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Sports Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, March 1, 2012

Casullo and Sprung
New challenge for experienced BKW wrestlers

ALBANY –– Joe Sprung and Matt Casullo have both done their fair share of wrestling, but Friday was something new. The two Berne-Knox-Westerlo teammates had spent an entire season dominating Section II opponents, but now they were just two great athletes in a huge statewide field of great athletes.

Friday’s State Wrestling Tournament at the Times Union Center in Albany featured 480 wrestlers split into two divisions. Casullo (170 pounds) and Sprung (220 pounds) were part of Division II, and proud to be the first Bulldog wrestlers to ever participate in such an event.

However, Sprung, a junior, and Section II champion, and Casullo, a senior, weren’t satisfied with just being at the State Tournament –– they wanted to do well.

“We don’t come to lose,” BKW Head Coach Jeff Vogel said after Casullo and Sprung both lost their first-round matches. “I don’t care if we got invited to the Olympics because six other people couldn’t make it –– we’re going to go for the win. Winning is the goal.”

Casullo said that he was a little nervous going into his match against Marcus Dwaileebe of Olean (Section VI). Sprung said he felt comfortable on the big stage, but Dillion Hurlbert of Marathon (Section XI) took Sprung out of his element.

“He had a leg in on me,” Casullo said of his 2-to-0 loss to Dwaileebe. Casullo struggled hard to get a reversal on Dwaileebe in the third period, but Dwaileebe had Casullo grounded to the mat. “He’s good, but I should have went for more moves,” said Casullo.

Sprung got an unfortunate match-up with Hurlbert in the first round, losing 10 to 6. Hurlbert was good on his feet, but Sprung is the type of wrestler that likes to work down on the mat.

“I didn’t wrestle my match; played his game,” Sprung said. “He (Hulbert) wanted to go upper body with throws, and he threw me a few times. I didn’t wrestle like I should have and it cost me a match. I should have beaten him.”

Vogel told The Enterprise that Sprung’s takedowns weren’t 110 percent and that Casullo “left everything on the table” because Casullo was very close to beating the number-two seed (Dwaileebe) in the first round.

“This tournament is all about match-ups,” Vogel said. “We ran into a problem because we got the wrong match-ups. Someone could be on their way to winning the entire thing, but they run into the wrong guy. It’s not about where you are; it’s about where you’re going. If you have that vision, then things will work out.”

Everyone wants to go as far as they can, but wrestling is a mental game.

“You have to go out there by yourself,” Sprung said. “You win or lose by yourself. You don’t have a team to back you up.”

Casullo said it becomes real when he shakes his opponent’s hand. “OK, I’m wrestling,” he said. “I just worry about myself and try anything I can to win. I know what I want to do, but the match can play out differently. You just play it out and move to Plan B.”

Both Sprung and Casullo went on to the consolation rounds later on Friday, and Sprung won his first two matches (2-1, 5-3) to advance to Saturday. Sprung’s run ended with a 9-to-5 loss to Travis Conklyn of Canastota (Section III).

Casullo won his first consolation match, 5 to 1, over Adam Hughey of Watkins Glens (Section IV), but lost his next match, 1 to 0, to Ryan Wolcott of Waverly (Section IV).

“They learn the things that they have to learn on their own at a tournament like this, that, no matter what I tell them, they won’t get until they learn it,” Vogel said last Friday. “You have to go deeper than you’re used to going. You have to learn the hard way and maybe get a little lucky.”

The State Tournament is the highest level. Wrestlers have to use more force than usual.

“I just force my stuff on them,” Sprung said. “I like to ride it out and then go for the pin with a half nelson or something.” In a half nelson, a wrestler passes one arm under his opponent’s arm from behind to the back of the neck.

“You take out your aggression in the next match,” said Casullo about carrying frustration after losing. “You get the next guy.”

A purpose and a place

It was upsetting for Sprung and Casullo to lose their first matches, but at least the two teammates can say they were the first BKW wrestlers to make the State Tournament. BKW didn’t even have a wrestling team until 2005.

Vogel didn’t mean to brag about BKW’s quick success, but pointed out that Schoharie, which formed a team in 1971, had its first representative here this year. Mohonasen was being represented for the first time since 1983, he said.

“We’ve made a huge leap,” Vogel said. BKW won the Class D title this year as the host. “It’s not bragging if we did it. The back of our T-shirts will say ‘From zero to Champs in 6.25.’”

In 2011, the Bulldogs lost five different matches by one point each at sectionals. “We gave a title away,” Vogel said. “That fueled us this year.”

“We’ve figured things out as time has gone on,” said Sprung, who would like to pursue wrestling in college. “What makes us better is our will to listen, willingness to learn.”

Casullo is a skilled welder and fabricator, so he’ll be saying goodbye to competitive wrestling.

“We made it,” he said.

BKW has many wins on the mat, but Vogel said the most important accomplishment for the team is giving kids a purpose and a place. Vogel has witnessed many BKW kids turn their lives around after joining the team.

“Some of these kids had no interest in coming to school before they became a wrestler,” Vogel said. “We’ve used wrestling as a tool to get kids interested in school. We had one kid that had 65 days of absence before he wrestled, and he’s only had four days of absence since.”

Some kids aren’t artistic, some aren’t musical, and some don’t want to play basketball. Where do they go?

“They needed a place,” Vogel said. “Now, they do belong and they are something. We’ve helped kids grow up and get focused.”

— By Jordan J. Michael

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