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Forty Annual Years of Herricks Wrestling Begins

The 40th Annual Herricks Invitational Wrestling Tournament kicked off the 2011-2012 Highlanders Wrestling competition schedule in style with 16 out of 19 Herricks grapplers winning place awards in a field that included Massapequa and Farmingdale from New York State Section VIII (Nassau County), Chaminade and Fordham Prep (CHSAA), Mahopac and Edgemont (Section I), and Newburgh Free Academy (Section IX). There was plenty of action for everyone with over 450 matches taking place on four mats.

In the Varsity A (Elite) Division three Highlanders took home first-place awards with outstanding performances on the mat. Senior Bill Rynne pinned all three of his opponents to finish on top in the 220 lb. weight class. Junior Andrew Farrell went 5-0 with four pin victories to earn his way into the Champion’s Circle at 120, and sophomore Matt Grandelli took first at 113 with three pins.

Anthony Rosa (sr.-195), Will Rodriguez (sr.-126), Mike Vespe (jr.-145), John Temperino (jr.-152), and Mike Lopez (jr.-285) all came through with second-place finishes with a combined 15-5 record. Paul “P.J.” Tantillo took third at 170. Corey Iuculano (jr.-120) and Will Dowd (sr.-195) also won matches for Herricks as the Highlanders finished in third place as a team behind Mahopac and the Champion Chaminade Flyers.

Meanwhile, on the Second-Man mats, sophomore Mark Holuka won gold in convincing fashion at 126 by going 5-0 on the day with four pin victories. Freshman Krish Shethia took second place at 113 (4-1 with two pins and a major decision victory), and sophomore Joe DeVito was 3-1 for his second-place finish at 120. Coty Hom (fr.-106), Matt Esposito (so.-113), Chris Woska (so.-138), and Jason Liarikos (so.-138) all had third-place finishes.

This long established tournament is, in fact, an away event for the Highlander grapplers, whose home base is in the Community Center’s Wrestling Room and Alwin Muller Arena. After practice on Friday they head up to the High School to set up the four-mat arena. The grounds crew transports the mats. The custodians make tables, chairs, and risers available. The coaches bring all the rest of the equipment, and from 7:00 PM to 9:00 PM the wrestlers transform the large “new” gym into a wrestling arena.

The lone red mat was loaned to us by The Wheatley School for which we are grateful. According to the manufacturer these mats should, with proper care last about 10 years. The newest Herricks mat is already five years old, and the next newest Herricks mat was purchased back in 1982.

“We take care of them the best that we can,” Head Coach Cliff Forziat said. “At the end of the season the kids get all of the mats at the Community Center into The Room and lay them flat, which has helped quite a bit, but the Middle School mat is in very bad shape.”

The lads in blue and gray came out of the gate scrappy, but there will be significant challenges ahead. This is the only sport that requires 15 starters. For each weight class that goes unfilled the opponent receives six points in dual matches, and some 60 percent of the squad consists of freshmen and sophomores. They will be called upon to represent the varsity as the season progresses and will get plenty of chances for action on that level.

The coaching staff is excited about the opportunities that these challenges present. Led by Forziat, assistants Mike Miller and Jake Phillips together with Nick Castellano and Leo Kouroupos (our new Middle School staff), and alumni interns Clint Bodo (2005) and Eric Goldberg (2006), the staff is working intensely yet patiently to help each of the lads to progress to where he can compete successfully j1in the February Conference Championships (Qualifying Tournament) and beyond.

The Highlander Second-Men followed up the Herricks Tournament with a trip to Mineola for some action against the home team Mustangs and the Great Neck North Blazers. The Highlanders won 10 of 15 bouts with eight pins and two major decisions.

Sophomore Brandon Temperino made his season debut with two pins. Fellow sophomore Jason Liarikos also had two pins. DeVito, Holuka, Woska, and freshman John “J.J.” Vouzonis each recorded pin victories. Sophomore Matt “Sticks” Esposito won by a 15-4 major decision, and freshman Krish Shethia won by an 11-2 major decision.

“We’re throwing a lot of strategy and technique at these young fellows,” Forziat noted. “They all have heart, and our sophomores have really benefited from their work with us last year, but they have those cheap frosh-soph bodies. To some degree Mother Nature has a hand in this and she works at her own individualized pace. Case in point is Espo. There is no one who works harder than he does every day in practice. He started last spring with Joe Carranza’s training program (along with several teammates), but he’s growing tall so fast (three or more inches since last season) that he’s having a challenge to build up (two dinners every day, Espo!). When these fellows fill out, they are going to be even more fun to watch.”

On a sad note, we regret to inform you of the recent sudden passing of Lloyd Riffkin. He was a Herricks graduate back in ’76, and he had wrestled for Coach Al Muller. Riffkin joined the staff as Forziat’s assistant from 1983-1994 in both Wrestling and Men’s Spring Track and Field. Together they produced numerous team championships and individual All-Conference, All-County, and All-State athletes in both sports. Lloyd’s influence on all those whose lives he touched were endearingly evident in the large number of alumni and their folks who came to his funeral to honor him and to cherish his memory. Our sorrow is deep. Our sympathy goes out to his family.