Freshman Wildcat Mangano wins national tourney

Shoreham-Wading River’s Gavin Mangano is flying up the wrestling ranks at an historic pace. Whatever opponent is thrown at the high school freshman, he’s always up for the challenge.

Mangano took part in the National High School Coaches Association wrestling tournament in Virginia Beach from April 5 to 7. More than 800 wrestlers compete in the tournament every year, hailing from almost every state. 

“All the best kids in the country enter this tournament,” SWR head coach Joe Condon said. “There’s kids from all over the country, even as far as Hawaii, California and Arizona. Pennsylvania historically produces some of the top wrestlers in the country and they had a ton of kids there.”

Mangano entered the freshman bracket in the 126-pound weight class after wrestling mostly in the 131- or 133-pound division during the school season, when he won the Division II New York State Championship

“I figured most of these guys were going to cut [weight] so I did as well,” Mangano said. “I was about 136 to 138 before the tournament, so I felt like going down to 126 pounds was a smart choice given the high level of competition.”

More than 80 wrestlers were in Mangano’s weight class, but one stood above them all. Mangano defeated Zachary Murphy of Tennessee by pin in only 47 seconds after leading 5-0 in the first round of the tournament. After a pair of near falls in the opening period against Kai McKinney of Texas, Mangano sealed the deal with a pin early in the second period to start the tournament 2-0. The competition is technically double-elimination, but after a loss, the best a wrestler can place is third.

“He was smooth out there,” Condon said. “Nothing bothered him. He is confident in his technique and he just executes. It’s hard to believe how composed he is considering there’s nobody easy in that tournament.”

But Mangano did make it look easy. He pinned Christopher Greene of Florida in the first 30 seconds to make it to the quarterfinals before defeating Billy Hamilton of Georgia, 10-4, to advance to the semis. 

“I just kept wrestling,” Mangano said. “It’s a long grueling tournament. I was happy with how things were going at that point but you have to stay focused. Anyone can come out and beat you. But I always go into every tournament thinking I could win it.”

As the opponents got tougher, it only elevated Mangano’s game. He put forth perhaps his best performance in the semifinals against Kayden McDonald of West Virginia with a flawless 16-0 effort en route to a technical fall and a spot in the final match.

The championship would feature a match against one of the best talents in the country, Greyson Music of Pennsylvania.

“I watched as much film about him as I could before the match,” Mangano said. “I wanted to see any tendencies or any moves I should look out for. He was the only one I actually spent some time preparing for. I wanted to wrestle my style and stay on the offensive. I wasn’t going to let him dictate the match.”

Mangano recorded a takedown in the first period and another in the second after giving away a point on an escape. Leading 4-1 going into the third period, Mangano earned an escape point in the final minute to win the championship, 5-1.

“It’s an unbelievable feeling,” Mangano said. “It was really similar to how it was winning the state championship this year but on a bigger stage. It was the hardest tournament I have been in during my high school career.”

Although previous SWR wrestlers have won the nationals in Virginia Beach before, none have won it as a freshman — and none have ever won it twice. With three years of high school wrestling left — barring an injury — it’s hard to imagine Mangano doesn’t set a new standard.

“I really want to be considered one of the greatest from New York,” Mangano said, after rescheduling an initial interview to make time for more wrestling practice. “You can’t not put the work in and expect to be the best. Even if that means wrestling the day after winning a huge tournament.”