A talented senior class competes in sectionals for the final time this weekend, all chasing the ultimate goal of a state championship.
Thirty athletes — the champions in the 15 weight classes in the Division I (large school) and Division II (small school) tournaments — will automatically qualify for the upcoming state tournament when the Section II Wrestling Championships conclude Saturday night at the Glens Falls Civic Center. The event begins today at noon.
“It’s getting near the end of the line for a lot of great seniors in Section II,” said Shenendehowa coach Rob Weeks, who has 14 wrestlers entered in the Division I state qualifier, including a pair of seniors who did well at last year’s state tourney, Hunter Meys and T.J. Popolizio.
“Hunter has been kind of the face of the program for six years now,” said Weeks of the reigning state champ who is working on a second straight unbeaten season. “What he’s accomplished has been phenonemal.
“T.J. has also been a big part of everything we’ve done. Those are two kids you just don’t replace.”
Meys goes into the 189-pound brackets with a career record of 249-10 as he seeks his fourth Section II title. Popolizio, a state finalist last year at 103, is over 170 varsity wins as he shoots for his third Section II title.
Amsterdam’s Brian Benton, third in the state at 119 pounds a year ago, is determined to better that this year. First, the five-time Class B champion and two-time state placer needs to get through this weekend.
“Winning a fifth Class B title is nice, but it’s just one step,” said Benton after last weekend’s ‘B’ tournament, his final home competition. “I have a bigger goal.”
Meys and Benton are among those who don’t even have to finish first this weekend to get to the states, thanks to a point system that rewards sectional and state tourney success with “bonus points” that determine wild-card berths for the state tournament.
Niskayuna’s Jake Newcomb lost to Meys in the Section II finals a year ago, but picked up a wild-card spot and finished fourth at the state tourney.
Alex Steciuk (160) of Ballston Spa and Columbia’s Zach Crain (135) both won Section II titles in 2005, missed the following year and grabbed wild-card entries
after getting to the sectional finals last year.
Shenendehowa is the defending DI team champion, and has six top seeds in Meys, Popolizio, former state champ Austin Meys (171), ‘07 state finalist Luke Popolizio (103), Justin Pabon (112) and 96-pounder Nick Kelley.
Cobleskill-Richmondville’s Robert Merchant (140), Galway’s Jonn Gochenour (135), Duanesburg’s Amy Whitbeck (112) and Brian Borst (119), Nate Cross of Hudson Falls (145) and Ravena’s Cody Legg (152) all won last year in the Division II event, with Borst becoming a three-time champ.
Warrensburg’s Ryan Black (160) is chasing his third title, coming back this season after his junior year was wiped out by a neck injury suffered in football.
Cousins Aaron and Tom Barber of Hudson Falls both got to the states via the wild card a year ago, with the latter going after finishing third at the Section II finals.
Duanesburg’s Dave Larson and Wes Coppolo both were second last year, as the Eagles finished 81⁄2 points behind small-school team champion Hudson Falls.