ALBANY — Wrestlers competing in the first day of the state tournament at Times Union Center are looking for wins. Four straight wins lead to a state championship title – a loss along the way may not mean a title, but still a place on the all-state team podium during Saturday night's awards ceremony.
No. 14 seeded Ballston Spa 106-pound junior Nick Palso highlighted Friday's local action with an opening-round upset, a 12-4 major decision against No. 3 seeded Isaiah Jackson of Glen Cove.
"I knew going in that I could beat him," Palso said. "We scouted him a little and I worked out with some really good practice partners to help me prepare for the match.
"My focus was to just stay in good position against the kid, get takedowns and back points and not get on bottom, because we figured he was somewhat good on top."
The excitement of the win was short-lived, as Palso was pinned by Chenango Forks' Tyler Ferrara in 1:54 in the quarterfinal round, sending him to the consolation bracket, or wrestlebacks, of the double-elimination tournament.
Palso earned a technical pinfall against No. 12 Brendan Dellinger of Williamsville North/East in 5:42 for his second, important win of the day.
While out of contention for a state title, Palso has the opportunity to finish as high as third place on Saturday. All remaining wrestlers with a single loss or less advance to Saturday's competition and are considered all-state as a top eight finisher in each weight class.
"I rallied myself pretty quick because I knew I was going to have a tough match," Palso said. "It was important to get the win, so it was either come [here] tomorrow or I'm staying home."
With a guarantee of a top-eight finish, Palso's expectations have changed since qualifying for the state tournament two weeks ago as the Section II champion.
"I was hoping to place somewhere on the podium, it didn't matter where it was," Palso said. "I still have to wrestle hard tomorrow, I want to place as high as possible."
'I want my name to be up on that wall'
Section II saw 11 wrestlers advance to Saturday morning's state semifinals with two consecutive wins on Friday.
Two-time defending champion Stevo Poulin (Shenendehowa) at 113, Jake Deguire (Mohonasen) at 138, Sean Malenfant (Averill Park) at 152, Colden Dorfman (Shenendehowa) at 160 and Brock DelSignore (Shenendehowa) at 182 were the Division 1 advancers.
Division 2 will be represented Saturday morning by Chris Petteys (Hudson Falls) at 106, Caleb Svingala (Maple Hill) at 126, Aidan Cullen (Greenville) at 132, Bobby Treshock (Tamarac) at 145, Ethan Cooper (Cobleskill-Richmondville) at 182 along with Jeff Crooks (Cobleskill-Richmondville) at 220.
Dorfman pinned Jarrett O'Connell of Horseheads at 3:14 of his opening round match then rallied from a one-point deficit for a pin of fifth-seeded Gavin Fiacco of John Jay Cross River at 3:58. It was an emotional win for the junior.
"We've both wrestled each other before and both came prepped to wrestle each other," Dorfman said. "It was a hard win, but I'm so proud of it."
Like his 10 fellow Section II semifinalists, Dorfman will wrestle Saturday morning for a spot in the evening's highlighted championship finals.
"I've wanted to be a state champion ever since I started wrestling," Dorfman said. "I remember looking up at the wall of the state champs [in the Shen wrestling room] and thinking 'I want my name to be up on that wall.'
"It's always been a goal for me, and the fact that I can actually do it this year is pretty thrilling."
Hitting the century mark
Schalmont senior Dave Leon had more than one reason to celebrate Friday morning – the Section II 160-pound at-large entry won his out-bracket match against Rye County Day School's Cesar Moralez in 93 seconds for his 100th career victory.
"It was a good start to the day, get some confidence going," Leon said. "There was a little bit of nerves going on for the first match, just being in this environment, but all the nerves are gone and now it's just going out there and wrestling."
From there he met the No. 1 seed in Division II, Dolgeville's Jacob Null from Section III, who is also part of the local Journeymen Wrestling program founded by Shenendehowa assistant wrestling coach Frank Popolizio.
Null has committed to attend North Carolina State and wrestle for Frank's brother, Pat Popolizio, the 1996 state champion. Null pinned Leon at 1:54 and to send him to the wrestlebacks.
"That match is done, now I can come back and take third," Leon said after the loss to Lunn. "Just have to wrestle one match at a time. I need to win two matches today to get on the podium; focus on that right now."
Leon rebounded with an escape in the final minute against Alfred MacNeill from Malone in the first round of wrestlebacks for a close 1-0 win. Shortly after, Leon faced LaSalle's No. 10 Nick Pino, losing a 2-1 decision.
Lessons learned in losses
Ninth-seeded Ryan Stein from Shaker turned a negative experience of his opening-round loss into a positive one Friday, taking some cues from a former state champion – his father Matt Stein, the 1993 250-pound champ wrestling for Shenendehowa.
Ryan Stein lost by pin to No. 8 Blake Bielec from Grand Island in the first round at 5:07 and then returned in the wrestlebacks to claim a 3-1 decision over No. 16 seed JC Cabrera from Minisink Valley.
"The hardest part was his loss was in such a heartbreak fashion," former Mohonasen athletic director and current Shaker AD Matt Stein said. "He's up by seven with a little time left, got caught in a move and got stuck.
"He had his time where he was angry, but then he regrouped, put it back together and got himself ready, and that's how you learn in the process."
Stein lost a 2-1 double overtime decision to No. 10 seeded Jeremiah Funches from Westbury in the second round of wrestlebacks.
Making a statement
Four-time state champion Greg Diakomihalis from Hilton, wrestling this year at 120 pounds continued his dominance against the opposition striving for his fifth straight title.
He pinned Yorktown senior Andrew Finateri in 73 seconds before using almost three minutes to earn an 18-3 technical pin versus Fox Lane sophomore Jake Hoffman in the quarterfinal. He will face fourth-seeded Jake Eckerle from Commack in the semifinal.
Diakomihalis has a chance to become just the fourth 5-time state champion, joining Troy Nickerson from Chenango Forks (2001-2005), Jacori Teemer from Long Beach (2014-2018) and Adam Busiello from Eastport-South Manor (2015-2019).