OBSERVER Sports Editor
ALBANY - Fredonia freshman Dakota Gardner sat by himself under the bleachers of the Times Union Center in Albany on Saturday following his 6-2 loss to William Koll of Lansing in the 126-pound division title match of the New York State Public High School Athletic Association.
A few minutes went by before teammate Tyler Cassidy came along and talked to Gardner about the match and a near takedown which could have turned the match in his favor.
OBSERVER?Photo by Craig Harvey
Fredonia’s Dakota Gardner sizes up Lansing’s William Koll during the 126-pound finals at the NYSPHSAA Wrestling Championships in Albany, on Saturday
Then, talking to the media, he continued to talk about his near takedown.
"It was a deep shot," Gardner said. "I have practiced it since I was a kid. He countered with a move I have never seen before. I think if I wrestle him again, I would be able to take him down."
After a scoreless first period, Gardner chose bottom to start the second. He quickly escaped, but Koll earned two takedowns in the second period to gain a 4-2 edge heading into the final period.
With three minutes left, Gardner was taken down one last time and could not recover for the 6-2 defeat.
"We had a fantastic shot," Fredonia coach Alex Conti said. "He had a phenomenal counter and got the points, good for him. That's all you can say. William Koll is a special young man."
Koll is now a two-time state champion and placed third last year. He is also the son of Cornell University wrestling coach, Rob Koll.
"I thought Dakota wrestled fantastic," Conti added. "He had a great match."
Gardner noted Saturday's loss will just be fuel to the fire for next year.
"I am happy, but not satisfied. I want to be a four-time state champion. I thought I was capable of doing it, but in the end, you learn more from a loss. Two weeks ago I lost and I worked harder in practice. Now this summer I will work more and more so I can win states the next three years. It would have been nice to win it, but we have the next three years. I am going to train a lot more and I don't see anyone stopping me next year."
As for Gardner's determined demeanor to get back and win next year, Conti said that's what makes him a champion.
"A true champion is going to be upset when you lose, but realize the bigger picture," he said. "I believe he sees the bigger picture. I think he is prepared. I was pleased with the match. I was very proud of Dakota's entire tournament."
Gardner showed he is well beyond his years when it comes to wrestling as his poise helped him in the semifinals.
After giving up two early points to Jake Nicholson of Section 5 Waterloo, the score stayed 2-0 until the final minute of the third period when Gardner earned a takedown to send the match into overtime.
"He is a freshman,"?Conti said. "But he is a well-seasoned wrestler. He is the first wrestler I have had that has gone above and beyond outside the season. Others go places and do summer wrestling, but not to the extent Dakota does."
In overtime, Gardner got a takedown and two back points for the 6-2 victory and a ticket into the championship match.
"It was a gutsy performance," Conti said. "It was a great display. To be down 2-0 in the third period and be on top, he did a great job controlling that match. I was very proud. That overtime takedown was remarkable."
Gardner's brother, Jude, did not have as much luck in the semifinals as Fredonia was the victim of another questionable call after Jude lost to Roy-Hart's Drew Hull for the fourth time this season at 145.
With the score tied, 2-all, Hull was awarded a takedown as the final second ticked off the clock for a 4-2 victory.
"I disagree with the call," Conti lamented. "I don't believe it was a good call. It was heartbreaking. There wasn't even four seconds left. Take nothing away from Drew Hull. I believe he is a quality wrestler. I thought Jude executed the plan and did a tremendous job at it. He did a great job."
In the wrestlebacks, Gardner shook off the emotional defeat and finished his high school career with two big victories to take third place.
"I couldn't be prouder of anybody than Jude," Conti said. "To lose that match and turn around and come back and take third is immeasurable. I am so proud of him. He was the captain every coach would always want. Everything I expected from my son as a captain I got from Jude. He never disappointed and that's why it really hurts when those guys lose. Again, I couldn't be more proud of Jude."
At 132, Fredonia's Tyler Cassidy lost his semifinals match to Cheektowaga's Renaldo Rodriguez-Spencer, 11-2.
In his first wrestleback match, Cassidy faced Lew-Port's Ryan Cromer.
Cromer scored a two-point takedown in the final two seconds to down Cassidy.
In the match for fifth place, Cassidy fell to Sam Ward, 7-1, to finish sixth.
"My goal for Tyler was fifth place," Conti said. "I wanted him to end on a win. Coming into the tournament with that quality of a weight class, sixth is a nice finish for him. To take sixth in a state tournament, I don't care who you are, to get here and place is a great thing. I am very very proud of him. Tyler was really focused."
At 220, Fredonia's Chris Saden won his first match with a 7-3 victory over Josh Langley of Section 3's Holland Patent. However, a loss in the next round put Saden in the running for fifth or sixth place. In that match, he beat Johnstown's Joe Nellis (Section 2), 8-2.
A key reason for Saden's success throughout the postseason was due in part to working out with Cattaraugus-Little Valley's Matt Booth.
"They have to thank their partners," Conti said of all his wrestlers. "Each guy had a quality partner. Jude doesn't make it without Zach Buckley. You're only as good as the people you are working out with. Christian has Matt Booth to thank for where he is at. I am sure Matt had success because Chris was there for him. It was a great finish for Christian."
Maple Grove's Brad Bihler's quest for a state championship came to an end in the semifinals as the freshman ran into a physical No. 1 seed in Luis Weierbach from Hoosick Falls, 2-0.
After a scoreless first period, Bihler began the second period in the bottom position. There, Weierbach was able to maintain top position for all three minutes to keep the match scoreless.
Weierbach began the third period in the bottom position and earned a two-point reversal in the first 10 seconds of the round. From there, Bihler was unable to get a reversal or escape as Weierbach advanced to the finals and Bihler was off to the wrestlebacks.
In the wrestlebacks, Bihler dominated Jason Charlotte of Section 5 Midlakes with a 2:44 pin to punch his ticket into the consolation championships. There, Bihler finished his season off in fashion with a 7-0 victory over Ryan O'Rourke of Adirondack for a third-place finish.
When it was all said and done, Bihler finished the tournament allowing just three points while scoring 31 and earning a pin.
"The kid he lost to placed last year," Maple Grove coach Trevor Delahoy said. "He knew what to expect here. The kid was a bit bigger and more mature physicality-wise. Brad wrestled well. He dominated every match. He wrestled smart and very, very well. I think its going to help him out and I think it helps the other guys as well. They can see a young wrestler do so well."
Southwestern's Ryan Hetrick went 3-0 on the day in the wrestlebacks at 99. In his first match of the day, Hetrick defeated Hunter Olena of East Rochester, 5-2, in his next match, Hetrick defeated Andrew Flanagan of Section 5's Holley, 3-1 in overtime.
Hetrick needed a one-point escape in the final 10 seconds to force overtime. There, Hetrick earned a takedown for the 3-1 victory and into the round to place for third or fourth.
In the consolation finals, Hetrick took on Tanner Lapiene of Ogdensburg Free Academy.
There, Hetrick got a two-point takedown in the final seconds of the first period for a 2-0 edge. In the second period, Hetrick began in bottom position and got a reversal and a near pinfall for a 7-0 lead and essentially put the match out of reach for a 7-2 victory.
"His goal was to win them all" Southwestern coach Mark Arnold said. "He pulled out the close ones today. His goal was placing. We knew he could do it. He has a great work ethic and has been doing the extra things. It's well deserved. Losing in double overtime was heartbreaking (Friday). We got him refocused. We told him he could hang with anyone and he did that here. All year, he has been the kid we go to to win the big matches. It was a joy being able to coach him and watch him progress this season. Taking third in the state is icing on the cake. I am very proud of him. I have three more years with him. It's going to be fun."
At 126, Falconer's Brandon Muntz began the day with a 7-2 victory over Red Hook's Matt Rauch (Section 9). However, in the next round, he fell to Jake Nicholson the same wrestler Dakota Gardner beat in the semifinals. The loss put Muntz into the running for either fifth or sixth place. There, Muntz could not find a way to defeat Nick Forget of Section 7 Peru.
Despite the loss, Muntz ends his career with a sixth-place finish at the state tournament. He is the first Falconer wrestler to earn a medal since Brad Penhollow in 2004.
"It's a big accomplishment.," Falconer coach Drew Wilcox said. "He has worked really hard at it. To get a medal is something he will look back at and be proud of some day. You never want to end on a loss, but getting a top 6 finish is a big accomplishment."
With 16 of the state's best Division 2 wrestlers going to Albany, third and fourth place at 195 came down to two wrestlers from Cattaraugus County and two schools that are a mere 20 minutes apart as Salamanca's Dusty Lewis and Cattaraugus-Little Valley's Matt Booth met in the consolation finals.
"We could have done this at Salamanca," Salamanca coach Rich Morton joked.
Lewis used a pin and a medical forfeit to battle for third place while Booth used two decisions with a combined 15-2 score to make it to the consolation finals.
In the match, Booth was able to hold off Lewis for the 5-2 victory.
Booth is the first state qualifier from Cattaraugus-Little Valley since 1972. To take home third place was icing on the cake for coach Sam Gray.
"He did a lot of damage," Gray said. "He wrestled awesome and just got banged up in the second-round match. This whole thing is indescribable. I have coached him since he was 5 years old. He didn't wrestle his normal self (Friday). We had some heart-to-hearts and got him back to Matt Booth. He was a little shell shocked. We started working on where he was and he came through strong today. He is a tremendous kid. Best of luck to him wherever he goes. I am so happy to have coached him."
As for Lewis, he placed fifth at sectionals last year and walks away with a fourth-place finish at states this year.
"That's a huge jump," Salamanca coach Rich Morton noted. "I think this was the best he has wrestled all year. You have to say the same for Matt Booth. It was fitting they came in third and fourth. I think Matt's style gives Dusty trouble."
Frewsburg's Austin Lynn finished his career with a fourth place finish at the state meet. In Lynn's first match of the day, he edged Derrick Din of Canisteo-Greenwood (Section 5), 6-5. In his second match, he defeated Ryan Marszel of Unatego (Section 4), 2-1. However, in the consolation finals, Lynn fell to Brad Burns of Hoosick Falls (Section 2), 3-2.