Long Island is brimming with talented and accomplished wrestlers. With 10 state champions in 2013, including four who are looking to repeat this season, there are top athletes in many wrestling rooms throughout Nassau and Suffolk.
But even among the elite, two stand out.
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Nick Piccininni, a 120-pound junior from Ward Melville, and Corey Rasheed, a 160-pound senior from Longwood, return this season not only to defend state championships, but to prove they are the best at their weights in the country.
Piccininni capped a 43-0 sophomore campaign by defending his state championship with a dominant win in the final match. Not only did Piccininni roll through top competition, he capped it off with a statement win over rival Kyle Kelly of Chenango Forks, who two years before handed Piccininni, then an eighth-grader, a loss in the state semifinals. That match is the last time Piccininni lost.
"It was big for me, but I knew I was going to beat him," Piccininni said. "I was pretty confident going into the match that I was going to win but it felt good to get that win and that revenge."
Rasheed made his own history last February in Albany.
Rasheed had placed in the top six each of the last three years, including two second-place finishes. He left no doubt he was going to end his junior season on top.
Rasheed stepped onto the mat against Nassau champion Chris Koo of Great Neck South in the state championship match and within a minute -- 56 seconds to be exact -- it was over.
"I was just really numb because it just happened so fast," Rasheed said. "It wasn't a match that was like 10-0, and I had already knew I won. It happened so fast and there was a lot of adrenaline going through me. It was just a surreal moment."
Both continued their winning ways in the offseason. Rasheed won a national title at the NHSCA (National High School Coaches Association) tournament in Virginia Beach and was a winner at the Journeyman Classic upstate. Piccininni also captured a title at the Journeyman and was a winner at the Iron Horse Invitational in New Jersey.
"We're just hard workers and we wrestle every day, and we wrestle as hard as possible," Piccininni said. "We don't let any negative thoughts get into our heads and we wrestle as tough as possible."
Piccininni admits that he sometimes thinks about becoming only the second wrestler in Long Island history to win four state titles.
"Nick is a once in a coaching career wrestler," Ward Melville coach Bill DeSario said. "And that's if you're lucky."
Both wrestlers will have to lead young teams that are on the cusp of contending.
"I have to show these guys that there's no stopping," Rasheed said. "When you're feeling tired, you need to push through that. A lot of people in the room look up to me or look at me knowing that I've won states and nationals and if they see me working hard, then they're going to work hard."
Rasheed said he has made visits to Penn State and Hofstra and has upcoming visits to Maryland and Arizona State.
As for those wrestlers who have upcoming visits with Rasheed or Piccininni, they might be in for a rude awakening if they think the champs are looking ahead.
"I wrestle everybody like it's a state finals match," Piccininni said. "I give everybody respect but once you step on the mat with me, it's go time."