When Long Beach wrestler Jacori Teemer won his first New York State Division I championship in eighth grade, he declared that his goal was to win four more.
Teemer’s words and actions coalesced last Saturday, when he became the first Long Island wrestler to capture five state titles and only the second competitor in state history to do so. He managed four takedowns of Matt Grippi, of Fox Lane High School in Bedford, and won 8-2 to claim the 152-pound crown at the state tournament at Times Union Center in Albany.
Teemer entered the tourney as the No. 1 seed. In the first two rounds, he pinned his opponents in 38 and 34 seconds, and he won 10-4 in the semifinals. Despite an injured knee and shoulder, he went on a 32-0 run this season, and finished his high school career with a 202-5 record.
“It’s so surreal that I did it, and my high school career is finally over,” he said.
Teemer joins Troy Nickerson as the only five-time state champions. Nickerson wrestled for Chenango Forks High School, in Binghamton, and won his fifth crown in 2005 before going on to become a four-time All-American at Cornell.
Known for his speed and power, Teemer focused this season on improving his technique and going full throttle offensively to take his wrestling to new heights. “I got conservative with my offense, and my coaches just told me all the time, ‘Open up, open up,’” he said. “And the last two years, I think I’ve been very offensive, and that just made me a whole better wrestler.”
At the Nassau County finals in early February, Teemer joined Syosset’s Vito Arujau as Nassau’s only five-time champs. Teemer is also a three-time national champion, and he won bronze at the Cadet World Championship in Greece last September. He will vie for a fourth national title at the Virginia Beach Nationals March 23-24.
Last year, Teemer surpassed Al Palacio’s record for most state titles by a Long Beach wrestler. Palacio made four trips to the state tournament and won three titles from 1980 to 1982 while wrestling under Hall of Fame coach Paul Gillespie, and went on to become a two-time NCAA Division I All-American at North Carolina.
“We’ve had a lot of great guys who have gone on to do a lot of great things, but I think as far as high school careers go, Jacori’s has been unparalleled,” said Ray Adams, who has coached the Long Beach squad for the past 21 years.
Teemer joined the varsity in eighth grade, and won the 99-pound county title, pinning seventh-grader Adam Busiello, of Eastport-South Manor. Busiello, now a junior, has since won four straight state titles, and has committed to wrestle for Penn State. He could become the next five-time state champion next season.
As a freshman, Teemer won the 106-pound title, defeating Jake Silverstein, of Hauppauge, now a nationally ranked wrestler who has signed with Nebraska. Teemer was an undefeated sophomore when he wrested the 126-pound title from defending state champion John Arceri, of Huntington. Last season he was crowned the 132-pound champ after beating Mike Benosa, of Victor High School, near Rochester. Benosa now wrestles at Cornell. Next year, Teemer will compete at Arizona State University.
“Every year Jacori’s beaten high-level wrestlers,” Adams said. “It’s been pretty amazing. He started at 99 pounds, and I just think he’s gotten exponentially better every year.”
Rodriguez snatches elusive title
Teemer shared the stage last weekend with teammate Elijah Rodriguez. The Long Beach senior had just pinned Halil Gecaj, of John Jay, High in Cross River, to claim his first individual state championship, when he looked at his father in the crowd, he said, and knew he had just wiped away all the previous seasons that had ended in injuries or disappointment.
“It was a sensation I’ll never forget,” Rodriguez said of winning the 220-pound title. “Years and years of hard work had finally paid off, and I saw the look in my father’s eyes, and it was one of those feelings, like, ‘We did it.’ He’s been with me every step of my journey.”
At 222 pounds, Gecaj had about a 20-pound advantage over Rodriguez, and Rodriguez knew from the outset that his opponent was a force. But Rodriguez was also confident that he would give him a competitive match. The bout went back and forth, and Rodriguez was up 5-4 before he suddenly caught Gecaj on his back and pinned him at 5:16.
“It was a very exhausting match, and I was giving up a lot of weight,” Rodriguez said. “His size was definitely a big challenge.”
Rodriguez won his first county title last season in the 195-pound bracket, and headed to the states with a 38-0 record. Two days before the tournament, however, he broke his ankle running sprints, and the severe pain sidelined him after he won his first match.
Rodriguez joined the varsity team as a seventh-grader and wrestled at 99 and 106 pounds. The following season, he moved up to 126 pounds but broke his leg, and a broken finger ended his freshman season. In his sophomore year, he was upset at the counties and didn’t earn enough points to make the states.
“I’ve always had setbacks, and this year there were no excuses, and luckily I was able to make it happen,” said Rodriguez, who ended the season with a 45-4 record. He and Jonathan Loew, of Wantagh, were the season’s top wrestlers at 195 pounds, but Loew defeated him twice. Adams decided that Rodriguez had a better chance to win county and state matches in the 220-pound bracket, despite his weight disadvantage. Rodriguez, whose weight hovers around 202, was also about 20 pounds lighter than Kennedy’s Boaz Smart, but beat him 8-3 to win his second consecutive county title last month.
Adams said that Rodriguez’s attributes are his attack, his slickness and his ability to compete with heavier wrestlers, and called his state title the icing on his high school career. “He’s been wrestling since he was a little kid, so this is the pinnacle of all those years of hard work,” Adams added. “I’m very happy for him and his family. They all put a lot of time into it.”