Six area wrestlers capture titles at sectional championships (PHOTOS)
|Published: 02-10-2024 9:19 PM
WILLIAMSTOWN — Mateo Henriques just had to hang on for a little bit longer, and he would be crowned a Western Massachusetts champion.
The Smith Vocational junior was clinging to a 5-2 lead in the final minute of the 120-pound weight class title match against Alex Schindler of Monument Mountain – an opponent he was all too familiar with. And just as it looked like Schindler was going to turn Henriques on his back and potentially tie the match up, Henriques wouldn’t let him.
He remained on his front side and didn’t surrender any more points, ultimately earning his first career title at the Western Mass. Division 3 Wrestling Championships at Mount Greylock Regional High School on Saturday afternoon.
“I was just trying my best not to get turned over,” Henriques said of the waning moments of the match. “I wanted to work the stuff that I know and am most comfortable with. I’ve wrestled that kid four times already this year, so I knew it was gonna be tough to beat him. I knew he wanted his revenge on me, but I had to dig deep and take him out. It was a tough season, but I got through it and I just wanted to give it everything I had.”
Henriques was one of two Vikings wrestlers who made it through to next weekend’s state tournament. Just three matches later, in the 138-pound weight class, his teammate, Matthew Small, joined him with a dominant showing in the finals.
Small, also a junior, wasn’t even 100 percent coming into Saturday as he dealt with a knee injury from a couple weeks ago. Still, Small dug deep, and managed to win via pinfall in the first period.
“This feels great,” Small said of the title. “I’ve been wrestling since sixth grade, and this is my first time ever winning Western Mass., so it’s a big accomplishment. I hurt my knee like two weeks ago and I was taking it lighter at practice to get it to heal up. I wasn’t fully healthy today but hopefully I’ll be fine for states.”
A year ago, Smith Voc had another Western Mass. champ in the same weight class. Alex Martinez took first in last season’s competition at 138, but a shoulder injury hindered him from wrestling this year. So Small filled in the hole, and Martinez – who made the trip to Williamstown – was one of the first people to congratulate Small when he walked off the mat.
“Alex coming for the first time all season to support us, making the trip out here, that meant a lot,” Small said. “He was supposed to wrestle this year but hurt his shoulder. He was 138 last year so it was pretty cool that I could step in and get it done with him here.”
Other podium finishers for Smith Voc included Jonah Van der woude (fifth, 113), Colin Paschal (fifth, 285), Logan Hawley (sixth, 126) and Ariel Ginsberg (sixth, 157).
The Vikings finished in eighth place as a team with 101 points. Hampden Charter East won the team title with a total of 216 points, followed by Taconic in second place (153.5) and Monument Mountain in third (143).
Elsewhere, Hampshire’s Adin Clifford achieved not one, but two milestones on Saturday. Clifford pinned his way through the 144-pound bracket with relative ease to bring home a title for the first time in his career. On top of that, he also notched his 100th win earlier in the day. Not a bad afternoon on the mats for the Raiders junior.
“My goal this season was definitely to win Western Mass., and when I got the first seed [at 144], I was excited for the opportunity,” Clifford said. “Now it means I get to go to states.”
In the title match, Clifford got taken down almost immediately by Hampden Charter East’s Ezekiel Cherival – but he never blinked. He turned things around toward the end of the period, and stuck Cherival early in the second to secure the coveted title.
“I kind of knew he wasn’t the most experienced kid, so even though he had gotten a good shot off early I knew I’d still be able to come back,” Clifford said. “I stayed focused the whole time and it paid off in the end.”
Hampshire turned in a solid day, as Luke Johndrow (second, 165), Robert Zononi (third, 113), Taylan Mccolgan (fourth, 120) and Samuel Matthews (sixth, 190) all secured podium finishes. The Raiders’ 96 points were good enough for ninth place.
Perhaps the coolest moment of the day occurred in the 165-pound title match between Gateway’s Elijah Gilbert and Hampshire’s Luke Johndrow.
Because the Gators have such a small team, there aren’t enough wrestlers in each weight class to practice against one another every day. With that, Gateway has teamed up with Hampshire all season to practice. Gilbert and Johndrow have been practice partners since the beginning of the year, and they entered as the No. 1 and 2 seeds at 165 on Saturday.
The two essentially know exactly what the other one’s tendencies are, and that made for a thrilling match.
“We’ve been practicing with them almost the entire year, so we know each other really well,” Gilbert said of Johndrow. “When we’re wrestling each other, I try to hit him with moves that I usually don’t do because he knows all the stuff that I do. This is probably the third time this year we’ve wrestled in a match, and we know each other really well on and off the mat.”
Gilbert, who has wrestled on Gateway’s varsity team since sixth grade, got the best of Johndrow with a third-period pin to win the sectional crown.
“I’ve been wrestling on varsity since sixth grade, and I’ve never gotten first,” Gilbert said. “I’ve always placed second, third or fourth, but this is the first time I’ve gotten first. So this, this is just amazing. I’ve been working however many years to get to this point, and I finally hit my goal. It feels amazing.”
Caiden Walker added a sixth-place finish in the 106-pound weight class for the Gators, which finished in 13th place with 37 points.
Frontier had the best area finish on Saturday, taking home fifth place (137 points) behind several strong individual performances.
Senior Alex Schreiber won the 190-pound weight class after only wrestling for the past four weeks of the season. Schreiber wrestled in seventh grade, then decided to do skiing from eighth through 11th grade. He didn’t sign up for a winter sport this year, and after a couple months of boredom, decided to hop back on the mat – with a little convincing from head coach Brian Bagdon and some of his friends on the team.
“I wrestled back in seventh grade, but I stopped, and just came back about four weeks ago,” Schreiber said. “This was only my ninth win of the season, I’m 9-0. It feels great, and it means a lot.”
Eighth grader Ber Calhoun (106) finished in second place, while Wyatt Finch (120), Edward Mieczkowski (175) and Javion Cabrera (285) all grabbed third place. Kaden James (215, fourth) and Konnor James (150, fifth) each placed as well to round out Frontier’s podium finishers.
South Hadley and Granby competed in the Central Mass. Div. 3 championship at Ashland High School on Saturday, the Tigers placing ninth while the Rams took 13th.
Host Ashland won the team title with 291.5 points, followed by Wayland in second place (205) and Ludlow in third (168).
Two South Hadley wrestlers — Jasiel Ramos and Roberto Melendez — qualified for Div. 3 states with top four finishes.
Ramos, wrestling at 175, opened the day with a pair of wins via pin before falling in the semis to Ashland's Anton Puhach. Ramos followed it up with a win to reach the third place match, where he knocked off Dedham's Falco Heaslip with a third period pin to take third on the day.
Wrestling at 285, Melendez dropped his opening match but won his next two to reach the third place match. There, he fell to Wayland's Nathan Hartunian, though Melendez's fourth place finish qualifies him for Div. 3 states next week.
Jamie Medina earned fifth place at 215 while Logan Luis (138) and Patrick Lavelle (113) both took sixth for South Hadley.
Two Granby wrestlers also qualified for Div. 3 states. After losing his first match at 120, Nathan Benson ripped off three straight victories to reach the third place match, where he fell to Wayland's Ben Shanson. Benson took fourth on the day.
At 190, Junior Ramsey had a similar story. He lost his first match of the day, won two in a row to reach the third place match, where he fell to Wayland's Anthony Brown.
Benson and Ramsey will each advance to states with their fourth place finishes.
Granby’s Kirk Kim placed sixth at 126.
Out in Northbridge, the Holyoke wrestling team finished 10th as a team and Northampton was 13th in the Western Massachusetts Division 2 Championships.
Holyoke’s Steven Santiago paved the way for his team, capturing the title at 113 pounds thanks to a perfect 3-0 day.
Santiago, the No. 2 seed at 113, secured the sectional crown thanks to a wild overtime victory over top-seeded Jordan Dietz of Minnechaug in the final. Santiago built a 5-0 lead after one period but Dietz rallied and used a third-period takedown to force OT. In the extra session, Santiago worked a takedown to nab a 7-5 decision.
Jackson Nbonihamkuye finished third at 106 for the Purple Knights and earned a spot at next week’s state meet, while teammate Jonathan Rivera Marrero finished fourth at 165.
The Division 2 state meet will be held at Algonquin Regional High School next weekend.
Northampton had four wrestlers compete but didn’t boast a podium finisher.
West Springfield won the sectional title with 244 points, just ahead of Minnechaug in second place (232). Agawam was third with 202.