It is where some dreams are made and others are crushed.
The so-called “blood round” in the New York State Public High School Athletic Association wrestling championships is the consolation quarterfinals. While the winner of that bout is assured of at least sixth place and a place on the podium with a medal and all-state status, the loser receives condolences.
Winners at that stage can be exuberant, hugging their coaches and gesturing wildly to fans in the stands, as was seen Saturday at Times Union Center in Albany. Walking back into the bowels of the arena, out of sight of the spectators, one may find some of the losers of those “blood round” contests, crying inconsolably over having come so far, only to fall short of their goals.
“It’s brutal,” Shoreham-Wading River coach Joe Condon said. “It’s an unforgiving sport.”
The demands of wrestling are mental as well as physical. Losing a quarterfinal or a semifinal can be devastating, but a wrestler must be able to shake off the disappointment relatively quickly to get into the proper frame of mind to compete in the consolation rounds.
“Everyone wrestling in the wrestlebacks and the blood rounds, they all want it really bad,” said Shoreham senior Jack Taddeo, who battled his way back from disappointment to claim fourth place at 145 pounds in Division I. “They’re all really talented kids, and honestly, it just comes down to who wants it more, and it’s a mentality.”
Taddeo’s teammate, fellow senior Kevin Meloni, apparently had the right mentality as well, pulling himself up to win a fifth-place match at 106 pounds.
“I thought positive to myself,” Meloni said. “I’m saying, ‘I’m winning this.’ ”
Taddeo will graduate with a 192-24 record for his five-year career at Shoreham. Meloni takes over 130 career wins from four seasons with him. Condon called them “some of the best we ever had.”
Following Friday’s full day of wrestling on the first day of the tournament, both Taddeo and Meloni ran for about 90 minutes to make weight the next day.
“They really do everything right,” Condon said. “You don’t always get the ultimate reward, but those guys really did a great job.”
ON TO THE SEMIFINALS
Advance to the semifinals.
That is the mission for wrestlers on Day 1 of the NYSPHSAA Championships. It’s much easier said than done.
Six of the seven Mattituck/Greenport/Southold wrestlers in the tournament reached the Division II quarterfinals on Friday, and two of the Tuckers, junior Tanner Zagarino and sophomore Jack Bokina, advanced to Saturday’s semifinals. It was the first time the Tuckers have landed two semifinalists in the state tournament.
Zagarino conserved energy, wrestling for only 48 seconds in his two bouts on Friday. In his first-round match at 195 pounds, Zagarino wasted no time in pinning Gouverneur’s Kyle Elliot in 25 seconds. He needed two seconds less in the quarterfinals, making quick work of Nanuet’s Connor Breit with another pin.
“It wasn’t easy, but I didn’t think I would get through it as fast as I did,” said Zagarino, who called the wrestlers in the tournament “the best of the best.”
Zagarino was beaten soundly in his semifinal by Sandy Creek’s Joe Benedict, 8-0, but pinned both of his opponents in the consolation rounds to salvage third place. All four of his wins came on pins.
TWO MATS, TWO BOKINAS
The state tournament is an eight-ring, er, eight-mat circus, with bouts going on simultaneously. Two Tuckers — and twin brothers, at that — found themselves wrestling their quarterfinals at the same time on adjoining mats, albeit with different results. Jack Bokina, a sophomore making his third appearance in the state tournament, scored a 3-1 decision over Maple Grove’s A.J. Putt at 113 pounds. That landed him a place in the semifinals against Wayne’s Matt Caccamise.
“No slouches here,” said Bokina, who went on to take fourth in the state for the second straight year. “Everyone’s good.”
Meanwhile, his brother Luke Bokina wasn’t as fortunate, dropping an 8-3 quarterfinal loss to Schuylerville’s Orion Anderson at 106.
Other Tuckers lost quarterfinals in a variety of ways, but perhaps none was more heartbreaking than James Hoeg’s crushing defeat to Alden’s Lyle Grant at 170 pounds. The bout was a reminder that every second counts in wrestling. Hoeg was leading, 4-3, before a takedown by Grant with three seconds left brought the senior a 5-4 triumph. Afterward, Hoeg, the No. 2 seed, looked disconsolate.
“He’s winning for 5 minutes and 57 seconds, and he lost,” Mattituck coach Cory Dolson said. He added: “That one’s going to hurt. It’s going to sting for a while, but you got to have a short memory here because he’s going to wrestle in about an hour [in a consolation round]. He’s got to be ready to go.”
Hoeg was ready. He recovered to finish fourth.
BY THE RECORDS
Mattituck sent seven wrestlers to the state tournament and all but one of them managed at least one win. Here are their tournament records: Tanner Zagarino (4-1), James Hoeg (4-2), Jack Bokina (3-2), Charles Zaloom (2-2), Luke Bokina (1-2), Tim Schmidt (1-2) and Chris Schwamborn (0-2).
Shoreham’s Jack Taddeo and Kevin Meloni both went 4-2.
“Every single match is a hard match,” Zagarino said. “… There’s people who are the No. 1 seeds who are losing in the first round to an unseeded kid, so you never know.”
Photo caption: Shoreham-Wading River senior Kevin Meloni said a positive mindset helped him secure a fifth-place finish in Division I at 106 pounds. (Credit: Paul Wager)