Joe Bena remembers the first time he saw Curt Rowley on a wrestling mat.
“I was running a pee wee program, and this little kid was hitting these moves and catching on to everything really fast,” said Bena, who was the Niskayuna coach at the time. “I showed them a Granby roll, and he hit it as perfectly as can be. I went up to him after and asked what [elementary] school he went to, figuring it was one in the Niskayuna district. He told me he lived in Duanesburg. Little did I know, a few years later, I would be his varsity coach.”
Bena is hoping his association with Rowley lasts through the end of this month, which would mean Rowley would return to the state tournament. That journey began last week when the senior won the Division I Class 3 championship, which got him the top seed at 132 pounds for the Division II state qualifier that begins this morning at the Glens Falls Civic Center,
“Curt has had a wonderful career,” said Bena of Rowley, who won three class championships and reached the final two other times. “He’s put a lot of time into the sport, done a lot in the offseason. He’s paid the price.”
Duanesburg also has a pair of No. 2 seeds in freshman Connor Lawrence (138) and 2011 champion Dallas Mesick, who lost in the 182 finals last weekend.
“Dallas is hot right now,” said Bena, whose teams have alternated first- and second-place finishes in this event the last four years. “Connor is in a tough weight class.”
Lehigh University-bound Whitehall senior Zach Diekel is the top seed at 195 in DII as he tries to join a select group with at least five Section II titles.
Other returning DII champs are three-time winner Noah Valastro (126), two-time champ Aaron Dudley (160) and Kyler Harrington (113) of Hudson Falls, Luis Weirbach (99) and Brad Burns (170) of Hoosick Falls and Whitehall’s Al Aubin (120).
Amsterdam turned in a strong effort at last weekend’s class tournament, and Rams coach Ken Benton hopes that will continue this weekend at the DI state qualifier.
“The last couple of tournaments, they’ve stepped it up and started to believe in themselves,” said Benton, whose team had six finalists in the DI Class 2 tourney last weekend, matching team champion Queensbury.
Sophomore Brandon Lapi (44-2), the 2011 state bronze medalist, is the top seed at 113 this weekend. Mike Garrison is seeded second to state champ Connor Sutton of LaSalle at 160, and Gaetano Lanzi is the No. 3 seed at 145.
“We’ve got a lot of wrestlers seeded fairly high,” said Benton. “For the underclassmen, it’s a chance to have a good tournament and kind of set them for the next few years. We’re taking 13 of the 14 kids we entered last week, and we’re proud of that.”
Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake had a pair of wrestlers win the DI Class 2 event in sophomore Joey Butler and freshman Jake Ashcraft.
Butler, second last year and a three-time placer, is seeded third at 132 between three-time champ Nick Kelley of Shenendehowa and Columbia’s Brendan Morgan, who lost to Kelley in the DI Class 1 final. Achcraft got the second seed to Shen’s David Almaviva at 138.
“Joey is in a tough weight class with Kelley and Morgan,” said Burnt Hills coach Steve Jones. “Jake is the type who never gets rattled, and he’s in a deep weight class, too.”
Jones would like Rob Catherine, one of just two seniors on the roster, to finish his varsity career on a positive note.
“He’s in a weight class where I think there is a lot of parity and it could be anyone’s to win,” Jones said.
Defending champ Shenendehowa has two other returning champs in 195-pounder Tony Fusco (a two-time winner) and 285 Cole Lampman.
Sutton, Columbia’s Evan Wallace (145) and Stephen Lumley (170) of South Glens Falls are the other returning DI champs.
Wrestling begins at 11:30 this morning, and will continue through the quarterfinals and second round of wrestlebacks.
The semifinals are set for 10 a.m. Saturday, with the finals on two mats at 6 p.m.