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Nearly 200 pounds separate them, but sport unites Mohonasen wrestlers

Nearly 200 pounds separate them, but sport unites Mohonasen wrestlers

99-pound O'Connor, 285-pound Russell both representing Mohonasen
Nearly 200 pounds separate them, but sport unites Mohonasen wrestlers
Mohonasen’s Clayton O’Connor, 99, and Camrin Russell, 285, pose for a photograph at practice before the state tournament
Photographer: Erica Miller

A championship wrestler, Mohonasen sophomore Clay O'Connor is more than capable of holding his own on the mat.

When senior teammate Camrin Russell decided to pick him up off of it, though, there was little O'Connor could do except go along for the ride at a recent Section II wrestling practice at Niskayuna High School. After all, O'Connor is the area's Division I champion at 99 pounds, while Russell is Section II's 285-pound champ.

With a nearly a 3-to-1 size advantage, Russell easily had the strength to pick O'Connor up off his feet, sling him over his shoulder — and, then, for fun, hold him across his broad chest.

It was all in good fun, of course, as the pair of teammates separated by almost 200 pounds were only taking a quick break from preparing for the state wrestling tournament that starts Friday at Times Union Center, where fellow Mohonasen wrestler junior Jake Deguire will also compete in the 138-pound bracket.

While O'Connor and Russell both are chasing after similar goals at this year's state championships, the challenges each wrestler faces in the sport are much different because of the 13 weight classes that separate them in competition.

Earlier this year, both wrestlers had to certify in their respective weight classes within Section II, declaring and meeting the weight requirements in early November. Even that act required something much different from the teammates. O'Connor was naturally 108 pounds and had to lose weight through training in order to compete at the lightest weight class, while Russell — at 275 pounds — simply had to step onto the scale to declare for the 285-pound division.

"In the beginning of the year, I know it's going to be a big cut, but my coach and I believed that it would be the best bet for me," O'Connor said.

O'Connor posted a 34-5 record this year in a weight class that is dwindling with competitors and faces pressure from some to see it removed from the sport, while others support its continued inclusion.

"Wrestling has always been about getting guys of all sides of the spectrum to be involved," said Frank Popolizio, a Shenendehowa assistant coach and the founder of the Journeymen Wrestling program. "It doesn't matter if you're this big or that big; there was a spot for you.

"If you look at some of our past stars, they've made their debut in these lighter weight classes," Popolizio said. "It gives them the experience that lasts with them later on."

For Russell, being below his weight-class minimum was easy, but his work on the mat sometimes is complicated. He often needs to practice with wrestlers that weigh much less than himself.

"I usually end up working with our 195-pounder, but he typically weighs in around one 181, 186," Russell said. "It's a lot easier to throw somebody that's that much less than you, almost a hundred pounds less. So you have to work more on positions rather than the actual throws."

At one point this season, Russell was able to work with fellow 285-pounder Cameron Groncki, but an injury sidelined the freshman. Mohonasen coach Brandon Guthrie stepped in to work with Russell prior to the Section II tournament, focusing a lot on a potential semifinal showdown with Shenendehowa's Sebastian Underwood, which Russell won 4-3 before pinning Shaker's Brian Garrity in the final.

"I did my best to try to wrestle like he does," Guthrie said. "He's a really athletic heavyweight.

The result of that week of work for Guthrie?

"My back," Guthrie said, "hurt."

Despite the lighter weight class, O'Connor had his hands full in the Mighty Warriors wrestling room with teammate Jordyn Hill — who finished in fifth place in Section II's Division I 99-pound tournament — and taking on some of the heavier lightweights in the room when Hill wasn't available.

"With my size, I'm more of a bigger 99-pounder, so I'm able to move around, lift and return [to the mat]," O'Connor said. "But it's harder with the 113-pounder because they're so much heavier. I have to be more on the defensive side."

Matches at 99 and 285 pounds can also be dramatically different in how they play out.

"At 99, there's a lot more wrestling going on — more scrambling, more activity," Popolizio said. "Those guys are going to burn a lot of oil.

"At the heavyweight, there may not be as much activity, but if you get a guy that can score at least once at that level, that may be enough to win the match.

Heading into his final high school wrestling event, Russell is ready to face anyone.

"I do a lot of off-season Greco-Roman work, which teaches you a lot of positions, a lot about feelings and pressure," Russell said. "It's kind of more like a guessing game of what they're going to do because if they push in, you sweep. If they back up, you have to pressure and hopefully tire them out. When the later periods come, when you get a chance on top, you get your turn and pin them."

The 12th-seeded Russell will face No. 5 London Castillo (33-2) of Brentwood in his first match. Two consecutive wins could pit Russell against the top-seeded Lucas Scott (33-0) from Chenango Forks.

"I know I can wrestle some of these kids," Russell said. "It's pretty tough and it's my last go, so I'm going to give it everything I have and hopefully be on top."

For the 11th-seeded O'Connor, he's ready to come out fast and furious.

"I'm quick on my feet, really, so I move around fast. I'm not really standing still at all," O'Connor said. "I'm more moving, trying to work shots, getting in there and finishing."

O'Connor takes on No. 6 Mike Manta (32-5) from Happauge to start his tournament.

"I'm ready. Prepared. Hopefully make it through Friday and make the podium, and just see how far I get," O'Connor said.

Reach Stan Hudy at [email protected] or @StanHudy on Twitter.

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