Whoever, whatever awaits Craig Jablonski at the New York State Public High School Athletic Association wrestling championships this week, he’ll be ready.
That’s the sense one gets after talking to the Shoreham-Wading River High School sophomore and his head coach. If nothing else, it sounds as if the preparation and hard work has been there for Jablonski, the Section XI Division II champion at 106 pounds.
“Craig’s really good,” coach Joe Condon said. “He handled pressure really well … He’s wrestled the best kids we can find in New York State, and he’s going to be ready to go.”
Shoreham sent five wrestlers into the sectional finals Feb. 14 at Center Moriches High School, but Jablonski was the only one of them to emerge with a county championship, the first of his young career. A first-period, single-leg takedown of Elwood/John Glenn freshman Anthony Mirando stood up for a 2-1 Jablonski triumph, and with that automatic entry into the state tournament.
In preparation, the Section XI state qualifiers have been training together at Hauppauge High School. Condon said they will leave after Thursday morning’s workout for Albany. The state tournament will be held at Times Union Center Friday and Saturday.
An unofficial bracket has Jablonski (41-4) seeded ninth and paired with No. 8 Ashton Seymour (23-8), a Peru freshman. The winner of that bout will face the tournament favorite, Palmyra-Macedon junior Jace Schafer (50-2).
The battle-tested Jablonski benefitted from a demanding regular season in which Shoreham wrestled against some of the best teams in the county, not to mention the state. (The Wildcats went 27-6 in dual meets this season). Now he has been training alongside the best Section XI has to offer.
Condon said Jablonski is sharpening his wrestling skills against “some of the best kids on Long Island. He may not even see someone as good as these kids [in Albany]. Craig is already focused and in great shape right now. It will just get him better.”
Condon added, “It’s been good. Every day’s a challenge because every partner he has is an elite wrestler in Suffolk County, in Division I or Division II.”
Jablonski, in a phone interview following last Thursday’s practice, said he has never attended the state tournament before, so this spectacle will all be new to him. He did note that he likes wrestling in front of large crowds.
Sixteen wrestlers in each of 15 weight classes for Divisions I and II will be wrestling for state glory.
“I really don’t know any of my opponents that I’ll see up there, but my coaches think I have a chance of placing [in the top six] and that’s my goal,” said Jablonski, who believes he is at the top of his game. “It helps me a lot that Coach believes in me. It boosts my confidence.”
Jablonski, on pace to pick up his 100th career win next season, was brought up to the varsity team as an eighth-grader. He recalled wrestling only a couple of varsity matches that season, saying he was 20 pounds underweight at 99 pounds.
Fast forward to this season, and things went by even faster for Jablonski. “Very fast,” he said. “It flew by … It’s been a fun season, one of the best seasons of my career.”
Condon said his heart sank last week when he learned that Section XI had not received a single Division II wild-card entry into the state tournament. He thought some of his other wrestlers, such as Connor Pearce (a county champion last year), Jake Jablonski (Craig’s older brother), Tristan Petretti, Dylan Blanco and Sean Miller might have a shot at getting through that route. “I wasn’t too happy,” he said. “I texted my kids. My kids really gave it their all. They could easily compete or win upstate.”
Craig Jablonski said, aside from some minor bumps and bruises, he’s feeling fine as he prepares for the tournament.
Condon advises Jablonski to treat it as if it is any other tournament and continue to wrestle the way he has been wrestling.
“I think he’s got a very strong chance to go very high,” Condon said, adding, “Many people don’t know what they’re in for when they wrestle Craig.”
“He’s earned his way there, and he’s going to be ready to go,” the coach continued. “He doesn’t take it for granted. He’s going up there for one thing: to win.”