Raise your hand if you’re sad that wrestling season is over.
I can’t see you, but I’m assuming most of you have your hands up. Sigh.
The wait for next season may feel like an eternity, but that doesn’t mean the conversation needs to stop. Anyone who has followed our #lohudwrestling coverage in recent years knows that I like lists. In that spirit, I’ve decided to do one more top 10 list before we close out the 2016-17 season.
As soon as each season ends, everyone always asks me about the top contenders for the next season. To break it down, I’ve ranked the wrestlers who will return for the 2017-18 season in order of which could contend for state titles. At the very least, I have a strong inkling that these wrestlers — and likely a handful more — will earn All-State honors. Most already have.
To be sure, this isn’t the end of our coverage. I still have a few polls I’ll be asking you all to vote on, as well as our award announcements for both sides of the river. As Pitbull would say, “The party ain’t over.”
Top 10 contenders for 2017-18
1. Grant Cuomo, Brewster — You could make a case for either Cuomo or Fox Lane’s Matt Grippi in this spot. Both will enter their senior campaigns as returning state finalists and state title front-runners. With two-time state champ Ryan Ferro of Warwick graduating, the path appears clear for Cuomo. I wouldn’t be surprised if he ends up at 170 pounds after wrestling at 160 for his junior season, so it’s worth keeping an eye on Ballston Spa’s Tyler Barnes. He’s the reigning champ at 170 and will be a senior next year, but he could also be heading for 182 pounds.
2. Matt Grippi, Fox Lane — Like Cuomo, the wrestler who beat Grippi in the finals – Plainview’s Peter Pappas – is graduating. I would expect Grippi to either stay at 152 pounds or move up to 160, but the lingering question is where will three-time state champ Frankie Gissendanner of Penfield end up? Grippi lost to him by two points in the Eastern States finals, which proved he’s not that far off. But if he ends up in the same weight class as Gissendanner next year, that would certainly complicate things.
3. Halil Gecaj, John Jay — The 220-pounder did not have the state tournament that he envisioned, which was mainly because of a mistake in his first match that made the rest of the weekend an uphill battle. But don’t forget that Gecaj took third at Eastern States and that his weight class was loaded with seniors. Champion Zach Knightonward of Uniondale, as well as the rest of the wrestlers who placed ahead of Gecaj, will all graduate this spring. If he remains at 220, Gecaj will be the guy to beat.
4. Jack Chesman, Pearl River — After taking third in the state as a sophomore, Chesman ensured that he’ll be a name to watch in the next two years. Both wrestlers who placed ahead of him at 145 pounds – Central Valley Academy’s Tanner Cook and South Seneca’s Adam Wagner – are graduating, as well as 152-pound champ Hunter Richard of Holland Patent. A trip to the finals, and perhaps even a title, should be within Chesman’s grasp.
5. Jake Logan, New Rochelle — Another extremely talented sophomore who has been exposed to high-level competition from a young age, Logan is coming off of a fourth place finish at 170 pounds. We’ll see if he remains at that weight or continues to grow, but he’ll be a force no matter where he is. Two names for him to watch are Barnes, the defending champ at 170, and fellow Section 1 standout Grant Cuomo.
6. Chris Perry, Yorktown — It’s hard to believe he’s not even in high school yet, but Perry is already earning respect around the state. He placed at both Eastern States and states, making him arguably the most successful middle-schooler from Section 1 since Somers grad and current Cornell All-American Brian Realbuto. He’ll have the rare opportunity to achieve five-time All-State status. The question is, how much will the 106-pounder grow this offseason?
7. Ivan Garcia, Port Chester — A heartbreaking ultimate-tiebreaker loss in the state semifinals cost Garcia a trip to the finals, but it was a still a memorable year for the freshman. He’s another one of these wrestlers who competed on a national stage from a young age, which allowed him to step right onto the varsity roster and make waves. His future is incredibly bright.
8. Len Balducci, Pleasantville — In his first trip to Albany, Balducci had one of the signature moments for Section 1 with his third period pin of South Jefferson’s Matt Garland in the quarterfinals. Making it to the semifinals and placing fourth gives him something to build on. And with a family history of wrestling success and three more years of eligibility, Balducci is a name to remember.
9. Dennis Robin, Arlington — Along with Perry, Garcia and Balducci, Robin forms a four-headed monster of Section 1 wrestlers who earned All-State honors as freshman (or younger). Like the others, it will be interesting to see how much Robin grows this offseason. If he remains at a lighter weight class, he has the potential to do some real damage.
10. Kyle Sams, Putnam Valley — There were lots of great choices for the final spot on this list – John Jay-East Fishkill’s Tyler Albis, Byram Hills’ Luca Errico, Horace Greeley’s Aaron Wolk and Sams’ teammate Mikey Bruno come to mind – but I’ll give the edge to the soon-to-be senior who should be making his fourth trip to Albany next year. He’s the only one from that group who placed at states this year, and three of the five who placed ahead of him – including champ Dane Heberlein of Alexander – are graduating.