Southampton senior Rafal Rokosz solidified his legacy as one of the best wrestlers to ever wear a Mariners singlet by placing fourth in the 220-pound weight class at the New York State Division II Wrestling Championships at the Times Union Center in Albany over the weekend.
By taking fourth, Rokosz equaled the best ever finish for a Southampton wrestler at states, tying Julius Anglickas’s fourth-place finish as a senior in 2009.
While finishing in the top four was certainly a significant achievement, Rokosz and Southampton head coach Lester Ware admitted to conflicted emotions at the end of two intense days of wrestling that marked the end of Rokosz’s high school career. The Duke-bound senior was seeded second in the bracket and had his sights set on winning the state title, but that dream fell apart in heartbreaking fashion after Rokosz’s first-round match with Jake Benedict of Sandy Creek (Section III-Central New York). Rokosz was winning, 7-2, with just 1:13 left when Benedict stormed back and then scored a takedown with just two seconds left to tie the match at 8-8 and force overtime. In the extra session, Benedict took Rokosz down again to win.
Benedict went on to finish second overall, losing to top seed Ryan Wolcott of Waverly (Section IV-Southern Tier), 3-1, in the championship bout. Rokosz was left only a few hours to absorb the loss before he had to get back out on the mat in the wrestleback round. Rokosz redeemed himself with three straight wins, pinning Jacob Beckwith of Gouverneur (Section X-St. Lawrence Area) in 4:40 before pinning Tyler Hall of East Aurora (Section VI-Western New York) in 1:29. He guaranteed himself a top-six finish and thus All-State status after that with a 6-1 win over Christian Shepherd of Geneva (Section V-Genesee Valley), and made his way into the consolation final after his scheduled opponent for that match, Logan Kunkle of Ravena Coey Selkirk (Section II-Capital District) did not wrestle because of an injury.
In the consolation final, Rokosz took on Garrett Duvall of Sherburne-Earlville (Section III-Central New York), getting pinned in 3:53 in what had been a close match until that point. Rokosz was leading 2-1 going into the final period, and he chose the bottom position to start the third. Halfway through the final period, Rokosz got turned for back points, putting Duvall in the lead. In a flurry of action after that, Rokosz put Duvall to his back twice, but each time, Duvall was quickly able to roll out and subsequently get on Rokosz on his back. The second time, Duvall finished off the pin.
After the match, Ware explained that Rokosz didn’t “T off” when he got Duvall on his back, meaning he did not put his body in the right position—making a T with his body and Duvall’s—to keep control of Duvall.
“If you’re parallel, you can get rolled,” Ware said. “If you T off, you don’t get rolled. Nobody is here by accident; everybody is good, and they will make you pay dearly for your little mistakes.”
Rokosz had a taste of that fact in the first round match, which he admitted was tough to get over, but he proved his resiliency by making his way back to the consolation final.
“My mindset after the first match was sort of destroyed,” Rokosz said. “I should have been more focused. But by the time I got back out there, I was feeling that it was time to get down to business. My goal was obviously to get first, but I just shifted my goal to the next thing I could do.”
Ware referred to the opening round loss as “heartbreaking” but commended Rokosz for rebounding with the string of wins in the wrestlebacks.
“I said to him, ‘there’s no time for crying,’” Ware said. “I told him, ‘it’s time to put on your get-down-to-business face and come back and make this a trip that’s worthwhile,’ and he really did that.”
Ware went on to say that he was very disappointed in the officiating in that match, particularly because the referee tagged Rokosz with stalling points in the latter stages.
“It changed the tempo of the match,” Ware said of the stalling calls. “When you’re ahead by that many points, you shouldn’t be aggressive; you should be making the other guy come to you.”
And while Ware and Rokosz admitted to conflicted feelings after the final loss to Duvall, Ware did say that both Rokosz’s legacy at Southampton and his future are secure. Rokosz will be a Division I collegiate wrestler for Duke, an impressive feat considering he had never set foot in a wrestling room until his sophomore year in high school.
“I told him, ‘hey, it was a great career,’” Ware said. “He’s disappointed and I’m disappointed. It’s incredible how far he came. I should be happy, but it’s very unsatisfying.
“He’ll be an NCAA All-American and better than that,” Ware continued. “He’s got more stuff coming up.”