The face mask that prohibits Tomasz Filipkowski from seeing peripherally was cumbersome and somewhat inhibiting. The Mattituck senior just ignored the burden of the device and went after his opponent. His shot after shot, takedown after takedown attempt, was in a relentless pursuit of victory.
Filipkowski knows no other way. He's certainly not overwhelmed by a celebrated foe or the big stage, and he has been absorbing as much information as possible to go where no Long Island Division II wrestler has been: a state title.
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On Wednesday night, in a steamy Center Moriches gym, a respectable crowd watched as Filipkowski put the final clamps on a pin in 4 minutes, 36 seconds over the hometown's Baron Gallo at 182 pounds. The win spurred Mattituck to a dual-meet win and put the Tuckers on the verge of the school's first dual-meet title in 12 years.
"It's annoying because there's a blind spot and it's in my way," Filipkowski said of his protective mask. "I can't see to the side and he knocked it sideways on my face at one point and pretty much blinded me. I can't wait to get it off."
The mask is a necessity after Filipkowski was inadvertently head-butted in the first 10 seconds of the 170-pound final in the Mattituck Tournament two weeks ago. He suffered a deep gash over his right eye that required five stitches to close.
He finished the championship that evening with his head wrapped so tight it hurt. Without the wrapping, he would have defaulted and lost the bout.
"We have to give our trainer, Colleen McGowan, props on that one," Mattituck's seven-year head coach Cory Dolson said. "She did an outstanding job to allow him to continue to wrestle. He almost ran out of blood time but she wrapped him up and the official never stopped the match again."
Filipkowski responded by upending Half Hollow Hills East's Malik Henry, 4-3, for the title. It was a win of redemption for Filipkowski, who is 30-2 this year, one of his losses coming to Henry early in the season.
"Tomasz knows he's good and he knows he's tough but he's not submerged in the wrestling culture like a lot of other wrestlers," Dolson said. "He's always asking about his opponents and their strengths and weaknesses. In some ways, it's a good thing because he just goes after everyone aggressively."
Filipkowski will return to Center Moriches in an attempt to become Mattituck's first three-time county champion. But the three-time county place-winner is looking past the sectional tournament to a much higher goal.
"I lost a heartbreaker in the state placement round last year in Albany," Filipkowski said. "I was in deep on a takedown and picked my opponent up and didn't finish the move. I had the win and I let it get away in overtime. It was very frustrating."
So this season is about finishing. It's about etching his name in the Mattituck record book.
"We've only had one kid ever place in the states in Division II and that was Lou Troisi in 2007," Dolson said. "He took third place at 130 pounds. Tomasz is so much more dedicated this year than ever before and that's a direct result of last year's disappointment in the round to be all-state. And I'm sure that has spurred his motivation to be better this year."
Mattituck has had two wrestlers finish second in the Suffolk tournament, including Steve Shipman, who lost to Ryan Bernholz of Mount Sinai in 1996 at 132 pounds, and Todd Davey, who lost in the 1995 final to John Case of Hampton Bays at 98 pounds.
"Tomasz is a super athlete and has all this natural ability," Dolson said. "He's athletic, strong and fast. But he gets away with some things that other wrestlers don't because of his athleticism. He can't afford to make those mistakes in the sectional or state tournaments or it'll cost him. I think he's ready."
Filipkowski, who has a school-record 121 career wins, joined an elite group of Mattituck wrestlers who've earned more than 100 wins, including Ryan Connell, Sean Heaney, Charles Kozora and Troisi.
"I'm not the biggest 170-pounder but I'm quick enough and smart enough," Filipkowski said. "And coach Dolson has been amazing with helping me condition properly, focus on my strengths and motivate me to succeed."
Sounds like the recipe for success.