Long Islanders a force for state tourney
Long Island wrestlers have won 31 state championships in the past five years, and that trend is likely to continue in the 2012 tournament, which begins Friday.
In addition to the 15 automatic-qualifying county champions from each county, Suffolk (13) and Nassau (five) have a combined 18 wild-card entrants. St. Anthony's (six) and Kellenberg (two) are the Island's two CHSAA teams with qualifiers.
The first and second rounds will be contested Friday at Albany's Times Union Center, beginning at 10 a.m., with the finals Saturday.
At 132 pounds, Hauppauge's Nick Mauriello (39-2) continues his inspirational comeback story after missing last year's postseason because of a battle with MRSA, a life-threatening bacterial infection spread by blood-to-blood contact, and Lemierre's syndrome, a rare septic infection that can develop from MRSA or the strep virus.
Three-time CHSAA state champion Jamel Hudson (31-1) of St. Anthony's could square off with Mauriello in the semifinals, although Hudson should receive a challenge from Freeport senior Maurice Irby (28-2) in the second round.
At 99 pounds, Wantagh freshman Jose Rodriguez (41-0) is among the state's best. His teammate, junior Dan McDevitt (40-5), is the No. 1 seed at 138 and could be in line to face Longwood's Malik Rasheed (29-6) for the title.
At 285, the Island will look to produce its first heavyweight champion since Wyandanch's Thomas Marrero in 1997; Marrero won the title back when the heavyweight limit was 275. Uniondale's Dante Salkey (36-2) or Smithtown West's Michael Hughes (40-1) could be the one to end the drought.
Hughes' only loss of the season came to Salkey, and there is also the potential of him facing Syosset's wild card entrant Evan Kappatos (41-1) in the second round.
Long Beach has two top seeds, both of whom are undefeated seniors. At 113, Mark Raghunandan (42-0) will look to exorcise the demons of last year, when he blew a two-point lead in the championship round in the final seconds.
At 160, the Marines' three-time county champion, Dylan Palacio (37-0), is one of the state's best wrestlers, regardless of weight, and is hoping to cement his legacy with his first state title.
Kellenberg's Pat Skinner (38-2) has had an outstanding season but has the misfortune of competing in the talent-rich 113-pound weight class. If he makes it to the semis, he would be in line to face Raghunandan.
Plainedge's Dan Spurgeon (46-0) is the top seed at 170, and teammate Andrew Jones (40-3) should be a factor at 182.
Many consider 120 pounds to be the tournament's deepest weight. Suffolk champion Matt Leshinger (39-5) of Sayville is the top seed and will wrestle Roslyn's John Lanzillotti (37-1) in the first round. SWR's TJ Fabian (43-4) and Connetquot's Sean McCabe (37-2) each earned coveted wild-cart slots and could emerge from the fray.