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Wantagh makes strides on mat

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The quick progression of a young Wantagh wrestling team was evident in the Warriors run to the Nassau County dual meet finals. 

Wantagh advanced to the championship stage by avenging two regular season losses to Uniondale and Long Beach. The Warriors’ 36-35 quarterfinal win against Uniondale and wild victory by criteria versus Long Beach positioned a squad full of underclassmen to earn valuable experience competing for a team title.

“It was sweet revenge to beat both of them on the same day in the counties,” said Wantagh’s eighth-year head coach Paul Gillespie, whose team fell to Uniondale 48-30 and Long Beach 43-34 during the Patrick Butler Duals at Seaford High School on Jan. 5. “The young kids really stepped it up.”

The dramatic victories over Uniondale and Long Beach set Wantagh up for a chance at a repeat title and a chance to defend the New York State Division I dual meet championship. A senior-laden Massapequa team proved too much for Wantagh in a 55-20 defeat. The Warriors then just missed wildcard entry for the state duals in Syracuse.

Junior Matt Rogers propelled Wantagh past Uniondale by delivering a technical fall in the final match at 182 pounds. Rogers then stepped up with a 17-4 win in the Long Beach match to help the Warriors tie the Marines 34-34 and advance to the finals on criteria by one point for winning the most bouts.

“He has a real good shot at being a New York State champion,” said Gillespie

of Rogers, who placed third at the state’s last year.

Junior Josiah Encarnacion recorded pins in the Hewlett and Long Beach matches at 113 pounds and is also a state champion contender after placing third as a sophomore. Gillespie credits Encarnacion and Rogers for providing valuable leadership to a youthful team.

“The kids all respect them,” said Gillespie of Encarnacion and Rogers. “They do a great job of leading the young guys.”

Gillespie has been impressed by the strides of his middle school students competing on varsity like seventh grader Jesse Vanorden (99), who is 23-5 and recorded a key pin in the team’s Uniondale triumph. Eighth graders Thomas Bonasera, Ryan Abiet and Noah Corwin are also competing like veterans late in the season.

“At the end of the season they are full growth high school wrestlers,” said Gillespie of his middle school standouts. “As the season went on they kept fighting.”

Wantagh will next compete in the Nassau County qualifiers at Syosset High School on Feb. 1-2. Gillespie hopes to qualify around 15 for the individual county championships and sees potential for up to four county champions that would then get the chance to compete for state titles at the Times-Union Center in Albany on Feb. 22-23.

“We should have a lot of kids fighting for All-County honors,” said Gillespie, a National Coaches Hall of Fame member who prior to arriving at Wantagh won 17 county titles at Long Beach. “We have a young team and the next couple years should be very strong for us.”