from many of those tournaments, and now they’re both heading to Albany with a chance to duplicate the feat on the biggest stage yet.
“Everything is falling into place,” Grippi said. “This is the year. I can feel it.”
Grippi and Cuomo, along with Edgemont senior Cliffton Wang, represent the local wrestlers most likely to bring home state titles. You could call them Section 1’s “Big Three.”
From right, Edgemont’s Clifton Wang was defeated by Hilton’s Louie Deprez in the semifinals of the 182-pound weight class during the Eastern States Classic Wrestling Tournament at Sullivan Community College in Loch Sheldrake, N.Y. Jan. 14, 2017. (Photo: Frank Becerra Jr./The Journal News)
Grippi will enter this weekend’s NYSPHSAA championships as the No. 1 seed at 152 pounds in Division 1 and Wang is the top seed at 182 pounds in Division 2. Cuomo is No. 2 at 160 pounds in Division 1, behind defending state champ Ryan Ferro of Warwick. But the recent history between Cuomo and Ferro offers some hope that Cuomo could pull off the upset.
They met in the finals of the Shoreline Invitational on Jan. 7, with Cuomo coming out on fire to take a 4-0 lead in the first period. A costly mistake led to a pin from Ferro in the second period, but Cuomo believes that won’t happen again.
“Looking back at that match and looking at the film, it’s pretty clear that I was dominating,” said Cuomo, who went on to win the prestigious Eastern States Classic the following weekend while Ferro sat out due to injury. “I just made one mistake and the match was over. But I’m very confident right now, which is the biggest part of the match — knowing you can win.”
Cuomo may be viewed as a slight underdog, but Grippi and Wang are being labeled as favorites.
Grippi, a state finalist last year, already has a 5-2 decision this season over second-seeded David Miele-Estrella of North Babylon, but is 1-4 in his career against fourth-seeded Evan Barczak of Monroe-Woodbury. The good news is that the most recent match was the one that went in Grippi’s favor at the 2015 Carlucci Dual Meet Tournament.
This will be Wang’s fourth appearance in the state tournament — he took third at 170 pounds last year — and he picked up a 7-5 overtime decision against second-seeded Doug Simmons of Canastota at Eastern States.
“It doesn’t change anything,” Wang said. “I’m just going to keep going, regardless of the seed. I know a lot of people who have had that No. 1 seed, and their mindset changed. But I’m just trying to keep calm and have fun. I feel great.”
Section 1 sent four wrestlers into last year’s state finals, but none were able to capture a title.
Brewster’s Grant Cuomo wrestles Warwick’s Ryan Ferro in the 160-pound weight class in the championship round of the New Rochelle Shoreline Wrestling Tournament at New Rochelle High School Jan. 7, 2017. Ferro won the match. (Photo: Frank Becerra Jr./The Journal News)
As the final part of our states preview, here are the next 10 local wrestlers who I believe can place highly, or even win the whole thing. (Seed, weight and division listed in parentheses.)
Satoshi Abe, Putnam Valley (No. 8 at 126 in D2) — The Lehigh-bound senior has gotten tripped up in his previous two trips to Albany, but he’s considered one of Section 1’s most polished. He’ll likely see top seed Jonathan Gomez of Locust Valley in the quarterfinals, who won Eastern States last month.
Kyle Davis, Beacon (No. 4 at 195 in D1) — This weight class looks wide open considering top seed Sam Schuyler of Kings Park did not place last year and wasn’t at Eastern States, where Davis took fifth. Two seed Greg Hodulick of Islip took third at Eastern States, where he beat Davis with a 7-2 decision.
Randy Earl, John Jay-EF (No. 4 at 126 in D1) — The senior seems to be in a good spot after placing fifth at 120 pounds last year. He lost to top seed Justin Vines of Wantagh in the Eastern States semis, a 5-3 overtime decision, and will be itching for a shot at revenge.
Evan Frank, John Jay (No. 4 at 182 in D1) — The Colombia-bound senior got a really tough draw, especially considering he took third at this weight last year. He’s lined up to see two-time champ Louie Deprez of Hilton in the semis.
Ivan Garcia, Port Chester (No. 2 at 99 in D1) — The freshman phenom wrestled the closest match of anyone against top seed Brandon Nunez of John Browne at Eastern States, a 5-3 loss in the quarterfinals. That’s a clear sign that he’s not far off from contending for the title.
Bim Gecaj, John Jay (No. 4 at 285 in D1) — Top seed William Bolia of Fairport is the only wrestler at this weight who has previously placed at states, taking sixth at 220 last year. He beat Gecaj with a 5-0 decision on Jan. 7 and we could see a rematch in the semis.
Halil Gecaj, John Jay (No. 4 at 220 in D1) — The junior is my sleeper pick and finds himself on the favorable side of the bracket. He’s lined up to wrestle top seed Ryan Ellefsen of Goshen in the semis, whom he beat with a 5-0 decision to take third at Eastern States. On the other side, No. 2 Terron Robinson of Walt Whitman is a defending champ and No. 3 Damien Caffrey of John Glenn beat Gecaj with a 6-2 decision in the Eastern States semis.
Anthony Malfitano, Pearl River (No. 7 at 170 in D2) — The senior has the tendency to finish strong and is one of only three returning D2 wrestlers who placed at states last year. He’s lined up to wrestle No. 2 Sean Mosca of Carle Place-Wheatley in the quarters, whom he has yet to wrestle. That could work to Malfitano’s advantage.
Chris Perry, Yorktown (No. 4 at 106 in D1) — The only middle-school champ from Section 1 burst on the scene by placing third at 99 pounds at Eastern States. Top seed Matt Griffin, whom Perry is lined up to wrestle in the semis, was third at states last year at 99 and seventh at 106 at this year’s Eastern States. They’ve yet to wrestle.
Jordan Wallace, New Rochelle (No. 2 at 170 in D1) — The Huguenots’ all-time wins leader has a great chance of getting to the finals. Winning it all will be difficult, though, considering he lost to top seed Tyler Barnes of Ballston Spa with a 12-5 decision in the Eastern States finals. Also look out for Wallace’s teammate Jake Logan at this weight.