ALBANY - For four area wrestlers, the dream of a state title remains alive.
Reaching that goal will be a tough task as all four will face stiff opposition this weekend at the New York State Public High School Athletic Association Championships at the Times Union Center.
Johnstown's Joe Nellis, Amsterdam's Brandon Lapi and James Marquez, and Dolgeville's Danny Fox all qualified for states by winning their respective weight classes two weeks ago at their sectional tournaments. Lapi and Marquez will extend Amsterdam's streak of sending wrestlers to the state meet to eight straight seasons.
Amsterdam’s James Marquez wrestles Shenendehowa’s Chris Naccarato during the Section II Division I tournament Feb. 10 at Queensbury High School. (The Leader-Herald/Paul Wager)
"It's something for our program to be proud of," Benton said.
For Nellis, a senior, the trip to Albany marks a goal met after he underwent surgery on a torn labrum in his right shoulder in June.
"All last year, all I could think about was getting back and winning sectionals," Nellis said after winning the Section II Division II (small-school) 220-pound title Feb. 10 at Queensbury High School. "It was real tough to miss last season after placing second as a sophomore. It just feels great to win it."
High School Wrestling
What: New York State Public High School Athletic Association wrestling championships
When: Today, Saturday
Where: Times Union Center, Albany
Notes: Wrestling is scheduled to begin today at 10 a.m. The semifinals are scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. on Saturday with the championship finals set for 6 p.m. on Saturday. Both the semifinals and finals will be televised by Time Warner Cable Sports
Like Nellis, Marquez and Fox will be making their first trips to the state tournament.
Marquez, a senior, claimed his spot by winning the Section II Division I (large-school) title at 160 pounds with an 8-2 win over Columbia's Chris Morrissey.
"At the beginning of the year, Jimmy got off to a bit of a rough start with some of the tournaments that we go to, and he really, totally focused,"Amsterdam coach Ken Benton said. "He knew exactly where he wanted to be at the end of the year - he wanted to go to states."
Fox, a sophomore, punched his ticket to the state tourney by winning the Section III Division II title at 106 pounds Feb. 9 at Onondaga Community College's SRC Arena.
"I think it definitely puts a good highlight on the end of the year," Dolgeville coach Jeremy Calkins said. "To finally get someone qualified is big for our program. We've got a lot of talent that could have made it. I think we'll have a couple more qualify next year."
For Lapi, a junior, the trip to the state tournament will be the fourth in as many years for the four-time Section II Division I (large-school) champion.
"This is kind of getting to be old hat for Brandon [Lapi]," Benton said after Lapi claimed the Section II Division I 132-pound title Feb. 10. "He's been here so many times that he's kind of accustomed to it."
All four will face stiff competition in their respective weight classes this weekend.
Nellis, who is 29-1 this season, has the toughest draw of the bunch as he is scheduled to face top-seeded Zack Bacon of Hornell in his first match.
"I think drawing the first seed is the toughest spot to be in," Johnstown coach Joe Morrison said. "But that said, they don't know who Joe Nellis is."
Bacon, a senior, was second last year at 220 pounds and brings a 33-0 record into this weekend's tournament.
"The first match will let him know what he's got to look forward to in tournament," Morrison said. "I think Joe can surprise people and turn some heads. It's not an easy task though, for sure."
The Division II 220-pound bracket includes 11 wrestlers with at least 30 wins, including third-seeded Ryan Walcott of Waverly, who is 34-0 this season. Wolcott and Luke McKee of Peru both reached the state tournament last year but failed to place.
In addition to Bacon, Nellis' half of the bracket includes McKee (33-6), Fredonia's Chris Saden (43-1 overall), General Brown's Corey Gaffney (39-4), Tonawanda's Seven Warthling (37-4) and Holley's Michael Silvis (46-2).
"We've talked about it, and it is what it is," Morrison said. "We're going to make the best of it."
Lapi and Fox will begin their bids for a state title from the No. 2 seed.
Lapi, who placed third as a freshman and fourth as a sophomore, is slated to face Ithaca's Richie Burke in his first match. Burke, a sophomore, won the Section IV title and is 32-3 this season.
Lapi is 45-3 this season after winning his fourth straight Section II Division I title two weeks ago.
"Brandon is absolutely ready," Benton said. "He's in a good spot."
Lapi is 3-1 this season against wrestlers in the bracket with wins over Massena's Landon Laughlin, Hauppauge's Chris Mauriello and North Rockland's Jake DiMarsico. The lone loss came to top-seeded Matt Leshinger of Sayville by a 3-1 decision at the Eastern States Classic in January.
DiMarsico, a senior, is in Lapi's half of the bracket and is 50-6 this season. Also in Lapi's half of the bracket are Fordham Prep's Sam Melikian (37-1 overall), Penfield's Eric Harley (43-8) and West Genesee's Connor Grome (36-7).
Fox, who is 35-2 overall this season, is slated to face Babylon's Dominick Mazzella in his first bout.
"He's seeded very high," Calkins said. "For us, if we get off rolling on our feet, we have a chance of doing well at states."
Mazzella, a sophomore, is 28-3 this season. The Division II 106-pound bracket features 11 wrestlers with at least 30 wins.
"I hope wrestling in such a big arena doesn't affect him," Calkins said. "[Danny] is very calm and level headed about it. I'm sure he'll be a little bit nervous going in to it as everyone will be."
Fox is the first Dolgeville wrestler to reach the state tournament since Dan Haughton in 2008.
"I think for us it will be about putting it all on the mat and doing our best," Calkins said. "If he puts all of his effort in, I think it will be a good weekend."
In Fox's half of the bracket are Adirondack's Ryan O'Rourke (39-3 overall), Highland's Mike Feliciano (30-7), Midlakes' Jason Charlette (39-7) and Odessa-Montour's Joe Rorick (36-1).
Like Fox, Marquez will be making his first state tournament appearance. Marquez won the Section II Division I title at 160 pounds.
"Jim's [Marquez] got the same aspirations as Brandon and he's got ability to do it," Benton said.
Marquez, who is 39-9 on the season, will face second-seeded Steve Schneider of MacArthur. Schneider, the Section VIII champion, is 44-3 this season.
"The Section II practices we've had this week at Shenendehowa have been terrific," Benton said. "I'm very optimistic for this weekend."
In addition to the four wrestlers already in the field, Dolgeville's Noah Handy (99 pounds) and Kasey Foster (182) are alternates for the Division II tournament.
"Noah [Handy] and Kasey [Foster] have been working hard and practicing so they're ready if the one in a million chance of them getting in happens," Calkins said.
Wrestling is scheduled to begin today at 10 a.m. The championship semifinals are set for Saturday at 10 a.m. with the championship finals slated for 6 p.m. on Saturday. Both the semifinals and finals will be televised by Time Warner Cable Sports.