State wrestling: Seniors get their final chance
There is not much left for Brandon Lapi, Joey Butler and Levi Ashley to accomplish in their high school wrestling careers.
That trio of seniors heads the contingent of Section II athletes who will begin competition this morning in the state championships at the Times-Union Center in Albany.
Lapi, like Ashley and Schalmont’s Nick Gallo in the Division II tourney, is a returning finalist. A repeat performance is not the goal of the five-time Section II champion, who has placed in the top four the last three years and takes 260 career wins into his final state tournament.
“It would mean everything to me to win a state tournament, and go out that way with coach [Ken] Benton,” said Lapi, the No. 1 seed in his 138-pound weight class.
Benton is retiring after this tournament, but his final wish would be to see Lapi become his second state champ.
“He’s been on a mission,” Benton said. “His whole dedication was to just become the best he could. He’s a five-time [Section II] champ on the cusp of being a state champion.”
Benton cites Lapi’s inner drive for the Buffalo-bound wrestler’s success.
“He’s very critical of himself. He pushes himself,” Benton said. “When we go hunting, he’s got to be in the right spot. He needs to be successul fishing the same way. I can never beat him. He’s very intense in everything he does.”
Butler is making a third trip to the state event, placing third last year.
“I want to finish with a state championship,” said Butler, who also plays on the football and baseball teams. “I’ve been there enough now that nothing should surprise me. I’ve found out that there’s very little between winning and losing. You have to want it.”
Butler is seeded fourth in his 145-pound bracket, with two-time finalist Vincent Deprez of Hilton at the top of the chart. He has split two meetings with third seed Tommy Dutton of Rocky Point this season.
He is joined at the event by teammate and workout partner Jake Ashcraft, the third seed at 170.
Ashley has put together a 36-0 record, and goes in as the top seed at 195 one year after reaching the final at the same weight. He has beaten second-seeded Reggie Williams twice this season, and owns wins over No. 5 seed Trent Egenlaug of Spencerport and seventh-seeded James Empfield of Lancaster.
Shenendehowa has two others competing in 152-pounder Jesse Porter and 138-pounder Kevin Parker.
Colonie has four in the event after they won titles in the Section II finals. Golan Cohen placed last year, but is in one of the deepest weight classes (113) in the DI tourney.
Austin DiCerbo is the No. 6 seed at 285, Wayne Burt is at 220 and Isaiah Cooks is in the 182 brackets.
“They’re ready,” said Colonie coach Jeremy Egelston. “Golen and Austin, we figured from the beginning of the year would be here, along with Wayne, once we decided to go 220.”
Gallo, the starting quarterback on Schalmont’s state finalist football team, goes into his third DII tournament.
“I’m not feeling any pressure,” said the junior who is seeded third at 182. “I’m not the top seed, or the second seed. They’re the ones who have everyone chasing them.”
Schalmont has two others in the event in seniors Tim Flower (195) and second-seeded 285 Marcus Ramundo. Flower has a tough draw, starting out with the top seed.
Duanesburg has three wrestlers competing in what was to be veteran coach Joe Bena’s final weekend. Bena suffered a stroke last week, but could be released from rehabilitation in time for some or part of the tournament, though his presence would likely be more inspirational.
Senior 145 Andy Mollevik wishes Bena could be in his corner.
“I always wrestle better when he’s there,” said Mollevik, one of three Section II wrestlers in his bracket. “It’s just something that’s always worked for me, his being there. It’s kind of a comfort zone.”
The Lawrence brothers, junior Connor (160) and seventh-grader Zach (99) are also wrestling this weekend.
Galway junior Steven Culbert is also entered at 145, his first trip to the event.
“I’ve been in big national tournaments, so I’ve wrestled some good kids before,” he said. “I’d like to place, then come back next year and do better.”
Culbert’s former teammate, Jay Oakes, is also in the 145 field, representing Peru of Section VII.
The tournament opens this morning at 10, with the quarterfinals set for 2 p.m. The semifinals go at 10 Saturday morning, with the consolation finals at 2 and the 30 championship bouts set for 6:30.