SCHENECTADY — It seemed rather appropriate that Niskayuna won the team championship at a wrestling tournament named in honor of its former coach.
Niskayuna outpointed four squads and had six wrestlers go undefeated Friday at The Coach Bena Schenectady County Duals at Schenectady High School.
Niskayuna was the top team three other times at the event which, before this go-round, was called the Schenectady County Duals. Joe Bena, who died earlier this year at the age of 79, led the Silver Warriors to great team and individual success in a run that lasted well over three decades.
“We wrestled tough today,” Niskayuna coach Shaun Neely said. “We have guys stepping up in practice, and you can see the improvement in matches. Coach Bena always said champions are made in practice.”
Niskayuna claimed its third straight team crown at the holiday tournament by beating Schalmont (65-18), Duanesburg (51-30), Schenectady (70-9) and Mohonasen (61-22) in the tournament’s final match that decided top spot. That match included the 100th varsity win for Niskayuna junior Ben Catrambone.
“Coach said we had the ability to win this again,” said Catrambone, who is in his fourth varsity season. “He said, ‘I know you can do it,’ and we were like, hell yeah.”
Following Niskayuna and Mohonasen in the team standings were Duanesburg (2-2), Schalmont (1-3) and Schenectady (0-4). Niskayuna also went unbeaten in 2017, 2016 and 2014, with Mohonasen doing the same in 2015.
Catrambone pinned Tre’ Smith in the second period for his milestone win. He finished the day with three pins and a forfeit victory.
“That was really nice. That kid [Smith] was tough,” Catrambone said of his 100th win. “I wanted to help our team win and get the plaque again.”
Niskayuna’s Matt Whelan at 113 pounds, Jack Schiavo at 120, James Murphy at 170, Zach Hyatt at 182 and Derek Meisner at 220 also went 4-0 Friday as part of another team triumph. Niskayuna was the top team as well at the Mat Mania event at Glens Falls earlier this month.
Before the competition, organizers officially renamed the tournament in honor of Bena, the multi-hall of fame coach who began his 48-year career with a short stint at Newburgh Free Academy and finished up at Duanesburg.
Bena retired in 2014 with a then-state record of 673 coaching wins. His wrestlers included state and national champions including Nick Gwiazdowski, Olympians including gold medalist Jeff Blatnick, and a slew of future coaches.
“A couple of coaches reached out to me, and I said, ‘Absolutely,'” Schenectady coach Chad Languish said of renaming the event. “We all felt it was extremely deserving.”
Bena was not only an excellent coach, but a master motivator and gentleman in and away from wrestling circles.
“We wanted to do something to honor him,” Neely said. “It’s about keeping coach Bena’s spirit alive. He meant so much to so many people.”
Bena served as Niskayuna’s coach from 1968-2003 before moving on to Duanesburg. Neeley served as a modified coach at Niskayuna for four years late in Bena’s superb run at that school.
“As much as he wanted to win, he wanted to help people,” Neely said. “He loved people. He put people first.”
Bena helped Languish get the Schenectady County Duals off the ground in 2013. Bena’s team won the championship that year.
“He gave me details of how to run one,” Languish said. “He was a huge supporter of getting this going. I hope this goes for a long time so his name can continue to be a part of it.”
Duanesburg senior Zack Lawrence was a member of Bena’s last team, and Friday the 152-pounder was among the wrestlers who posted four wins.
“I had no clue until I heard about it today,” Lawrence said of the honor bestowed on Bena. “He was a good man. This is something he deserves.”
Lawrence stretched his unbeaten streak to 23 matches, and extended his school record to 248 career victories with his four Friday.
“Believing in yourself and having the right mind-set is a big thing,” Lawrence said after pinning Nick Vandenburg of Schalmont to finish 4-0. “Before a match, I think positive and think about what I have to do.”
As a junior, Lawrence won twice in the wrestlebacks at the state meet after a semifinal setback, and placed third in the Division II 152-pound bracket. He improved to 21-0 this season with two pins and two forfeits Friday. Last week, he went 5-0 at the Midnight Matness event in Oneonta.
“State championship, definitely,” Lawrence said of his goal for the season. “Should have won it last year.”
Lawrence is Duanesburg’s single-season record holder for wins (52 last season) as well as the school’s all-time wins leader.
Duanesburg senior Charlie Grygas, at 160, and Eagles junior Jacob Suits, at 195/220, also went 4-0 as part of a third-place team performance. Grygas decisioned Niskayuna’s Peter Meshkov 3-0 in one of the meet’s highlight matches.
Mohonasen coach Brandon Guthrie liked how his young team performed in beating Schenectady (50-21), Schalmont (54-27) and Duanesburg (35-33) before its final bout with Niskayuna.
“I’m happy with how they wrestled,” Guthrie said. “The kids wrestled to their ability, or a little better.”
Mohonasen’s 25-wrestler roster includes one senior, two juniors, an eighth-grader and a mix of sophomores and freshmen. Sophomore Jacob Deguire at 134 and junior Camrin Russell at 285 both went 4-0 Friday, and both Eastern States-bound wrestlers eclipsed 20 wins for the season.
Schenectady senior Humadi Vasquez-Hall picked up his first two varsity wins at 145, and Patriots ninth-grader Ayman Elsiddig got his first varsity win at 195.
“We’re a young team,” Languish said. “We look to make improvements every time we step on the mat.”
Schenectady’s most successful wrestler last year, Section II Division I 132-pound champ Billal Zamani, opted not to go out for the team this season.