For the first time in school history the Eastport South Manor wrestling team will be sending three of its wrestlers, not two as originally thought, to this weekend’s New York State Division I Championships at the Times Union Center in Albany.
Adam Busiello, a seventh-grader, earned a wild-card bid in the 99-pound weight class, joining senior teammates Travis Passaro (126 pounds) and Jimmy Leach (138 pounds) as state qualifiers.
Leach and Passaro both won their respective county titles, earning automatic bids to the state tournament. Busiello placed third at counties and his only shot at heading upstate was by way of wild card, which is a point-based system that gives second- and third-place wrestlers, in certain sections or counties, the ability to still qualify for states.
Suffolk County wrestlers are awarded a decent amount of points for wild cards, being that it is one of the most competitive counties in the state. But as ESM head coach Nick Garone also explained, Busiello defeated a number of top wrestlers throughout the season, giving him enough points to make the trip upstate as a wild card.
It marks the first time in program history that ESM will be sending three wrestlers to states. Last year, ESM sent Passaro and Johnny Busiello, Adam’s oldest brother, to the upstate tournament, with both taking home third-place finishes.
“At 99 pounds, it’s a little easier to make it as a wild card, because there aren’t so many returning state place-winners at that weight,” Garone said. “To have three guys going to states is a tremendous thing for our program. [Assistant] Coach [Mike] Patrovich did such an incredible job this year with the team, and having him in the room has been unbelievable for us. We’re lucky to have him.
“But Jimmy and Travis and Adam, they definitely put the work in and all the credit goes to them,” he added.
According to the brackets on the New York State Public High School Athletic Association website (www.nysphsaa.org), Passaro will be the top seed at 126 pounds. His first-round match will be against Nick Azen, a senior from Tottenville High School on Staten Island.
Entering this weekend, Passaro is 46-0. If he runs through his bracket, he’d be just the second Long Island wrestler to ever go 50-0 in a season, according to Garone.
“I don’t think [Travis] should have a problem with his first guy,” he said. “Travis, having already competed at the state tournament, taking third last year, he’s beaten everyone there is to beat. I think he has a good shot at peaking at the right time and winning the whole thing.”
Busiello and Leach will have tougher roads to the finals, starting off against Nassau County opponents. Busiello was seeded eighth and will face Wantagh eighth-grader Jonathan Lowe in his first match. Leach was unseeded and will take on MacArthur senior Justin Cooksey in his first-round match.
Garone said it’s imperative that all three of his wrestlers do well in their first matches.
“You win that first match, you go right into the quarterfinals,” he said. “But you can’t look ahead in a tournament that big. If you do you get knocked off.
“So, our guys will have to grind it out for two days,” Garone continued. “I’m concerned with everyone wining their first match. From there I’m confident in the three guys I have going up there.”
Last week all three wrestlers practiced at Sachem East High School, which won the county title this year. Garone said Busiello, Leach and Passaro will all practice hard on Monday and Tuesday, then take things easier on Wednesday and Thur sday before making the trip to Albany.
“When you get up to that state level, a lot of the wrestlers are legitimate,” Garone said. “If our guys wrestle hard and wrestle to their capabilities, we could have three guys in the finals.
“I believe that in my heart and soul,” he continued. “All three of them are tough outs. If somebody upstate has them in the first round, they better watch out. We have to be prepared, but at the same time, myself and Coach Patrovich really feel that whoever wrestles our guys they’re going to be in for a war.”