If they had their way, college roommates Nick Gwiazdowski and Billy Cook would be spending more time at home in the Capital Region this weekend.
Instead, they’ll only get to stay for a few days, as they and their North Carolina State wrestling teammates take part in Saturday’s Journeymen/ASICS Northeast Duals. This year’s competition, featuring 14 Division I programs, is scheduled for a 9:15 a.m. start at Hudson Valley Community College.
“It would be nice to have more time, but we’re not coming up until Friday night,” said Gwiazdowski, a 2011 graduate who was an All-American at 285 pounds as a true freshman while attending Binghamton, prior to transferring to N.C. State. “It’s more like a business trip.”
“It’s going to be a lot of fun to come back home, see some familiar faces,” said Cook, a Ballston Spa graduate who wrestles at 197 pounds for the Wolfpack and coach Pat Popolizio, a state champion from Niskayuna High School.
The Wolfpack are scheduled to take on Buffalo, Binghamton and No. 7 ranked Illinois in the event, which will also feature three former Section II champions now competing for Lehigh — Shenendehowa graduates Austin Meys and Jimmy Carucci, and Whitehall’s Zach Diekel.
Other local graduates expected to compete are state high school champs Connor Sutton (LaSalle) and Binghamton’s Nick Kelley (Shenendehowa), as well as former Amsterdam standout John Paris, a senior at Binghamton.
Kelley, who won a state championship last winter, had been redshirting his freshman season, but was moved to varsity status earlier this week.
Gwiazdowski had to redshirt last winter after following Popolizio to Raleigh. He posted a 20-1 record, his only loss to NCAA champ Tony Nelson of Minnesota. In the offseason, he beat Nelson en route to finishing third at the World Team Trials. He also placed seventh at the U.S. Senior Nationals.
“Those gave me a lot of confidence,” said Gwiazdowski of the offseason events where he was the youngest competitor. “I picked up different things. It’s a different style, but everything helps.”
Gwiazdowski is off to an 8-0 start this season.
“Last year, I had about 15 matches by this time,” said Gwiazdowski, who is ranked third in his weight class. “I’m getting back into the regular schedule. It really starts to pick up in December.”
“We’re looking for big things for him this season,” said Popolizio. “Getting matches is important for him, but we have to be careful, too. We want to keep him fresh at the end of the season.”
Popolizio was pleased with Gwiazdowski’s offseason results.
“That was the first year he had wrestled in those big tournaments, and he did well,” said Popolizio. “He got to see the top wrestlers in the country, and he was all over the country training.”
Cook’s place on the team was less eye-catching.
“The first semester last year, he was with us, but he was just working out on his own, just wanting to be part of the program,” said Popolizio, who has added former Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake sectional champ and NCAA qualifier Matt Kaylor as a volunteer assistant this season. “We didn’t have a lot of depth, and when we had an injury in the second semester, he said he’d like to wrestle.
“We were going to have to forfeit that weight. Instead, Billy got into the lineup, wrestled his first collegiate match and got to wrestle in the conference tournament.”
Sutton is expected to be in the lineup as Columbia sees Michigan State, Clarion and Lehigh for coach Carl Fronhofer, a state champ at Salem and an NCAA finalist at Pittsburgh.
“Connor will be in the starting lineup at 149 pounds,” said Fronhofer. “He wrestled well at the Michigan State Open, and I expect him to compete at a very high level for us this season.
“I know he is excited to wrestle in front of the home crowd in Troy.”
Meys, a three-time state champ, is trying to come back after medical issues cost him the last two seasons. He contracted Guillain–Barré syndrome, a disorder affecting the peripheral nervous system, late in his freshman season, and went 0-2 at the NCAAs before doctors diagnosed his condition.
The 184-pounder opened his senior year by winning his first two matches at the season-opening Clarion Open before taking a medical forfeit. He hasn’t competed since, with Diekel, a red-shirt freshman, picking up some matches and compiling an 11-5 record.