Wrestling: Shoreham-Wading River 8th grader places second in state championships

Showing talent and determination well beyond his years, Shoreham-Wading River 8th-grader Gavin Mangano wrestled to second place in the Division II New York State high school championships for the 110-pound weight class on Saturday evening.

Mangano, who was 49-0 this season coming into the finals, was up against the only wrestler who defeated him last year, Darren Florance, a junior hailing from BGAH high school upstate near Binghamton. Florance was the state champion at 102-pounds last year.

“I was definitely nervous to wrestle him,” said Mangano, who had made quick work of every opponent he faced this year. “And it showed in the match.”

This was Mangano’s first experience wrestling in the New York State championships. Last year, he was unable to participate with a wrist injury. He was determined to get revenge for his only loss and win the state title. And in the first three matches of the tournament, he was poised to do just that: Mangano didn’t concede a single point. 

But experience reigned supreme in the final as Florance jumped out to a 6-0 lead in the first two periods of the match.

“He caught me off-guard and put me on my back for 4 points,” Mangano said. “I knew I had to get something going. It was now or never.”

In the third period, Mangano shook off his nervousness and started to put on a show. He escaped Florance’s grasp for 1 point and then proceeded to cut the lead to 7-5. As he closed the gap, the crowd of more than 1,000 spectators rose, cheering on his comeback bid. Just as the momentum seemed to shift, Florance discovered his shoelace became untied and the match was halted by the referee.

“That definitely worked in his favor,” Mangano said. “He was able to catch his breath. I was putting pressure on him and finally becoming more offensive and scoring points.”

An escape by Florance pushed the score to 8-5 before Mangano completed a takedown to make it, 8-7. Mangano was on the brink of securing victory. He attempted a pin in the final seconds but ultimately ran out of time. 

“Down 6-0 most people will just give up in the spotlight in the state championship,” SWR head coach Joe Condon said. “Not this kid. He came roaring back. Got three takedowns in the third period. He just ran out of time. It’s as simple as that.”

“You have to be offensive. You can’t just back up from the kid at the match.”

“I’ve always been a defensive wrestler,” said Mangano, reflecting on the match the next day. “This year I started realizing I can just go straight to my offense. Just took me too long to get to my offense in the finals.”

Mangano has the heart of a champion; second place simply isn’t good enough for him. He was visibly distraught after the match, being so close to winning. But he will be back — he hasn’t even graced the halls of Shoreham-Wading River High School as a student, yet a picture of him winning the county championship already hangs in the trophy case. More titles are sure to follow.

“He’s a standout,” Condon said. “It’s rare for someone at his age to be able to wrestle at the highest level. He’s beyond his years in terms of experience, ability, conditioning and confidence.”