By Jordan J. Michael
DELANSON –– Two of the finest small-school wrestling teams in Section 2 –– Duanesburg and Berne-Knox-Westerlo –– went head-to-head, literally, last Thursday. The lights were low, but the intensity was high.
Spectators packed the confines of the Duanesburg High School gym for an entertaining evening of wrestling. BKW had to forfeit six weight classes, but the remaining nine matches were all thrills and no fill.
This wasn’t the normal wrestling event. Something about the atmosphere made it unique. Every match had importance, and those in the crowd had their eyes locked on the center mat.
It’s just too bad that six matches had to be forfeited. BKW would have had a chance to upset Duanesburg on its home floor if it weren’t undermanned. Head Coach Jeff Vogel said that the Bulldogs usually have their weights filled, but there have been some issues with grades. Athletes must maintain a certain grade-point average in order to compete.
“We’re a little under-powered, but the number-one goal is to make them want the match to be over,” Vogel said. He said that Duanesburg is the best small school team in Section 2, bar none. No one in the wrestling discussion would argue that.
“Everyone who walked off the mat for them was ready to be done,” continued Vogel of the Duanesburg wrestlers after battling their BKW foes. “Win, lose, or draw, I got to be happy.”
BKW pushed the Duanesburg wrestlers to their limit, getting victories from Joe Sprung (220 pounds), Cody Fisher (138 pounds), and Matt Farnan (285 pounds). Most of the matches were close, and two went into overtime.
Sprung has spring
The most significant and alarming match of the night was between Sprung and Jeff Senecal, who usually wrestles at 195 pounds. Senecal jumped up to 220 to challenge Sprung, who was undefeated at 14-0. Sprung had dominated all of his opponents this season, but that changed against Senecal.
Holding a strength advantage over Sprung, Senecal used his brute force as leverage during the match. Senecal took Sprung down and maneuvered an escape in the first four minutes to go ahead, 3 to 0. As the second period clock ran down, Vogel called out Sprung, exclaiming, “You’ve got to be more aggressive.”
After the match, Sprung said he was too conservative against Senecal, who had impressive muscle tone. “He was stronger than me, definitely,” Sprung said. “I started out conservative because I didn’t want to get myself in trouble against someone that I knew was physically stronger.”
Vogel thought Sprung went into the match with nerves. Senecal was Sprung’s first real test in a long time. Sprung, who competed at States last season, wrestled a kid from Section 3 who had crushed everyone else, but Sprung made him look horrible, Vogel said.
“He didn’t believe in himself for the first four minutes, and then he did, and that was the end of that,” said Vogel of Sprung’s match last Thursday. “It’s like standing in the middle of a paintball arena without protection, then, all of a sudden, he shoots back.”
In the third period, Sprung scored a reversal to get within one point, 3 to 2, but Senecal scored another point. With just seconds remaining in the match, Sprung took Senecal down to tie the match, 4 to 4, as the Duanesburg crowd gasped and shook their heads.
“I knew that I had to do something,” Sprung said. “I was determined not to lose the match; I couldn’t lose. My will to win was bigger than his.”
Once overtime started, Sprung had fully realized the aggressiveness needed to win the match, and it didn’t take long for him to pin Senecal. “I was comfortable,” said Sprung. “If people shoot on me, I know I can score.”
Senecal shot at Sprung, and then Sprung started hipping into Senecal. Sprung got out of Senecal’s loose grip, taking him straight to his back for the pin. Most of the crowd were on their feet.
“I think both of us learned a lot,” said Senecal, a senior, who didn’t wrestle last season because of two shoulder operations. “In the end, I can’t be so forward and backward. I have to go with more angles. I’m more of a head-on type of person, but it was a great match.”
The Bulldogs didn’t have an opponent for Senecal at 195 pounds, but Senecal didn’t want to end the night without a match, so he decided to wrestle up. He nearly ruined Sprung’s perfect record.
“Facing me was the deciding point for him,” Sprung said of Senecal. After the meet was over, the two decided to be training partners for the rest of the season. “I love coming to Duanesburg,” said Sprung. “That was a really tough challenge. He’s a tough kid.”
Senecal said that Sprung put up a good fight. It really was a match for the ages. The two won’t wrestle each other again, but at least they’ll be able to help each other train for sectionals.
“He has weight, strength, and experience,” Senecal said of Sprung. “And me, I guess I have enough strength and whatnot.”
Even though Senecal had more power, Sprung was mentally strong. Wrestlers try to get into each other’s heads all of the time. It’s a big part of the sport.
“You can’t let them get inside of your head,” Sprung said. “I know people, they see someone that’s really ripped, and they get scared. Mentally, they’ve already lost the match, and, once you’ve lost that mentality, you lose the match. Period.”
If Sprung had started out aggressively against Senecal, maybe it wouldn’t have been so close.
“If he wants to be a State Champ, he needs to learn that nobody can stick with him when he wants to go,” Vogel said of Sprung. “I think he learned that tonight. It was a very important match for him.”
A test, not a rivalry
Basically, Sprung versus Senecal was the epitome of Duanesburg versus BKW. It’s always rough, tight, and exciting. There were some whispers in the crowd of the match-up being a rivalry, but Sprung more or less put that to bed.
“I think it’s more of a test than a rivalry,” said Sprung. “Coach Vogel and Coach (Joe) Bena are really close friends, and we all like each other. This is a great test for our team because, straight up, Duanesburg is good.”
The Eagles won, 63 to 18. But, without the six forfeits from the Bulldogs, who knows what the score would have been. Vogel said that the six absent wrestlers last Thursday are struggling to balance homework with the extreme physical fitness of the sport.
“Everyone who wrestled tonight put everything out there,” Vogel said. “We want everyone to know that we’re coming.”
For local wrestling fans, last Thursday was a great way to ring in the New Year.
“I thought the whole thing was pretty exciting,” Senecal said. His teammate, John Nicolella, beat Anthony Pasquini in the other overtime match. “The main thing is keeping your nerves down,” he said, “but I really like what I saw tonight. A lot of tough matches.”