Thursday February 14, 2013 | By:Michael J. Petro | Sports
After trailing early in the match, Eden junior Alex Smythe took hold of the Section VI Division II 152-pound weight class, beating Pioneer’s James McLean in the final. (photo by Michael J. Petro)
Alex Smythe was unhappy with the way his wrestling season ended last year. The Eden junior seems to have spent this winter venting that frustration on opponents.
The top seed in Western New York’s Division II at 152 pounds was dominant for most of the match in beating Pioneer senior James McLean 10-2 during the championship bouts Sunday (Feb. 10) night at the University at Buffalo’s Alumni Arena.
Besides being eager to take home a title he has fallen just short of the past four seasons as a sectional place finisher, Smythe also wanted to redeem himself for what he thought was a poor showing in the same competition last year.
Coming off a second-place finish at the Section VI Championships and placing at states after earning a wild card during his freshman season, Smythe battled through some nagging injuries last year to take fourth at the 2012 state qualifier.
That place finish did not sit well with him and it showed all season long and in Sunday’s state qualifier.
“Last year, I really messed up, so I’ve been waiting a while for this,” said Smythe. “I took fourth and didn’t wrestle too well last year. I lost in the semifinals to a kid I beat twice during the season. I was battling injuries last year, so it’s good to be feeling healthy this year.”
Using his dominating strength to overpower many of his opponents, a motivated Smythe improved to 45-2. His only losses came at the hands of a pair of Western New York’s top seniors, Roy-Hart’s Drew Hull (Division II) and Lancaster’s Eric Lewandowski (Division I), each of whom repeated as sectional champions, earning a 145-pound title on Sunday.
“I felt it was his time to capture a championship of his own,” Eden head coach Tom Page said. “He really doesn’t care who he wrestles — he’s going to go out there and do what he does. He’s got a style that he can force on his opponent because he’s so powerful. It’s fun to watch and fun to coach.”
Smythe came up against an unfamiliar opponent in the final and actually trailed 2-0 early in the match. But Smythe did not panic, earned an escape right away and then took control. He led 3-2 after the first period and extended that lead to 6-2 after the second.
“I wasn’t really focused there as much as I should have been at the beginning of the match but it kind of woke me up and I got to business,” Smythe said. “I focused on setting my shot up for a double. I was setting things up, working my match.
“I felt confident,” he added. “You can’t go out there cocky but you’ve got to be able to get the job done.”
Page was also happy to see Smythe earn two takedowns using a double leg attack, which is something they have been working on in preparing for the state qualifier. Smythe hasn’t relied solely on his power in taking the next step to a sectional title.
“He’s become much more well-rounded,” Page said. “Before, he was very good on his feet, but couldn’t always control on top. Now, he’s scoring from top, bottom and neutral.”
Going into the state tournament for a second time, Smythe feels comfortable with the competition he may face, having wrestled with some of them while training for the Fargo Nationals in the offseason.
“I’m feeling pretty fresh. I’ve got a good record and put in the time wrestling all year long,” said Smythe, who also credited practice spar partner Ryan Vondell, who finished third in the tournament at 170. “I know who’s out there at states. I’ve wrestled with some guys from Section II.”
Page feels Smythe can be a top place finisher at states. “He’s very confident right now rolling into the state tournament,” Page noted.
Also for Eden, Vondell earned his 100th career win during the tournament, while eighth grader Sawyer Overhoff looks to have a very bright future after taking fifth at 99 pounds.
Frontier’s Rocco Russo jumped on Eric McEvoy in the 126-pound weight class as he rolled through the sectional tournament. (Photo by Michael J. Petro)
Seems only fitting Smythe’s good friend and sparring partner away from the high school mats also will be making a trip to the state championships.
But while Smythe’s main goal to this point may have been to redeem himself at sectionals, Rocco Russo’s focus all season has remained winning at the state level, a luxury more easily afforded to a two-time Section VI champion.
The Frontier junior will get that chance thanks to a dominant 15-0 technical fall victory over Iroquois senior Eric McEvoy in Division I’s 126-pound weight class to win a third straight Section VI title.
“I came in as the No. 1 seed and my only mentality was to win it,” Russo said. “I’ve been going up to Lancaster to wrestle with Stevie Michel (the Division I champion at 120), who’s been a great sparring partner, and guys like Eric Lewandowski — all of them up there. I feel great right now.”
Since his freshman season, Russo has known nothing but winning a title at the state qualifier. Last year, he pulled an upset, edging Michel in the final at 120 pounds.
This year, he came into the competition as dominant as ever, having beaten every Western New York wrestler he faced. His only two losses were in a Eastern Regional Tournament, featuring state title winners from a number of states.
“This is his third sectional title and a lot of kids would be excited about that and we’re excited about that but our ultimate goal is to win a state championship,” said his uncle and head coach, Joe Russo.
Rocco is also looking for some redemption after a disappointing showing at last year’s state tournament, where he felt a little under the weather. As a freshman, he placed in the top six.
“This year is his redemption year and we’re going in there with high expectations,” his coach said. “Not to make excuses, but if you go to that tournament and you’re not feeling well and aren’t on your “A” game — the best of the best are there — it could cost you placing or winning a state title.”
In a dominant display during the all-day state qualifier, Russo pinned all the way through the tournament until earning a technical fall victory with a few seconds left in the second period of the final.
“I wanted to make sure that I didn’t get frustrated,” Russo said. “It was only 4-0 after the first (in the final), so I wanted to focus on just working my stuff and putting it away.”
Russo, who’s lanky for a 126-pounder, again wrestled very tough from the top position. He earned 11 of his 15 points on tilts as he quickly piled up the deciding margin in the second.
“In this tournament, you can’t hold anything back. You’ve got to win it to go to states and usually you have to be at your best,” Joe Russo said.
“He went out there and wrestled his match in the final,” he added. “He’s very tough on top and loves doing his tilts — that’s his strength and everyone knows that... Once he’s got a takedown, he starts tilting the guy left and right (to score points).”
Joe Russo looks forward to the next two weeks of training and fine tuning what it will take to return from Albany with a state title.
“Everyone’s got things they can improve on,” Joe Russo said. “We’re going to go work in the next few weeks and hopefully, it will be enough to get him to that state championship.”
Frontier brought three wrestlers to the state qualifier, one better than last year. Joining Russo there were Roy Cuthbert (138) and Adam Gibson (285).
Joe Russo also credited his assistant coach, Glenn DiStefano, who once wrestled under him at Lackawanna, for helping the team improve from last season and sparring and drilling with Russo to help him learn hands-on and get better in some areas, like on his feet.
“We’re showing that we’re improving,” Joe Russo said. “The kids were pumped up and did well at the Class AA Tournament and today was a great day with Rocco winning it and us bringing two other guys to the tournament.”
Brendan Knoll took third place for Hamburg at the Section VI Championships. (Photo by Michael J. Petro)Lake Shore
weren’t able to get any wrestlers to Division I championship bouts but they each had a number of competitors place in the top six.
Place finishers for Hamburg included Brendan Knoll in third at 195, Dillion Knoll fifth at 113 and Jacob Smeader sixth at 106. Place finishers for Lake Shore were Zachary Whitney third at 182, Freddy Eckles (120) and Briar Dils (220) in fourth, and David Killian (99), Brandon Joslyn (132) and Dylan Murphy (160) in sixth.