Near the end of the third round of the Journeymen Wrestling Club/Asics Northeast Duals, Frank Popolizio took a look around the gym of the McDonough Complex on the campus of Hudson Valley Community College.
The JWC president, who took an idea to bring top-flight college wrestling to the Capital Region six years ago and developed that concept into what he calls “The Toughest Wrestling East of the Mississippi,” allowed himself a smile.
“This is what it’s all about, why I started this,” said Popolizio as — in the span of 30 minutes — he watched:
— No.12 Lehigh edge No.7 Nebraska, 18-15, with a win at heavyweight.
— Christian Brothers Academy alum Michael Chaires and Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake grad Matt Kaylor compete on adjacent mats for No. 21 Virginia and Binghamton, respectively.
— Central Michigan, ranked 10th, knock off No.6 Maryland, the top-ranked team in the field.
— And his younger Pat’s Binghamton team trip North Carolina, 18-16, on a win by heavyweight Corey Waite.
“This is what I envisioned,” said Popolizio, who has talked a majority of the perennial national powers into competing in the six years of this event. “It’s to let the high school kids see the great teams, to get them to see the local guys who come back and compete, and ask, ‘Why can’t that be me?’ ”
Chaires and Virginia teammate Matt Cubillos, Kaylor, Selkirk’s Nate Graham, Scotia’s Dan Riggi, LaSalle grad Ken Altarac and Castleton’s Brandon Lapp all competed Saturday.
One national champion, two second-place finishers and 10 other All-Americans were competing, as well as 20-plus wrestlers from New York state.
“It’s weird,” said Altarac, a freshman heavyweight at Appalachian State. “I came and watched this while I was in school. Now, I’m back here wrestling.”
Chaires is the most accomplished of the locals at the collegiate level, winning 32 of 41 matches and getting ranked in the top 20 as a true freshman. Last year, he took a medical redshirt, undergoing surgery for a labrum tear in his right shoulder.
The 2007 CBA grad competed only once Saturday, losing a 5-1 overtime match at 165 pounds to Hofstra’s P.J. Gillespie to fall to 3-2 for the season. Chaires appeared to tweak a disc in his back that has bothered him this season.
“I feel fine, as far as the shoulder is concerned,” said the two-time state high school champion. “My back has been bothering me, and coach [Steve Garland] has been spotting me.
“After going through what I went through last year, I know a little more about injuries and rehabbing them.”
Chaires, a seven-time age group All-American, said last year’s absence from competition helped, in a way.
“I’d been going year round since probably sixth grade,” he said. “I never really had a break. I’m more appreciative of the sport. I look forward to going to the [practice] room every day.”
Cubillos, a true freshman, grabbed the starting spot at 133 for the Cavs.
“The guy who was returning had trouble making the weight,” said the honors student. “I’ve been in the spot all season. It’s different, a different level, more intense. But I think I’m learning and getting better.”
Cubillos beat Sacred Heart’s Anthony Ricco, 9-0, then was pinned by All-American Scott Sentes of Central Michigan.
Graham is in his second season as the starter at 174 for Bloomsburg. He’s made the finals in two tournaments this season, taking an 8-2 record into the Duals.
“I want to qualify [for the NCAAs] this year,” said the Ravena-Coeymans-Selkirk grad, who was 1-2 on the day. “I’ve worked hard on getting better.
“Physically, I can compete. It’s such a mental thing in college. I just try to stay positive, and learn something from each match.”
Kaylor is up two weight classes this season, competing at 165 for Pat Popolizio’s up-and-coming Bearcats program.
“I feel better physically. I’m not cutting [weight]. This is a more natural weight for me,” said Kaylor, who finished in the top six in tournaments at Binghamton and Cornell the previous two weekends.
Kaylor, who won three of his four matches, was also pleased at the growth of the Binghamton program, which won three of four duals on the day.
“This team beat us by 20 points last time,” he said, as he watched his teammates best Appalachian State, 28-16, in the second round. “We’re getting more recognition. It’s a big thing for the program.”
Riggi, a true freshman, got only one match Saturday, losing by technical fall at 125 pounds for Binghamton. Lapp finished 1-3, competing at 197 for Sacred Heart.
Central Michigan, which has been a regular at this event, won all four of its matches, beating a pair of ranked teams in Virginia and Maryland. Maryland went 2-1, and Nebraska took three of four.
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