Highlanders shine in home mat tourney

Hyram Landers

The 18th Annual Highlander Wrestling Invitational featured athletes from nine high schools – Hauppauge  (NYS Section XI), Trevor Day School (NAIS), plus the Carle Place Frogs, Hempstead Tigers, Locust Valley Falcons, Oyster Bay Baymen, Plainview JFK Hawks, and Port Washington Vikings (NYS Section VIII). 

Our hometown lads in blue and gray crowned three tournament champions while placing nine out of 13 entries overall.

There were exciting matches all day, but we tip our Highland tams to the 120-pound weight class and Highlander senior co-captain Andrew Farrell’s bout against Hauppauge’s Nick Kurz. Farrell won by pin, a truly special victory in that he has now become the eighth Herricks wrestler since this high school district was formed back in 1957-58 to reach the coveted century mark in varsity wrestling victories. 

Farrell added two more wins and was 5-0 on the day with three pin victories to take home the gold medal. He now has 59 career pins, and is tied on the Herricks all-time rankings list in fourth place with Anthony Antoniades (2000).

“According to USA Wrestling Magazine there are more than 272,000 high school wrestlers across the United States each year and only between 5 and 10 percent of them ever achieve the century milestone,” coach Cliff Forziat informed us. “Eligibility regulations restrict the number of matches that a student athlete can have during any given season. So to be able to reach this mark you have to be very good early in your career, you have to be consistently good throughout your career,” he said, “and you have to stay healthy. Andrew has accomplished something truly remarkable.”

Senior co-captain Mike Vespe and fellow senior Paul “canis furiosus major” Tantillo shared top honors at 145. 

In his fifth tournament finals appearance of the season Vespe came through with his first gold medal. He had two pins and a technical fall victory while going 4-0 (a fourth opponent surrendered on default during that match). He out-scored his opponents 43-5 giving up five one-point neutrals in order to take his opponents down again. 

“He is beginning to bring a consistently physical brawling style to bear, a good sign as we enter into the playoffs,” Forziat said.

A lot of folks wrote “CF Major” off after the leg injury that he suffered during the football season, but Forziat and his hard-working staff jammed the door of opportunity open for him, and Tantillo worked hard and conscientiously in rehab. He is currently 9-0 with six pins a technical fall, and a major decision victory knocking the door off its hinges.

Meanwhile looks aren’t everything as demonstrated by freshman Anthony “canis furiosus minor” Polo. “CF Minor” finished in second place at 113 in his first varsity tournament finals appearance after a 3-1 day which included a pin victory. We looked up “scrawny” in our dictionary and his picture was included. He is always between six and seven pounds light for his weight class virtually a 106-pounder (but not certified there). This is at least a 6 percent difference in body mass compared to his opponents, especially since by this point of the season most of them have trained down from the upper 120s, but beware of the canis!

Senior Mike Lopez took home silver at 285. “BA Lope” has now placed in all six invitational tournaments, and he has reached the finals in three tournaments so far.

Corey Iuculano (sr-126), Chris Woska (jr-138), and John “CP” Temperino (sr-152) all had third-place finishes in their respective weight classes. Iuculano picked up three more pins and shares the team lead in that category with Farrell at 15. Corey also leads the team in varsity victories with 28.

Temperino has placed in four straight tournaments. Even at 152 (down from 160 and 170) he gives away height. Hey! They may be tall, but we’ve got Compact Power!

Woska placed in his second varsity tournament of the season, third place this time out. Last week in the New Year’s Invitational he was actually tied for second place (also at 138). So far this season he is tied with Jason Liarikos in fifth place on the team with pin victories at 9.

Joe DeVito (jr- 120), Mark Ginter (sr-120), and Krish “Doc” Shethia (so-113) also won matches during the day contributing to the team’s “wins” total. Look out on the Second-Mats. Frosh Josip Vrdoljak had a pin victory and finished in fourth place at 152.

Tomorrow the Highlanders host an open varsity exhibition series, the Ground Hog Festival (a bit early, perhaps, but thoughtful nonetheless). Wrestling action will begin at 10:30 a.m. in the Community Center’s Muller Arena, where family members, friends, and fans will be treated to some outstanding mat competition.

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Hyram Landers

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