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Mike Zarif

Wins 138-pound Division II state championship in sudden victory

Mount Sinai 138-pounder Mike Zarif leaps into head coach Matt Armstrong's arms after winning his state championship finals match. Photo from Matt Armstrong

Mike Zarif treated his final appearance on a high school mat like he would any other. He completed his pre-match ritual of splashing cold water on his face and praying before stepping out under the state championship finals lights. He was confident in his abilities, and didn’t need a saving grace.

“I told myself, whatever happens, happens, but I knew I was ready,” the Mount Sinai wrestler said. “All the work I’ve put in was going to pay off.”

Mount Sinai wrestler Mike Zarif stands atop the Division II 138-pound championship podium. Photo from Matt Armstrong

The fifth seed at 138 pounds in Division II, Zarif won his first state title in dazzling sudden victory fashion, 6-4, when he used a Merkle, or a side headlock, to get takedown points against No. 3-seeded Riley Gerber of Camden. The maneuver was completed with seconds left in overtime inside Albany’s Times Union Center Feb. 24. The referee blew the whistle, and after a long pause, raised two fingers up in the air to signal the back points the senior earned, and ultimately, the win.

Realizing he had just become his coaches’ first state champion, he rushed over to Matt Armstrong and Kurt Wagner, embracing them with open arms.

“Mike lost it,” said Armstrong, the head coach. “We were all so excited for him — so incredibly proud — because we know how hard he’s worked and how in the past year alone his skills have really sharpened. New York boasts top-notch wrestling, and his title was well deserved. He went out there like a man possessed, totally focused on winning. He wasn’t just happy enough with making it to the finals, he took it to an extreme at a very competitive weight class.”

The senior has come a long way in a short time. Zarif started on the varsity team as a sophomore, and said back then, he never thought this day would come.

“He went out there like a man possessed, totally focused on winning.”

— Matt Armstrong

“If you told me as a sophomore I was going to be a state champ my senior year, I would’ve laughed and said ‘I wish,’” Zarif said. “It’s something I’ve dreamed of since I started this journey, and this shows that with hard work, you can accomplish anything.”

He said he took wrestling seriously from the moment he joined the team, dedicating himself to the sport by competing in the offseason, heading to extra practices at Ascend Wrestling Club three days a week after team ones, and entered major tournaments against the cream of the crop.

“He put everything out there and proved it’s not when you start, it’s how you finish,” Zarif’s mother Nissy said. “He wrote in his college essay back in September that he was going to win counties and states. I told him, ‘Wait, don’t write that yet. Don’t’ jump the gun.’ But I’m so glad he did because he made his goals and dreams come true.”

The 138-pounder also learned from his mistakes, noticing the bad positions he’d put himself in that led to giving away points or getting pinned. Knowing this, Zarif was able to take advantage of a mistake in a critical point in the state tournament. Down 3-0 in the quarterfinal against Section I’s Jack Wrobel, the Prawling High School athlete grabbed Zarif’s leg while he was riding him on top, and the Mount Sinai senior worked it to his advantage. He cross-faced Wrobel to his back and pinned him with three second left in the second period.

Mount Sinai wrestler Mike Zarif with his Mustangs coaches after winning his state finals match. Photo from Matt Armstrong

“While losing, I looked over at coach Wagner and he told me the kid was getting tired, and to keep shooting,” said Zarif, who wins most matches by a technical fall, scoring 15 more points than his opponents. “That’s exactly what I did. I just stayed calm — knew that no one in the state can go a full six minutes with me — kept pushing the pace and working for my takedowns. No one in my bracket was unbeatable, and my coaches kept telling me this was my title.”

Port Jefferson’s Vin Miceli, the No. 3 seed at 126 pounds, was taken down twice early and pinned in 1:33 by Schuylerville’s Orion Anderson, who won his third straight state title. Division I Rocky Point’s 120-pounder Anthony Sciotto, the No. 1 seed, fell in the finals in a 9-6 decision to No. 6 Zach Redding of Eastport-South Manor. Sciotto’s teammate Corey Connolly lost 10-4 in the semifinals to top-ranked Jacori Teemer of Long Beach, who made history by becoming the first New York wrestler to win five straight state titles. Ward Melville’s Rafael Lievano lost a close bout, 9-6, in the semifinals at 132 pounds to the eventual state champion, and Smithtown West’s Tim Nagosky lost 6-0 in the 285-pound semis to state champion Deonte Wilson from Amityville. Section XI dominated Division I with 245 points and came in fourth in Division II with 158.5.

Zarif completes his wrestling career with Mount Sinai after the team won the county and first state dual meet team title. He becomes the district’s second ever state champion.

“Mike has helped open the doors — he had a chance to show the kids what can happen when you work hard and dedicate yourself,” Armstrong said. “I can’t say enough good things about the kid. He’s someone we can point to in the future. Nothing comes easy, you must work for everything that you get. You have to make sacrifices — that’s been our motto this year and on all our gear — and that’s a kid that’s sacrificed so much. That’s what it takes to be a champion.”

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Mustangs take Division I team title with seven top-two finishers, Port Jeff's Vin Miceli places first

Mount Sinai had four first-place finishers and three second-place grapplers to take him the Suffolk County Division I team title. Photo by Jim Ferchland

By Jim Ferchland

Mount Sinai senior Mike Zarif knows how to get the job done. The 138-pounder surrendered a 3-2 lead midway through the third period, and went into overtime tied at three against Center Moriches’ Donald Wood. As the two scrambled for position late, Zarif countered a Wood takedown attempt and spun behind the Red Devils wrestler for the two points and a 5-3 win. Of seven competing in the finals, four Mount Sinai grapplers came out on top.

“My coach was telling me ‘all heart, all heart’ especially when I was getting tired,” Zarif said. “I was just trying to push the pace and just push myself as much as possible. Being a county champ been my goal since last year. I’ve been working every day for it. Winning this is such a great feeling I’ll always remember.”

Mike Zarif with his county bracket. Photo by Jim Ferchland

Zarif, who picked up his 86th career win, was named the tournament’s Champion of Champions.

The strong showing helped the Mustangs to a first-place Division II finish for the first time in over a decade at the Suffolk County wrestling championships Feb. 11 at Suffolk Community College’s Brentwood campus. Mount Sinai tallied 241 points. Center Moriches, which earned the team title last year, finished second with 222 points.

“We have a really special group of kids,” head coach Matt Armstrong said. “They just worked so hard this year. It really payed off. It’s great when you can have kids excel and do well.”

Freshman Brendan Goodrich fell just short in a 2-1 decision to Bayport-Blue Point’s Joe Sparacio at 99 pounds.

“You know it’s going to be a 2-1 match either way,” Armstrong said of Goodrich’s match. “Unfortunately, Brendan was on the wrong side of it. He’s a young kid. We’ll see him back here for the next couple of years.”

Sophomore 120-pounder Michael O’Brien picked up his 76th career victory with a 5-1 decision over Shoreham-Wading River’s Eddie Troyano, who has a career record of 91-21 as a junior.

Three matches later, Mount Sinai’s Matt Campo (126 pounds) and Joe O’Brien (132 pounds) lost in decisions.

Port Jefferson senior Vin Miceli won the 126-pound title and his 127th career win with a 4-0 decision over Campo who, finish third in the state last year.

Port Jefferson’s Vin Miceli proudly displays his bracket atop the county podium. Photo by Jim Ferchland

“It feels awesome honestly,” Miceli said about being a county champ. “It’s quite an experience to have my hand raised in front of that crowd. All the work I put in — it showed off on the mat.”

The Royals, which fell on the other side with four wrestlers losing their county matches, placed third overall with 210 points. Miceli said it felt bittersweet that he was only finalist to win for Port Jeff.

“My team put in a lot of work as well, but it honestly comes down to the mental game,” he said. “You’ve got to want it. You gotta want every minute in your match. You got to work for every takedown. Every move matters.”

Rick D’Elia was pinned by Shoreham-Wading River’s Connor Pearce in 3:40 at 113 pounds. D’ Elia is 72-21 in his career after the loss. Three matches after Miceli’s win, Port Jeff junior Joe Evangelista took the mat against Mattituck’s Jack Bokina. Evangelista lost in a 12-4 decision. He said he has no excuse for losing.

“I’ve been working for this for a while and it’s not what I planned,” Evangelista said. “I don’t know what happened.”

Mount Sinai junior 182-pounder Mike Sabella and senior 195-pounder Jake Croston both won off early pins against Port Jefferson. Sabella took out Port Jeff’s Chris Lepore in 1 minute, 52 seconds. Croston pinned Harry Cona in just 39 seconds.

The victories come just weeks after the Mustangs took the county and state team titles. The individual winners automatically advance to the state championship Feb. 23 and 24 at Times Union Center in Albany.

“The kids all support each other,” Armstrong said. “They’re a tight-knit group, and the kids that are going upstate are the upper-echelon kids. I think that we are going to represent Suffolk County very well — they truly do have a legitimate chance of placing.”

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Mount Sinai senior Leon Paul improved his record to 24-2 with a 7-0 decision over his Sayville competitor on Jan. 22. The Mustangs outscored the Golden Flashes 62-15 in the final meet of the regular season, to improve to 6-1 in League VI. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

Mount Sinai senior Matt Eisenblaetter tries to escape a hold on his way to pinning his Sayville opponent at 170 pounds on Jan. 22. The Mustangs improved to 6-1 in League VI to end the season in a three-way tie for first place with their 62-15 win over the Golden Flashes. Photo by Bill Landon
Mount Sinai senior Matt Eisenblaetter tries to escape a hold on his way to pinning his Sayville opponent at 170 pounds on Jan. 22. Photo by Bill Landon

The Mount Sinai wrestling team is locked in a three-way tie at the top of League VI after taking down Sayville 62-15 on the road on Jan. 22. As the curtain drew to a close in the final meet of the regular season, Miller Place and Elwood-John Glenn also won their final games, knotting all three teams at 6-1 going into Wednesday’s opening round of playoffs.

Mount Sinai came out fast winning four of the first five matches with standout pinning performances from five grapplers, including senior Matthew Eisenblaetter, who laid out his opponent at the 3:39 mark at 170 pounds, and sophomore Jake Croston, who put an end to his match in the first period at 220. There were also two major decisions, highlighted by eighth-grader Mike O’Brien won his matchup 11-2 at 106 pounds.

Mount Sinai head coach Matt Armstrong said his team has been able to hold its own despite having three eighth-graders and 11 ninth-graders on the roster.

“The younger kids wrestle in a lot of tournaments and I have an eighth-grader Matt Campo who’s an absolute hammer,” he said.

Mount Sinai eighth-grader Matt Campo, who is controlling his opponent, improved his record to 24-1 after pinning his Sayville competitor at 99 pounds on Jan. 22. The Mustangs improved to 6-1 in League VI to end the season in a three-way tie for first place with their 62-15 win over the Golden Flashes. Photo by Bill Landon
Mount Sinai eighth-grader Matt Campo, who is controlling his opponent, improved his record to 24-1 after pinning his Sayville competitor at 99 pounds on Jan. 22. Photo by Bill Landon

At 99 pounds, Campo dropped that hammer on his opponent with a pin early in the second period. Campo was an All-League wrestler last year as a seventh-grader, and with his win, the underclassmen, whom his coach said is the future of Mount Sinai wrestling, improved his record to 24-1.

Co-captain Shane Walker, a senior at 195 pounds, also ended his match by pinning his rival a minute into the second period for his 14th pin of the season, improving his record to 19-1. Classmate Keith Williams pinned his opponent at the 1:37 mark in the 120-pound weight class.

Two-time All-League player and senior co-captain Daniel Henry defeated his foe in a major decision, 11-3, and at 160 pounds, fellow senior Leon Paul took victory with a 7-0 decision in the 145-pound weight class. Mike Zarif, a sophomore, edged his challenger 5-2 at 126 pounds.

Mount Sinai senior Daniel Henry lifts up his 160-pound competitor during his 11-3 major decision on Jan. 22. The Mustangs topped Sayville 62-15 to end the season in a three-way tie for first in League VI. Photo by Bill Landon
Mount Sinai senior Daniel Henry lifts up his 160-pound competitor during his 11-3 major decision on Jan. 22. Photo by Bill Landon

Paul, a two-time All-League wrestler who is now 24-2, said he was somewhat surprised in his matchup, because he expected more from his opponent.

“I was successful in my takedown,” said Paul, adding that he was happy with his overall performance.

Winning by forfeit was Leonel Paul, Leon’s twin brother, at 138 pounds, as did sophomore Robert Christ at 285.

“Sayville did well — they did better than I expected,” Leonel Paul said. “Our team did well, and our heads were in it tonight.”

Armstrong said that the Paul brothers are the hardest workers in the wrestling room, and have won three tournaments this year between them. Leonel Paul added that he’ll go running every day leading up to the start of the playoffs.

Mount Sinai eighth-grader Mike O'Brien maintains control of his opponent on his way to an 11-2 major decision at 106 pounds, against Sayville on Jan. 22. The Mustangs improved to 6-1 in League VI to end the season in a three-way tie for first place with their 62-15 win over the Golden Flashes. Photo by Bill Landon
Mount Sinai eighth-grader Mike O’Brien maintains control of his opponent on his way to an 11-2 major decision at 106 pounds, against Sayville on Jan. 22. Photo by Bill Landon

Also winning by forfeit was Luke Marino, a senior at 182pounds, who talked about what his team will do to prepare for Wednesday’s postseason opener.

“Were just going to be practicing like we’ve done all year” Marino said. “This is a hard working team and I think this is the year that we can do it. We showed that by placing in the top three, which hasn’t been done in 10 years at Mount Sinai.”

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