Joey Slackman knew what was coming.
The Commack senior had dominated his way to the final of the 285 pound division at the prestigious Eastern States Classic tournament Jan. 12 at Sullivan-CC, but found himself in a tough spot against Trentyn Rupert of Newark Valley (Binghamton).
“We got into an over/under position and I couldn’t get my head in the right spot,” Slackman said. “I knew the throw was coming and I braced for it. He didn’t get any back points but it kind of (ticked) me off.”
He quickly recovered and escaped, and like each of his other matches at Eastern States, put away his opponent to earn bonus points and secured a pin in 3:30 to win the tournament for the second straight year.
Like he has each time he’s found himself in an unfavorable position the last two seasons, he’s used it as motivation to improve. Not that it’s happened often.
“He’s grown so much as a wrestler,” Commack coach Michael Guercio said. “I can’t even compare this year to last - it’s night and day.”
Slackman is 34-0 as of January 18 and went 46-2 as a junior, losing only in the Suffolk and state finals to Amityville’s Deonte Wilson.
“Not only did those matches with Deonte help me with my technique but it helped me understand where I had to get better,” Slackman said. “Before I wrestled him I thought I was as prepared as could be but after that I knew what I had to do to be able to beat that caliber of wrestler.”
Slackman has always been able to get by on just athleticism - this fall he tied the Suffolk record with 22 sacks while playing defensive line on the football team - but he's much more than that.
“Last year, he was more physical and trying to throw and a shot here and there,” Guercio said. “Now he’s much more tactical, plus he’s 10-times stronger.”
The combination of technique, strength and athleticism has upped the expectations for Slackman.
“I feel more comfortable doing things I wouldn’t have normally done last year or the year before and I feel better with a different variation of moves,” Slackman said. “I’m happy with what I’m doing now but I have a long way to go.”
The next step is the League I tournament Feb. 2 at Ward Melville before hopefully returning to the county and state tournaments.
“He has a good attitude and he doesn’t look past anybody,” Guercio said. “He hasn’t taken anything for granted and he’s motivated and hungry. For him this is unfinished business.”