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Smythe, Russo place at states, finish as two of WNY’s best-ever

THIRD PLACE FOR SMYTHE — Eden senior Alex Smythe took third place at the state championships. File photo by David Eckhardt.

Two of the best wrestlers ever to hit the mats in the southtowns of Buffalo finished up their high school careers falling short of their ultimate goal but finishing as top place finishers at the state championships last weekend at Times Union Center in Albany.

Eden’s Alex Smythe finished third at Division II 160 pounds, while Frontier’s Rocco Russo was fourth in Division I at 138. Ultimately, only a few points separated the seniors from wrestling for state titles.

Smythe finished the two days at 5-1, capping his 225-win career, with a dominating 5-0 win in the third-place match, after wrestling all the way back from a heartbreaking 3-2 triple overtime loss in the second match of the first day (quarterfinals).

Head coach Tom Page noted that Smythe was distraught after the loss, so he gave the senior some time alone to digest what had happened, but once they reconnected both were on the same page about what had to be done the rest of the way. Page told him there were two choices — give up or finish by impressing; to no surprise from his head coach, there was no folding for Smythe.

Smythe took out his anger in the next two matches, winning by a combined 22-1 margin and then used a late takedown on the tournament’s No. 2-seed for a 3-2 win to get into the third-place match.

Smythe is the second wrestler in three years at Eden to reach the 200-win mark, as Tom Page, the coach’s son, who’s now wrestling at American University, finished with 202 in 2012. Smythe is now among the top 10 all-time in Western New York.

“It’s unfortunate that he didn’t win but it was gut check time after that, and what he did says a lot about him,” Page said. “He’s so serious about the sport.”
RUSSO PLACES — Frontier senior Rocco Russo took fourth place at the state championships.

Russo lost in the same round, 2-1, to an eventual weight class finalist, but also bounced back, in going 4-2 during the weekend. After three straight wins, he fell in the third-place match, 4-2 in overtime. A four-time state qualifier, Russo finished the season 52-4 and his career with 237 wins, good for fourth all-time in WNY.

Among his wins, Russo opened with a 17-5 margin of victory and then won later Friday to move onto the next day’s competition. He began with a 6-2 win over the tournament’s No. 2 seed and followed that with a 9-5 victory over the five seed. A sore arm had a bit of an effect on Russo in his final match that went to extra time, according to his uncle and coach, Joe Russo.

Also, the weight class featured an assortment of Division I college-bound wrestlers including the top four of five place-finishers, all of whom will be attending the University at Buffalo. Like Russo, Smythe will also wrestle at UB. The two are friends and sparring partners at the club level.

“He really had a great weekend, and although he came up short of his ultimate goal, he did want to at least place,” Joe Russo said. “You’re talking a few points away from competing for a state championship, but at this level, that’s the way it is. Every move and every point matter — the stakes are that much higher.”

Coach Russo had some time to reflect on the roller coaster ride of a season and time at states that he noted went by in a flash. He was happy to see the program enjoy its best season in 10 to 15 years, while getting a chance to bond with and coach his nephew.

“Our bond as a coach and wrestler is strong but the uncle/nephew bond is even stronger,” said Russo, who announced that after 15 years of coaching, at a variety of schools in the southtowns, he’ll be stepping aside. “This time we’ve gotten to spend together, I wouldn’t have changed it for anything.”
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