James Szymanski spent the nearly two weeks in between the Section XI Championships and the state tournament last year training with all the wrestlers competing for Suffolk County.
During that time, Szymanski, then a junior for Shoreham-Wading River, had no idea whether he’d actually get to wrestle in the state tournament. As the fifth wild-card recipient, Szymanski was an alternate despite a stellar record. When it came time for wrestling, Szymanski was left on the sideline and could only watch as wrestlers he defeated during the season went on to take second, third, fourth and fifth place in the state tournament.
This year, Szymanski will finally get his chance to show the state what he can do. After a second-place finish Sunday in the county tournament at 132 pounds, Szymanski was one of three Wildcats to receive an at-large bid to the state tournament in Albany Feb. 27-28.
“He’s very excited, very motivated,” said Shoreham coach Joe Condon.
Szymanski will be joined by teammates Kevin Meloni and Jack Taddeo. Meloni, a junior, was third-place finisher at 99 pounds in the county tournament. Taddeo, a senior, was a runner-up at 145, losing in the county finals to Thomas Dutton of Rocky Point, Suffolk County’s all-time leader in wins.
It’ll be the first time at states for all three wrestlers.
Condon was hoping to get four wrestlers upstate, but senior Chris Meloni didn’t make the cut. He was a second-place finisher in the county tournament at 126 after losing to three-time defending state champion Nick Piccininni of Ward Melville.
“Chris Meloni would have done some damage up there,” Condon said.
Szymanski will have his hands full at 132. Defending state champion Vito Arujau of Syosset wrestles the same weight as does Da Mani Burns of Newburgh Free Academy, a returning all-state wrestler. Not to mention Jesse Dellavecchia of East Islip, who defeated Szymanski in Sunday’s county final. Dellavecchia placed second in the state last year.
“He’s right up there with most of them,” Condon said.
Szymanski has a 41-4 record this season. Kevin Meloni is 42-6 and Taddeo is 43-3.
Section XI received a total of 21 wild card entrants for the state tournament. Three more are alternates. John Glenn and Hauppauge were the only other Section XI schools to get three wild cards.
To prepare for the upcoming tournament, the Section XI wrestlers are training together at Hauppauge High School. The Eagles won the team title at the county meet.
Riverhead will send one wrestler to the state meet, county champion Ed Matyka at 120.