Suffolk County rivals may have written off Miller Place wrestling after the Panthers graduated several key competitors last season, but the boys came back to make a statement: they’re only getting better.
After going 21-2 this season, the team won the League VI dual meet title for the second straight season, with a 7-0 record, and took it a step further this season — winning the League VI team championship for the first time in school history.
“We did a lot of work in the offseason,” Miller Place head coach Matt Kaszubski said. “We went a full year, 12 months, 52 weeks of wrestling. I don’t think a lot of people expected us to be as good as we are, but we knew we were. We knew we were going to be competitive this year, but the kids exceeded our expectations.”
The Panthers, who also served as the host team, were in third place heading into the quarterfinals of the League VI championship, but in the semifinals, the grapplers caught fire. Ten Panthers went through to the finals, with eight getting bonus points and five claiming the top spot. Miller Place, at 241. 5 points, pulled ahead of Islip (230.5) and Elwood-John Glenn (205).
“Our biggest thing was wrestling for each other,” the head coach said. “We preach hard work and the kids really bought in, they committed on the mat, they committed in the weight room, running on their own, we went to camps, and it all came together this season.”
Redemption was on the minds of James Alamia and Joe Bartolotto III, who each placed second in last season’s championship.
“I definitely didn’t want to go out second,” Bartolotto said. “I wanted to end on a good note and get the title my senior year.”
“Good” may be an understatement for the tournament’s Most Outstanding Wrestler, who pinned his quarterfinal and semifinal opponents.
“They were pretty quick,” he said. “I just wanted to get those out of the way and focus on the big one — the finals.”
The 160-pounder said he knew it was going to be a good matchup because he’d wrestled his challenger in the dual meet season. He said he prepared for the matchup all week, and it paid off. He won by a 5-1 decision.
Kaszubski said he always knows he can count on his senior standout and team leader in pins.
“He’s one of the best athletes we’ve ever had — he’s a total package kind of kid,” he said of his player, who’s headed to Cornell University to play lacrosse. “His commitment to wrestling has been second to none.”
At 120 pounds, Alamia won all three of his matches by pins. He had a different experience last season. He said he was disappointed in his finals loss after he’d outscored his opponent earlier that season.
“Ever since last year ended we said, ‘starting now, next season starts,’ and we just never stopped working.”
“The motivation and the will to win helped me,” he said of his finals match, where he was up by 12 points before getting the pin. “Not that the pins were easy, but most of the kids I’d wrestled before and I did a lot better this time around. Ever since last year ended we said, ‘starting now, next season starts,’ and we just never stopped working.”
At 138 pounds, Eric Schreck also had a pin, taking down his first opponent in 1 minute, 40 seconds before a 15-0 technical fall and 11-3 major decision in the finals.
“I had a good day,” he said. “There were tough kids, but I do whatever it takes to win.
I take ‘em down quick in the first and stay on top, try to turn as much as I can.”
The head coach said the handful of disappointments last season fueled the fire for his grapplers to come back strong.
“It was a blessing in disguise having them fall a little short last year,” he said. “They were hungrier than ever, and we have a lot of prolific pinners. We preach putting guys on their back and getting pins and getting bonus points. That’s something that we work on ever day.”
Kyle Klein Jr. also took home a title at 99 pounds, as did James Rado at 126 pounds.
Bartolotto and his teammates agreed that although placing first was the icing on the cake, winning the team title was what mattered most.
“Winning the Most Outstanding Wrestler title felt good as recognition for working hard, but winning the team championship felt better because this was the last team thing we can do this season,” he said. “We’ve been doing things that people didn’t think we’d be able to do.”