Nick Kelley wants his stellar high school career to end one way.
The Shenendehowa senior has his sights set on nothing short of a championship as he competes in his sixth Division I state wrestling tournament.
“It’s very important to me,” said Kelley, who brings a 41-1 record into the tournament as the top seed at 138 pounds. “This is my last chance.”
The Division I (large school) and Division II (small school) tournaments open this morning at 10 a.m. at the Times Union Center in Albany. The 30 championship matches are set for a 6 p.m. start Saturday.
Kelley, who has made it to the state tournament all six of his years as a varsity wrestler, leads a contingent of six Shenendehowa wrestlers into the Division I tournament, a division which also features Amsterdam junior Brandon Lapi, another two-time top-six finisher.
Kelley, fourth as a sophomore, narrowly missed the 132 final last year, dropping an 8-7 semifinal decision to eventual champ Jamal Hudson, a match that was one of the best of the weekend.
“There’s a little pressure,” said Kelley. “Most of it I put on myself. I don’t try to think about it as much, and treat it like any other tournament, but I do feel the pressure.
“I like my draw. I’ve wrestled a couple of the guys on my side of the bracket before.”
Kelley’s long-time workout partner, David Almaviva, was also third a year ago, ripping off five straight wins after dropping his opening bout at 132.
“This is my third time there, so I know it’s a matter of staying focused,” said Almaviva, the No. 2 seed at 145 who will join Kelley next year at Binghamton University.
“I don’t think I approach any differently,” said senior Zach Joseph of his second state tournament. “I think I’ll be more comfortable.”
Corey Ali wants to make amends after scratching last year when he didn’t make weight for the 106-pound division.
“I was very disappointed, but I knew what I had to do to go back,” said Ali. “I’m not cutting as much weight this time, so I’m hoping to do well.”
Senior Ali Hashimee (182) and 11th-grader Levi Ashley (195) round out a Shenendehowa contingent that will try for a third straight team title.
Lapi — who with Kelley, Shaker 120-pounder Blake Retell and Whitehall 138-pounder John Diekel has over 200 career wins — is taking his fourth state tourney in stride.
“It was exciting the first time I went,” said the No. 2 seed at 132, coming off successive fourth- and third-place finishes. “Now, I just go out there, wrestle my hardest and do what I do.”
Senior James Marquez (160) gives the Rams a pair of entrants.
Columbia senior El Shaddai Gilmore VanHoesen got to the state finals at 285 a year ago. He’s the unbeaten top seed this time.
“I learned last year that you have to fight for every point,” said Gilmore VanHoesen, who battled through injuries as a junior. “Right from the start, you’d better be ready.”
Burnt Hills has three athletes in the DI tourney — senior Jack Hatton (170), junior Joey Butler (138) and 10th-grader Jake Ashcraft (152). Butler is making his second trip to the states, both times through an at-large berth,
Hatton, 40-3 and recently over the 100 career win mark, is the only Section II champ among the three Spartans, and is also top-ranked nationally in his weight class in judo.
“He’s been able to use his judo background to his advantage,” said Burnt Hills coach Steve Jones. “He’s earned this.”
Colonie has a pair — senior 220 Jason Johnson and junior 106 Golan Cohen — in the DI tourney, as does Guilderland, with its lightweight duo of Section II champ Josh LoGiudice (99) and runner-up Mike Lainhart (106).
Schalmont sophomore Nick Gallo enters his third DII state tourney as the sixth seed in a tough 160-pound field headed by Warsaw (Section V) junior Burke Paddock, a three-time placer.
Gallo, who lost to the third- and fourth-place finishers last year in coming up one win short of placing at 152, wants to get on the podium.
“That’s the goal,” he said. “By any means possible.”
Duanesburg sophomore Connor Lawrence returns, and is joined by teammate Jeff Senecal (195).
“I give out what I call our ‘War Eagle’ award each year for the wrestler who puts in the most time in the offseason,” said Eagles coach Joe Bena. “Connor has gone all over the country trying to get better.”
Corinth has three wrestlers in the DII event in senior Kyle Mulcahy (145), and sophomores Garon LeClair (99) and Ryan Matuszak (132).
The only returning DII finalist is Ravena-Coeymans-Selkirk’s Alex Soutiere, the top seed at 285. The senior is 44-1, his lone loss coming to Columbia’s Glilmore VanHoesen in the finals of the Eastern States Classic.
First round — 10 a.m.
Quarterfinals — 2 p.m.
Wrestlebacks — 4 p.m.
Semifinals — 10 a.m.
Consolation finals — 2 p.m.
Finals — 6 p.m.