Kings of the mat: Trio of Wildcat wrestlers earn spots in state championships

Three Shoreham-Wading River wrestlers earned the top spot on the podium in the Section XI Division II county championships at Mattituck High School Saturday afternoon, punching their tickets to the state finals later this month. 

The star of the mat was 8th-grader Gavin Mangano. The 110-pound Mangano hardly broke a sweat in the championships as he made quick work of his semi-final and final opponents. Boasting a 44-0 record for the season, Mangano pinned Matthew Tucci of Bayport-Blue Point in 30 seconds and then earned the county crown with a pin of Port Jefferson’s Chase Davis in just one minute’s time. Mangano slammed Davis down immediately after the starting whistle and never lost position as he fought to get the pin. Moments later, Davis’ shoulders hit the mat and the referee slammed his hand earning SWR its first Suffolk County crown of the day.

“I’ve wrestled some of these guys before so I knew what to expect,” Mangano said. “Just wanted to put my best on display today.” 

Some athletes have certain superstitions to help them get focused before a big event, but not Mangano. He just concentrates of winning, although did eat something different ahead of Saturday’s tournament.

“Churros,” Mangano said. “I had them right before the match.”

Whether it’s the sweet treats or simply just his talent, Mangano has only lost once in his high school career. Mangano wasn’t able to compete in the state championships last year because of a wrist injury, but this year, he’s healthy and looking to make his mark. SWR head coach Joe Condon said Mangano was also underweight throughout last season.

“He’s finally, actually 110 pounds,” Condon said. “Being healthy and actually packing on some weight will do wonders for him in the states. The kid is a very polished and very experienced wrestler. He’s the real deal.”

While it may be hard to fathom that an 8th-grader could be considered “experienced,” Mangano wrestles in various competitions all over the country. 

“He’s wrestled the national circuit,” Condon said. “He’s a Super 32 finalist, which is a nation-wide tournament, and only lost by 1 point to the state champion in Pennsylvania. He’s ready for the moment and has always done well no matter where he’s wrestled.”

Condon is confident Mangano will have continued success at the state competition. 

“He’s going to be a handful,” Condon said. “Nobody has been even close to him this year and he’s wrestled elite guys. He’s just beaten everybody.”

Mangano’s teammate Chris Colon was watching from the side of the mat as he prepared for his 118-pound finals matchup immediately following Mangano’s. 

“I had no time to warm up,” Colon said. “Gavin beat his guy so quickly I had to get in the right mindset fast.”

There may have been some nerves for Colon after he suffered a concussion in the county finals last year, leaving him unable to wrestle in the states. He fell behind early in Saturday’s match against Chris Boccard of John Glenn with the first period ending 2-0. 

“Being down 2-0 to me is nothing,” Colon said. “That’s just like I’m winning in my head. It’s a takedown away from being tied.”

That takedown was already brewing in Colon’s mind at the start of the second period. He was able to earn a point right away by escaping the grasp of Boccard. What followed brought every spectator in the gym to their feet. Colon picked Boccard up and emphatically slammed him on the mat. His supperior technique then took over and he got the pin with 40 seconds left on the clock to secure victory.

Colon’s performance earned him the Rick Herrmann Most Outstanding Wrestler award. It’s something to add to his trophy case as he prepares for the state championships. 

“If he didn’t get injured last year I feel like he would’ve gone far in states,” Condon said. “The kid just drills everything. He’s a technician. He’s absolutely surgical with his wrestling. I’m so proud of him. I’m glad he finally got his county title.”

Rounding out the SWR winners was 152-pound senior Joe Steimel. He was the only current Wildcat wrestler to have won the county championship last year. After wrestling at 145-pounds, Steimel decided to move up a weight class this year.

“I’m more comfortable at this weight,” Steimel said. “I can actually eat.”

Weight cuts are often gruesome for wrestlers. Steimel said he could get down to 145 again but after discussing with his coaches, decided 152 was going to make more sense. He didn’t miss a beat on Saturday. 

The senior pinned Port Jefferson’s Liam Rogers in 1:16 to win his second consecutive county crown. He was already up 4-0 on two takedowns before the pin. Steimel simply dominated.

“I was pretty confident going into the match,” Steimel said. “I just kept telling myself ‘I have to win this’ and tried to attack him immediately.”

For his efforts, Steimel was awarded the Jack Mohoney Champion of Champions award. His eyes now are set on the state championships.

“I went 0-2 last year,” Steimel said. “The experience was all new to me. This year I will know how it’s going to be and be prepared. I want to place this year.”

Also earning a shot at the state crown was Tommy Palumbo at 138-pounds. He fought a very close match but ended up securing second place.

“All my wrestlers are in phenomenal shape and they can wrestle for a whole hour if they had to,” Condon said. “All of them are great friends. A tight knit group. The coaching staff and the kids worked really hard to get us here. It’s really icing on top of the cake to get these victories.” 

The state championships will take place Feb. 24 and 25 in Albany.