Back in April, Lester Ware was given the reins to the New York Greco-Roman Junior Division Team at the Asics/Vaughan Freestyle and Greco-Roman Nationals at the Fargo Dome in North Dakota and he didn’t disappoint.
While the East End wrestlers who entered the largest wrestling tournament in North America were unable to medal, Ware, who coaches the varsity wrestling team at Southampton High School, and runs Personal Best Gym in Bridgehampton, has gotten New York State wrestling back in the limelight. New York finished fourth out of 46 competing states, missing third by a point, and brought home three national champions and three other All-Americans.
Burke Paddock of Warsaw, William Koll of Lansing and Ronaldo Rodriguez-Spencer of Cheektowaga all returned to their upstate homes as national champions. But Southampton wrestlers Rafal Rokosz, Peter Strassfield, Jack O’Brien, Mitchell Pena and Chris Osufsen all competed in the tournament, as did East Hampton’s Axel Alanis.
According to Ware, Strassfield did the best of the East End wrestlers. He went 2-2 but was in position to do even better. After losing to a wrestler he had beaten at a tournament earlier this year, Strassfield pinned his next two opponents. He was then leading, 5-0, in his next match before getting caught and pinned.
Other Southampton wrestlers, such as Rokosz, Pena and Osufsen, did well but just had tough matchups. Rokosz faced an All-American in his first match of the tournament. Pena and Osufsen were both leading matches before losing them by technical fall.
“A lot of the kids could feel their matches slipping away from them, and instead of staying strategic, they made unforced errors, which is big going against some of the top wrestlers in the country,” Ware said.
Ware, who was also named the New York State Developmental Coach of the Year, was asked to be the coach for the entire state program, not just Greco-Roman but Freestyle as well. Ware said it’s been a pleasure, especially working with his former Olympic coach Joe DeMeo, who was previously the coach of the state team.
“It was really a blast,” he said. “It’s kind of like a passing of the baton, since [DeMeo] had been asking me to come on board for a long time. It was a cool experience.
“As far as the finish goes, to have three national champs is very successful and I would like to see New York continue to improve to what it was and I think it’s getting there.”
Ware said his commitment to the state team took him away from running his East End fitness center. He wanted to thank his wife, Helen Samuels, and Julius Anglickas for taking care of things while he was away.