Had James Szymanski competed in nearly any other county last year, his season would have ended in Albany, competing at the state championships at Times Union Center. He likely would have stood on the podium, an all-state wrestler.
But even for a superb wrestler like Szymanski, a Shoreham-Wading River High School senior who recently signed with the University of North Carolina, navigating through the Section XI Tournament can prove hazardous. Szymanski’s third-place finish in the county tournament last year left him at the mercy of an at-large bid to the state tournament. And even with a 47-3 record, that bid never came.
Over the course of the season, Szymanski defeated four of the top five wrestlers who were all-state in his weight class. His loss in the semifinals of the county tournament came against the wrestler who finished second in the state.
Now nine months later, after an All-American finish during nationals last spring, Szymanski returns with a renewed focus for the Wildcats. With 149 career wins, Szymanski has the potential to finish third or fourth in program history by season’s end.
“He’s just a tenacious worker,” said Shoreham coach Joe Condon. “He can wrestle in all positions. He’s got great strength, speed. He’s the whole package.”
He wrestled at 120 last year and will bump up two weights to 132 this year, Condon said. That should leave him out of the weight class of Ward Melville senior Nick Piccininni, a three-time defending state champion who hasn’t lost since eighth grade. Piccininni is currently slated to wrestle 126.
Szymanski and Piccininni wrestled the same weight last year.
Szymanski will lead another deep Shoreham team, which is coming off a tremendous all-around season last year. The Wildcats posted a 26-1 dual meet record and had four all-county wrestlers, the most since 2007.
The Wildcats lost six key seniors from last year’s team, most of whom accumulated more than 30 wins on the year, Condon said.
The wrestlers coming up from the JV are poised to fill those spots, some of whom could have started on varsity last year. Some of the wrestlers even got a few wins on varsity last year during tournaments, Condon said.
Aside from Szymanski, the Wildcats have three other wrestlers poised to make a run at all-county this year.
Junior Jack Taddeo, a two-time defending league champion, will bump up two weights to 145. He’s ranked second in the county in that weight, according to Long Island Wrestling Association’s preseason rankings.
Taddeo is five wins away from the 100 milestone, Condon said.
Chris and Kevin Meloni both appear in the preseason rankings as well. Chris, a senior, will wrestle 120 this year, Condon said. He should reach the 100-win milestone this year as well; he has 85. Kevin, a junior, was the league champion at 99 last year and will stay in that weight this year, Condon said.
The Wildcats have gotten off to a bit of a slow start this year because many of their wrestlers in the upper weights were coming off football season. The football team won the Long Island Championship Nov. 30, nearly two weeks after the winter season began.
Will Loper (160), Christian Clarkin (170), Dalten Stalzer (182), James Logan (195), Nick Serdock (220), Brendan Frances (220) and Bobby Puckey (285) are among the football players who will now wrestle.
Condon said the Wildcats were able to push back their non-league match against Bellport that was originally scheduled for Dec. 10. None of the football players would have been able to compete, so that match will now be Jan. 24.
At the some of the middle weights, James Wood is a returning starter who will wrestle 138 and Ray Lopez returns at 152. Jack Del Duca returns at 113, up one weight from last year. John Carl Petretti is a promising young wrestler at 126. He was fourth last year in the league as a freshman at 113.
The Wildcats will now open the season Saturday at a tournament at Walt Whitman High School. They’ll still be without the football players. The league dual-meet season begins Wednesday at home against Amityville.
The biggest dual meet of the season will come Jan. 14 against John Glenn, the defending league champion.