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High School Wrestling: Russo breaks Frontier wins mark, still with big plans ahead

Junior Rocco Russo, now Frontier’s most winning wrestler, still has big goals to conquer ahead. (Photo courtesy of Ron Larson)

It takes the type of work Rocco Russo puts in during the offseason to reach the heights the Frontier junior has already lifted himself to in his high school wrestling career. His plan is to accomplish even more over the next two years.

Just two weeks into his junior season, Russo, a wrestler who competes almost year-round and on a national stage, captured the school’s all-time wins record after breaking ground for the program the previous two seasons with consecutive sectional titles and trips to the state tournament.

The school record-setting 136th win, eclipsing Nick Bannister’s mark, came Dec. 5 in a dual meet with Clarence. After going 8-0 at the Southtowns Duals over the weekend (Dec. 8-9), he’s already up to 144 victories. And his potential from here seems limitless.

“I didn’t even know about the record until I was surprised after the match,” said Russo, who in his prior match defeated Lancaster’s Steven Michel in a rematch of last year’s sectional title bout. “I’m real happy and I know I still have another whole year ahead.”

Russo also probably didn’t know about the record because he was so focused on the work he puts in to hone his skills and build toward his ultimate goals.

“He definitely puts in his time; he wrestles eight to nine months out of the year,” said first-year Frontier head coach, Joe Russo, who also happens to be Rocco’s uncle. “He does a lot of traveling to wrestle. He placed in the Top 20 in freestyle at the Fargo Nationals and he’s gone to Virginia for tournaments and traveled to other states. He’s trying to get that edge and get looks from colleges.”

Rocco’s also got something else on his mind. He is pretty clear about what he’s now putting all of this work in for — a state title. He’s placed the past two years at the state tournament.

“He’s working on the things that will help him get that state title,” his uncle said. “He’s been there (to the state tournament two times) and now he’s hoping for that title.”

During the offseason, Russo believes much of the work competing in both freestyle and Greco Roman has helped him become a more well-rounded wrestler and the Greco has specifically helped strengthen his upper body.

“It’s a big change from freestyle but it’s not as difficult as some people think,” Rocco noted of this style of wrestling.

Included in his practices three times a week nearly year-round is sparring with Eden junior standout Alex Smythe, In the past, Russo had practiced with three-time sectional champion Tom Page, also of Eden, who is now wrestling Division I at American University.

Russo came in to this season growing out of his body a bit, jumping up in weight to 132 and 138, but just this weekend was certified where he hopes to compete in the postseason at 126. It’s taken the discipline of a seasoned wrestler to get him to that weight.

His days as a wrestler go all the way back to starting as a youngster with the Hamburg Youth Club before he became an up-and-coming star with Frontier as a seventh grader to now as a school record holder.

“He grew up in the sport and now that college is a little more of a priority, he’s looking to get that chance to earn a scholarship,” coach Russo noted.

Rocco’s goals don’t end there. With nearly two full seasons still left to wrestle at Frontier, his hope to get over 200 wins now seems quite realistic.

Russo is part of a large contingent of underclassmen looking to help lift the rebuilding program. With one of the program’s best turnouts in years, which includes a number of first-year senior wrestlers, as well, the Falcons may be on their way.

“We’re really looking forward to seeing these guys improve,” coach Russo said. “It’s a great group and one of the biggest at 33 wrestlers.”

He’s got a core of experienced wrestlers back in seniors Joe Nowak (138)and Evan Johnston (126) and junior Seth Jones (152), whom like Russo are serving as captains. Also returning from last season are hardworking juniors Kyle Genovese at 113 and Paul Hendra at 120.

Stepping into the lineup is senior Joe Mascio at 160 and senior newcomer Luke Bartone at 220. Also new to the team are seniors Andy Harrison and Kevin Zhang. Youngsters looking to make immediate contributions are eighth grader Jacob Dickey at 106 and freshman Andrew Heppner (126), the brother of past standout wrestler Don Heppner.

While he watched as a number of his younger and older wrestlers got their first varsity wins, coach Russo also saw many competitors not used to a two-day tournament schedule get fatigued during the Southtowns Duals.

“It’s a tough tournament and a lot of these guys aren’t used to eight matches in two days,” said Russo, whose team finished 0-8. “They’re fighting through it and this will make them better down the road.”

Although Russo is heading the Falcons for the first year, he’s not unfamiliar with many of the school’s wrestlers having served as an assistant last season on Kevin Zack’s staff. He’s now being assisted by Glen DiStefano, a Lackawanna graduate and former Brockport State competitor who once wrestled under Russo.

“It’s been a smooth transition,” Russo said. “Almost everyone is back from last year and I got to meet a lot of the new kids and get to know them during offseason conditioning.”

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