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Garden City's Horl fights his way to semis in Nassau Division I

Connor Horl couldn't speak. He could barely breathe - the air exiting quickly and raggedly from his mouth as he stalked around the Hofstra University gym Saturday with shoulders hunched and all the semblance of an angry giant.

It was seconds after the Garden City senior's triple-overtime 9-5 win against Port Washington's Michael O'Brien in a 215-pound quarterfinal at the Nassau Division I individual wrestling championships. With the win, Horl advances to a semifinal today.

Plainedge's Dave Ng, about 10 feet away and minutes removed from his own match at 215 pounds, stood passively. He hadn't broken much of a sweat; there hadn't been time.

Ng, the top seed, and second-seeded Horl, have taken vastly diverse paths through this competition. Ng pinned Julio Bonilla of Glen Cove in 47 seconds and Freeport's Oscar Bruce in 1 minute, 43 seconds to breeze into the semifinals. Horl, who took the individual title last season, pinned Aaron Sylver in 3:56 before the quarterfinal against O'Brien.

"I think I was looking toward the semis too much," Horl said after the latter match, in which he fell behind 5-4 after an escape by O'Brien in the second overtime. Horl quickly regrouped, though, scoring five unanswered points. "I thought, this could be the last time I wrestled [for] a championship for my school. I buckled down and told myself I wasn't going to lose."

Horl faces Steve Graziano of Syosset in one semifinal and Ng goes up against East Meadow's Andrew Danzinger in the other. All the semifinals and finals will be Sunday at Hofstra, beginning at 9 a.m.

"Everyone is better than me until I beat them," said Horl, who has never faced Graziano. "I don't like it when people are better than me."

Other favorites advancing included Syosset's Nick Arujau (125), who pinned Bobby Krug of Bellmore JFK in 0:27, and Wantagh's Matt Loew at 189.

Though it wasn't necessarily a day for upsets (all but two of the top two seeds advanced in each weight class), Seaford's Ryan Harding knocked off Bethpage's Dom Aspesi, the No. 2 seed at 135 pounds. Harding locked Aspesi in a near-side cradle and pinned him in 3:34. As the referee made the call, Seaford coach Sal Lostrappo let out a whoop of delight that could be heard high above the crowd's chatter and over the officials' whistles.

Harding competed in 75 matches during the offseason when most high school wrestlers limit themselves to 20 or 30, according to his coach. "When you see that much time and effort go into something, you root for them," Lostrappo said.

Harding expected good things to happen, even though this was the first time in three tries that he has qualified for the county tournament. He credited his family and especially his father, Dan, who took him as far as Ohio for tournaments.

"I knew I put in all the work," Harding said. "I just had to keep my mind ready."

He hopes his training will pay big dividends Sunday, when he'll face Nick Khoury of Long Beach in a semifinal.

"I think he can go all the way," Lostrappo said. "He's not a dark horse for me."

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