Wrestling Rams score in the Divisional Championships with top Big 5 qualifying for the upcoming Sectionals
February 7, 2024 at 9:43 p.m.
The five Port Chester High School wrestlers who qualified for the Divisional Championships last Saturday (2/3) at Clarkstown South have also qualified for the upcoming Sectionals Saturday (2/10) at the Westchester County Center in White Plains. They are, from left: Erik Coyt, Nicholas Pereira, Laila Builes, Eduar Polanco and Jaden Barbour.
(Courtesy photo of Joe Facciola)
There was a not-so-simple answer to a complicated mathematical question going into the Divisional Wrestling Championships—only 52 wrestlers could qualify for the upcoming post-season Sectional Championships by finishing in the top four in 13 weight classes while going up against the best of the best from eight schools competing in Division A.
It came down to the survival of the fittest. And the bottom line didn't account for injuries, close calls or any other excuses.
The hard-nosed, hard-luck Port Chester wrestling Rams learned the answers to those questions the hard way.
The Rams’ winning quintet
Port Chester's wrestling head coach Joe Facciola entered 14 Rams into the Divisionals held last Saturday (2/3) at Rockland County's Clarkstown South and, when all was wrestled and done, five qualified for the upcoming Sectionals Saturday (2/10) at the County Center in White Plains, Westchester's local version of Madison Square Garden.
It will be the first time the wrestling Sectionals will be held at the County Center.
The Ram Big 5 Sectional qualifiers in a variety of weight classes included tri-captains Erik Coyt (108 pounds), Eduar Polanco (116) and Jaden Barbour (215), Nicholas Pereira (138) and eighth-grader Laila Builes (101), the Middle School phenom who is an international jiu jitsu champion and is staging a comeback after missing almost a month of training due to illness.
The top four finishers in each of 13 weight classes qualify for the Section 1 Division 1 championships.
They will all become part of the history-making County Center first.
Injuries and other complications aside, simply surviving the qualifier tournament was quite an accomplishment for the Ram quintet because they wrestled against some of the best wrestlers in Division A, a group that included top-tier wrestlers from Carmel, Fox Lane, John Jay/East Fishkill (JJEF), Mahopac, Mount Vernon, Yorktown as well as the host school.
The wrestling extravaganza
Similar qualifying tournaments were going on at the same time at three other sites: Division B in Suffern, C at Horace Greeley and D at Tappan Zee, with 32 schools in total involved, including strong merged school contenders Byram Hills/Briarcliff/Valhalla/Westlake, JJEF and Eastchester/Tuckahoe.
So the Sectional Championships figure to be quite a wrestling extravaganza.
And Facciola knows what it takes to get there as a former Port Chester Ram Section 1 light-heavyweight champion back in the day. And, as a teacher in the Port Chester School District as well as an ex-Ram triple threat (baseball, football, wrestling), Facciola understands all the things that must go right (and could go wrong) on the way to the mat that really matters at the County Center championships.
Action on the mats
Outstanding Ram middleweight Logan Kuhn was cleared to wrestle in the Divisionals, but he re-injured his knee early in the tournament and had to drop out. Polanco wrestled on a sprained ankle that was injured two weeks ago but basically wrestled on one good leg and still qualified. Pereira was winning 2-0 with 38 seconds to go before a late near fall cost him a pivotal match by a score of 3-2.
But no matter what happened, the Rams kept wrestling. Coyt (the second seed) was the only Ram to win his semi-final round and Bailes injured her shoulder while fighting for third place in her match, had to injury default, but still finished fourth and qualified for the Sectionals.
Each match had its own storyline.
Coyt, for example, was within two points of winning in the finals, trailing just 9-7 in the third period but coming on strong after a slow start against a Yorktown wrestler, only to give up a take down and back points towards the end of the period.
Builes lost in the quarterfinals, had to battle her way back through the wrestle back rounds to upset the JJEF third seed who had beaten her 21-6 earlier in the season. This time around, she was down 1-0 with less than a minute to go in the third period when she scored two back points with less than 20 seconds left to secure the upset. And Barbour, the Rams’ rugged two-way football co-captain and heavy hitter, wrestled Fox Lane's top seed, a state-ranked heavyweight, to a near standstill before losing in the semi-finals.
The supporting cast
And so it went with Polanco winning his third place match with a pin in 2:33 while Pereira won his third place match by a decisive 11-1 score.
The end result was that the Rams didn't have any first place finishers but were in the thick of it and qualified high enough to stay alive and wrestle another day in the Sectionals.
Other Ram qualifiers for the Divisionals who wrestled hard and well but didn't qualify for the Sectionals included David Escobar (131), Christopher Gonzalez (152), Jonathan Tenesaca (160), Alejandro Velasquez and Luis Granados (190). But even in losing, there were encouraging signs for the Rams’ future: Tenesaca, for example, a sophomore, is a two-year-varsity starter. Escobar and Granados are juniors. Gonzalez had just two years of wrestling experience yet wrestled the Rams’ toughest schedule, competing against more Section 1 wrestlers than any of his teammates. And Velasquez, primarily a football player, wrestled his way through a never quit 10-17 record filled with ups and downs.
In brief, the wrestling Rams, the only Port Chester team to have their season canceled due to COVID during the 2020 outbreak, have wrestled their way back into contention, not all the way back yet, but getting there. And the best may well be yet to come.