Rafal Rokosz made the Southampton High School wrestling program proud over the weekend, earning All-American status by finishing sixth in the junior division 220-pound weight class (Greco-Roman style) at the Asics/Vaughn Nationals at the Fargo Dome in Fargo, North Dakota.
Rokosz, who will be a senior in the fall, was one of 46 competitors in the weight class, and only the top eight earn All-American honors. He became the first Southampton wrestler to achieve that feat since current varsity coach Lester Ware became an All-American in 1976.
Rokosz wrestled a total of seven matches, going 5-2. The highlight was his win over Matthew Olauson of Maryland, whom he pinned to solidify All-American honors. The match was tied at 7-7 with 34 seconds left, when Rokosz pulled off what Ware called “a big-time move” that led to the pin.
“It’s the kind of move that a kid and coach dreams about in a big match,” Ware said, describing it as a “step-around body lock” that threw Olauson’s feet to the air. Rokosz also had two other wins by pin as well as a victory by technical fall. He also received a bye in one match.
Ware said he couldn’t be prouder of Rokosz, who he said has worked hard to turn himself into a top-notch wrestler. “It’s an unbelievable accomplishment when you consider he never stepped on a mat before 19 months ago,” he said.
Rokosz made the trip to Fargo with another Mariner, teammate Peter Strassfield, who will be a junior next year. Strassfield competed in the 285-pound cadet (16 and under) division and, like Rokosz, competed in both Greco-Roman and freestyle. In the freestyle division, Strassfield fell just short of All-American honors, losing his match to Georgia state champion George Humphreys with a pin. Strassfield had pinned Humphreys in Greco-Roman, and in the freestyle match, Strassfield was leading 7-1 before getting pinned. Ware described the loss as “heartbreaking,” but pointed out that Strassfield has another year to work toward getting back to nationals.
Until then, both Rokosz and Strassfield will continue what has been a busy offseason. Ware said both wrestlers have religiously attended the Tuesday and Thursday open mat sessions at the school, and have worked on increasing their strength. According to Ware, Rokosz has gone from 195 to 212 pounds. Strassfield has undergone a physical transformation as well since joining the wrestling team.
“It’s a testimony to their dedication,” Ware said of both wrestlers’ ability to go to nationals and perform well. Ware added that former Southampton standout Julius Anglickas has been working with Rokosz and Strassfield in the offseason as well. Rokosz said that Anglickas has been an inspiration for him, pointing out that they have a connection because of their shared eastern European heritage. Anglickas is from Lithuania, while Rokosz was born in the U.S. but his parents are from Poland.
Rokosz said he didn’t even want to attend nationals initially, because he thought he “wasn’t good enough.” He said after the experience he had, however, he won’t be doubting himself anymore.
“It helped me look at things in a different perspective,” he said. “It showed me that if I keep working hard, there’s nothing I can’t achieve.”