“It was a good weekend,” said North Shore wrestling coach Mike Emmert with a slight chuckle.
The Vikings entered 16 wrestlers in the county qualifiers last weekend, most of them underclassmen. In fact, one of the only truly consistent contributors for the Vikings that will be graduating from the program is University of Oklahoma commit Antonio George, who took second at the qualifier.
“We are really a super young team, and we expected to qualify anywhere between seven and, ideally, ten,” said Emmert. “We ended up getting seven in with an eighth as a possible wildcard.” 182-pound sophomore Leo Ponce finished sixth at his weight class and has a possibility to wrestle at the county championships this weekend.
Emmert lauded his other seven wrestlers for their effort in qualifying outright. Those wrestlers include 99-pound sophomore Matt O’Donnell (placed fifth), 113-pound freshman Nolan Ford (placed fifth), 120-pound senior Antonio George, 120-pound junior Phil D’Amico, 126-pound sophomore Jackson Aquino, 160-pound sophomore Mark Russo and 170-pound sophomore Andrew Nowack.
“You know, they worked extremely hard and we’re proud of them,” Emmert said. “To continue wrestling, sometimes six matches a day, that’s not an easy thing to do.”
Despite not having any first-place finishers at the qualifiers, Emmert says that one of his wrestlers is confident that he can be a county champion. George, who lost to Wantagh’s 120-pound Josiah Encarnacion in the qualifying finals by a 10-9 score, believes that the next time the two meet, the result could be very different, according to his coach.
“Against Josiah, wrestlers tend to hold back and try to not make too many mistakes where they can be put in bad positions,” Emmert said. “Antonio had Josiah up in the air for a takedown when the final whistle blew. He walked off the mat happy, though, he wasn’t upset. He looked at me and said ‘I can beat him.’”
Emmert believes him. Over the past few years, the coach has seen George progress mightily. “Antonio’s ability is bar none the best to ever come through the North Shore wrestling room,” Emmert said. “From a technical wrestling standpoint, if you asked every coach in their wrestling room in the county, I think they’d say the same. He’s had some bad luck in years past.”
George has had issues with injuries in years past, especially during the county championships. But this year, Emmert says George is healthy heading into the county meet and is confident in his abilities for a county title.
“He is happy, he is focused and he is very positive right now,” Emmert said. “He believes in his mind that he will beat Josiah or whoever he faces in counties. He also believes he will win states.”
Emmert is preparing his team this week to wrestle at the county championships with confidence, intent and toughness. In fact, this will be the last week of preparation for Emmert on the maroon mats in North Shore’s wrestling room. This, in fact, has been Emmert’s last season. After 22 years of coaching at the small Glen Head school, he is ready to move on.
“It is really a second job,” Emmert said. “I dedicate a lot of time behind the scenes to make it better for the kids. I’ll still be running the peewee program. But this is it. It was my last year.”