Though Alex Conti spent some time this past summer donning another team's colors (Red, White and Blue, to be exact), you can bet the coach is thrilled to be back in good old Fredonia Orange and Black once again.
His wrestlers are happy to see it as well.
Conti, who late last May got word that he had been selected as a coach for the USA women's freestyle wrestling squad and would be traveling to London with the team for the 2012 Summer Olympics, was once again in familiar garb and leading his Hillbillies to a familiar result on Saturday at the Maple Grove Kick-off Classic.
Photos by Rob Tucker
Pictured on top: Fredonia’s Dakota Gardner, right, looks to gain the advantage over Allegany-Limestone’s Jordan Kayes in their 132 match, Saturday at the Maple Grove Kick-off Classic. Gardner recorded the pin in 1:50.
Guided by the three-time Post-Journal Coach of the Year, who has led his squad to Chautauqua-Cattaraugus Athletic Association Division 1 titles in six of the past seven years, the Hillbillies won the 15-team tournament rather handily. They placed 12 of their 15 total wrestlers in the top five - five of those 12 were champions - on the way to 248 points.
The next closest group was Lake Shore, which tallied three first-place finishes, with 180 points and rounding out the top three was Maple Grove with 160.
"I'm extremely happy," Conti said with a smile. "I thought they all executed as well as could be today. There were a couple of nice surprises, a couple of youngsters that really stepped up and I was just really pleased with the whole performance.
"It was very, very impressive. I'm proud of all the kids' effort."
It was the first time in three years that Fredonia captured the top prize at the Kick-Off Classic and it snapped Lake Shore's two-tournament win streak.
Maple Grove, meanwhile, placed third for the second year in a row.
Among the usual victors for Conti's group were Jude and Dakota Gardner at 152 and 132 pounds respectively, Zach Buckley at 182 and Pat McCarthy at 120.
Jude decisioned Maple Grove's Howie Nolan in the title round's opening match, 11-4, while Dakota flattened Allegany-Limestone's Jordan Kayes in 1:50, Buckley topped West Seneca East's Zach Osmanski, 6-2, and McCarthy handled his Gator opponent, Zach Bierfeldt, with an 11-2 major decision.
"They went after people," Conti said. "The Gardner boys are really something special, Pat McCarthy was just tearing it up and Zach Buckley the same thing. He went out there and took care of business."
Another Hillbillie, Chris Saden, delivered the fastest pin of the final round when he handled Lake Shore's Briar Dils in just 38 seconds.
But while all of these wrestlers excelled throughout the gruelling day-long event, it was a second-place finisher, Sean Sluberski, who had the unfortunate luck of competing in the final match of the evening, that Conti awarded the tournament trophy.
The 145-pounder, who had earlier won by a pair of decisions and a fall, battled Cattaraugus-Little Valley/Pine Valley's Nick Sandy to a 0-0 stalemate in the first period only to surrender five points in the second on the way to an 8-3 defeat.
"Sean had a terrific tournament and reaching the finals was indicative of that," Conti said. "But when you sit around and stand around for as long as he had to it was tough (to come out with a win). His semifinal match, though, was as good as I've seen him wrestle."
Sandy's coach Rex Brown, meanwhile, was thrilled to end the tournament on a winning note.
"It's always good to end with a win, no doubt," he said with a laugh. "(Nick) had a very smart, very well thought out match. It wasn't anything fancy, but he was very patient."
Sandy was the third C-LV/PV wrestler to reach the finals and the second winner. The other was Matt Booth, who pinned Hamburg's Brendan Knoll in 1:29.
It's just the first of many victories for Booth (a runnerup in this tournament last year) this season, Brown said.
"He's solid, really solid," he explained. "I'm really excited about him."
Other standouts were Falconer's Kyle Blake, his opponent, eighth-grader and first-time varsity wrestler A.J. Putt and Cassadaga Valley's Eben Torres.
Blake, a senior, and Putt squared off in the 99-pound title match and the issue wasn't resolved until the third overtime. After a scoreless opening period, Putt took the 1-0 advantage only to surrender it 20 seconds into the third when Blake was awarded an escape point. The score remained knotted at one through the first one-minute overtime before the experienced Blake tallied yet another escape point in the final overtime for the slimmest of victories.
Despite the outcome, however, Maple Grove coach Trevor Delahoy was proud of his young athlete, whose career record is now 3-1.
"I knew it wasn't going to be an easy day for him," he said, "but he won his semifinal. I told him that it was going to be tough going against Kyle because he's a senior, a little bigger, a little stronger and a little quicker, but he definitely held his own."
Maple Grove, which had spent the day trading second and third place with Lake Shore, had three finalists but no champions.
Finally, Torres' capped what turned out to be a solid day for the Cassadaga Valley Cougars with a furious come-from-behind win at 170 pounds.
Trailing by as many as three points on two separate occasions - it was 5-2 at the end of the second period - to West Seneca East-foe Devin Lindner, Torres eventually heard coach Jeremy Beichner yell that his time was running out. Taking a quick peak at the clock above, Torres scored a take down to tie it at five with a minute left and then hit Lindner with a headlock with less than 30 seconds to go to snatch the win.
"He had tried to hit that headlock several times throughout the match and whether he got better with it each time or the kid just wore down, it eventually worked to his advantage," Beichner said. "He hit the headlock when he needed to and that was the deciding factor."
The tournament victory was the first of Torres' career.