For the first time in a decade, the Port Chester wrestling Rams came away with three wrestlers making the All-Section team out of the seven who qualified for the Sectionals last weekend at Arlington and Clarkstown South (2/9/10 respectively).
That trio included All State junior lightweight and team captain Ivan Garcia who finished first in the highly competitive 120-pound weight category, senior captain Brayan Mendez who wrestled his way to fifth place in the 126-pound weight class and freshman Nicholas Bolanos who placed sixth in the 99-pound weight classification.
Garcia makes history
The first six finishers in each of 12 different weight categories, from 99 pounds all the way up to 285, make the All-Section team.
But only the first-place finishers like Garcia qualify for the upcoming State Championships Feb. 22-23 at the Times Union Center in Albany.
Garcia's first place finish in the Sectionals gave him the all-time Port Chester record for most wins with 140. He also became the first three-time Sectional champion in school history. And he is looking to improve on his twice placing fifth in the States during the past two years, the top six finishers in each event making the All-State team.
Mendez, the likable, hard-working senior, made history of his own, surviving a couple of overtime matches to wrestle his way to 101 career wins while making the All-Section team for the first time.
Four near misses
Four other Ram wrestlers accomplished a great deal by just qualifying for the Sectionals, those non-placing wrestlers including freshman Alejandro Leyva (wrestling at 195 pounds), sophomores Carlos Escobar and Luis Carvajal (160 and 170 respectively) and junior Anthony Mendez-Vargas (285).
Their close finishes were especially notable because in the past the Rams have had trouble qualifying in the heavier weight classes.
"The kids have really made a memorable experience out of my first year as a head coach after 11 years as an assistant," Joe (Fatch) Facciola, a former Rams Sectional middleweight wrestling champion, said after the meet. "We have a young, motivated and energetic group that has a lot of potential to become even better next year."
But Facciola, a former Rams all-around 3-sport athletic great as well as a current physical education instructor in the Port Chester School District, wasn't quite ready to let go of what his wrestling team accomplished in the Sectionals even as he looks forward to Garcia's upcoming appearance in the state championships.
Thrills and spills
And you can't blame him for staying excited because of all the thrills and spills his key performers went through on their way to their decade best performance in the Sectionals.
Here's a blow-by-blow condensed account of the way it all went down.
Garcia entered the tournament as the #1 seed, yet local experts had him as an underdog to the fourth seed Tommy Dell'Area of Eastchester. They were 1-1 in matches during the regular season with Garcia beating Dell'Area 8-4 in the Eastchester Invitational Tournament earlier in the season and Dell'Area coming out on top in a close, controversial third place match in the Westchester County Championships. So Garcia went into their semi-final match in the Sectionals with an attitude, to put it mildly.
“Ivan is not the kind of kid to let any nonsense around him bother him, but he wanted to prove a point," Facciola said afterwards. "He did just that by beating Dell'Area 11-2 in a very dominating performance."
Controls the pace
Garcia also beat #2 seed Amos Rivera of Fox Lane in the finals. He went into the match with a 2-1 record against Rivera, his most recent win against him coming in the Divisional Finals. Ivan controlled the pace of the match, but the score was still knotted at 1-1 in the third period. That's when Garcia scored a takedown with 45 seconds left. He then rode out Rivera for the rest of the match to win the title.
"Ivan battled a lot this year, but he is a kid who never makes excuses even though there were times when I knew he was not 100%," Facciola said. "But like every great wrestler, he never took a second or day off from practice. He is one of the most motivated individuals I have ever been around."
Lots of heart
Mendez, one of the most popular and hardest-working Rams, went into the Sectionals as the #6 seed with 97 wins yet had never made the All-Section team. This time it was different. He pinned Tyler Adamson of Eastchester in his first match but lost to #3 seed Alexis Diaz of Clarkstown North in the quarterfinals. Diaz beat him 5-0 in the Divisional finals and earlier in the year when he gave up a late takedown at a time when he had the lead. This time around Mendez was leading 8-6 with eight seconds left in the third period when Diaz came up with a takedown with four seconds left forcing the match to overtime. Garcia wound up winning with a takedown again in OT with seconds left.
A lesser wrestler could have quit right there. But Mendez rebounded and came back to pin Nathan Watts of New Rochelle in his next match. That was his 99th win. He had to win his next match to get to 100 and have a shot at making All-Section, and he did just that, beating Brewster senior Alex Goldberg in overtime, winning 4-3 in triple OT after coming back with a takedown after trailing by one point with 18 seconds left.
Split in crunch time
Mendez split his next two matches, losing a close 3-0 to #4 seed Tim Bova of Arlington in the consolation semi-finals and then bounced back and beat the #5 seed Joe Henion of North Rockland 7-4 in the fifth-place match. That enabled Mendez to finish his high school career with 101 wins and his fifth-place finish earned him All-Section designation.
"Most kids pack it up after that first loss, but not Brayan," Facciola said afterwards. "Mendez never quits. He showed this weekend that he is one of the best and proved he had plenty of heart to come back from two tough losses. I'm proud of him. And I'm proud of my team."
There's more, lots more, on the pin and win circuit filled with lots of ups and downs as various Rams just kept getting better and better on their upwardly mobile march to the Sectionals. But by now you get the idea that it has been what Facciola calls "an incredible year" for him and his wrestling Rams. And it isn’t over yet because Garcia still has his upcoming shot at becoming the first Ram to ever win a state championship.