The Eastport South Manor wrestling team will send its largest contingent of wrestlers in program history to the Suffolk County Division I Championships at Hofstra University this weekend after eight Sharks qualified at the League V Championships at ESM on Saturday. The previous best for the Sharks was seven wrestlers at counties two years ago, according to head coach Nick Garone.
Jimmy Leach (138 pounds), Travis Passaro (126) and Joe Zarcone (285), all seniors, became league champions on Saturday, with Passaro taking the prestigous Most Outstanding Wrestler title. Adam Busiello (99), a seventh-grader, sophomore Nicky Garone (132) and senior Dylan Kane (152) all placed second, while sophomore Alex German (195) and freshman Matt Defrancis (220) both placed fourth.
Even though it’s the most the team will be sending to counties, Coach Garone was a little disappointed he couldn’t get more there.
“I really thought we could get 10 guys there,” he said. “It’s disappointing, more so for the kids who work so hard all year, who work out and wrestle every day to get to the counties, so it’s tough to not see some kids make it.
“But ever year, we want a shot at winning the county title, and we do this year, so I’m happy about that,” he added.
For winning their respective weight classes at leagues, Leach, Passaro and Zarcone were all awarded seeds at this weekend’s counties. Leach and Passaro, who were ranked number one for most of the season, will remain the top seeds this weekend, while Zarcone will be seeded fourth.
Coach Garone said it’s been an “unbelievable transformation” for Zarcone, from the beginning of the season until now. Things didn’t really start to take shape for Zarcone until the league season started at the beginning of January. He wound up finishing the season undefeated and now has a good shot at placing in the county.
In the finals, Zarcone faced Chris Ohlenschlaeger of Harborfields, who, at one point this season, was ranked in the county. Zarcone won a close contest, 3-1.
“It wasn’t a far-fetched idea that he could win a league championship,” Coach Garone said of Zarcone. “He had already beaten everyone in the league. But he did come into the tournament with a target on his back, because some people thought that he had maybe gotten lucky during the dual meet season. He stayed strong though and I’m so proud of him.”
Leach and Passaro had arguably the two most dominating performances. Leach pinned all three of his opponents before meeting up with Rocky Point’s James Matias in the finals. Matias is a former league champion, but Leach had beat him twice already this season, and did so on Saturday in a 5-3 decision.
Passaro won his two matches before the finals by technical fall before facing Huntington’s Corey Jamison in the championships. Jamison, a former county champion, decided to forfeit his dual meet match against Passaro earlier this season, fueling Passaro to want to face Jamison even more. Passaro went on to defeat Jamison 5-1 for the league title.
“He’s looked so good this year,” Coach Garone said of Passaro. “God willing, everything goes according to plan, he stays healthy, he’s got a tremendous shot at winning a state title. And Jimmy is another guy who I look forward to seeing winning a county title and possibly more.”
Coach Garone was “heart-broken” for the three wrestlers that took second place—Busiello, Kane and Nicky Garone, his nephew. Busiello has shown that he can wrestle with the best in the county this season, but he got caught in a bad position against Huntington’s Kyle Mock, the top seed in the county, and wound up getting pinned 22 seconds into the second period.
Nicky Garone faced off against Islip’s Brad Wade, who is ranked second in the county. Garone scored a takedown with 10 seconds remaining in the second period, then he took Wade down again with 10 seconds remaining in the third period to force overtime. But he made one mistake in overtime that cost him the match and lost, 7-5.
“I really thought he was going to get him at the end,” Coach Garone said of his nephew. “But it was an incredible opportunity to show everyone that he belongs with the top guys in his weight class. He’s right in the conversation with everyone else.”
Kane hasn’t wrestled much this season because of various ailments, but he turned some heads in the semifinals when he threw Bellport’s Phil Gray to the mat in the first round and pinned him in 1:07. Then Kane had a 7-2 lead over Huntington’s Joseph Puca in the finals, before getting pinned with 32 seconds to go in the match.
“He’s athletic, strong, explosive, he’s got all the attributes to beat anyone,” Coach Garone said of Kane. “He’s got a really good spot at counties, and if he could just get to the semifinals, he could be right in the mix to beat anyone out there. I’m excited for him.”
It’s been a somewhat trying year for both German and Defrancis, who have lost their share of matches. But as Coach Garone explained, the league championships are where wrestlers can make up for lost time, and German and Defrancis did that by placing fourth and qualifying for counties.
“They both have a lot of upside, and getting that experience of being in the county championship, I know they’re going to come back even hungrier than ever,” Coach Garone said.
ESM, as a team, placed fifth with 149 points. Rocky Point won the league championship with 224 points, 36.5 points ahead of second-place Islip. But Coach Garone said he gets his wrestlers focused more on a county title every season than a league title.
“The teams that win their league tournaments do so because they qualify about 15 wrestlers, but then those wrestlers don’t really do anything at counties,” he explained. “But we have about four to five wrestlers who could be county champions, or at least be finalists, so we have a good shot to do well at counties.”