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Salute to the champs 2020: LI's state wrestling champions

Malik Leftenant of Copiague beat Alex Semenenko of

Malik Leftenant of Copiague beat Alex Semenenko of Staten Island Tech in the 220-pound Division I final at the New York state wrestling championships on Feb. 29, 2020. Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams

DIVISION I

MALIK LEFTENANT, Sr., Copiague, 220 pounds

When one talks about having wrestling in their blood, look no further than Leftenant.

Both his father, Kevin, and grandfather, Chris, wrestled in high school. Leftenant also has some history in his bloodlines: Samuel Leftenant, a distant cousin, was a second lieutenant in the famed Tuskegee Airmen according to the Leftenant family.

Malik Leftenant made some history of his own this season, becoming only the second wrestler in Copiague history -- and first since 1993 -- to win a state championship according to the Copiague coaching staff. It all started with a fourth-place finish in January at the Eastern States Classic.

“I kind of dominated after Eastern States,” said Leftenant, who was 40-5 this season. “I came out from that with a whole different fire and different tempo.”

The senior parlayed that momentum into a Suffolk crown at 220 pounds en route to a state title. Not bad for someone who had never been a Suffolk placewinner.

“It’s a larger-than-life thing [winning a state crown],” said Leftenant, who finished his varsity career at 111-23. “It means a lot. I’m opening up doors for my teammates. I’m telling them, ‘You can do it. You’re next.’ ”

ZACH REDDING, Sr., Eastport-South Manor, 132 pounds

Redding remembers idolizing Long Island high school wrestlers as a youngster. Now, it’s his turn to be idolized.

“It’s cool because when I was little it was either Tyler Grimaldi, Corey (Shakur) Rasheed or Nick Piccininni that I looked up to,” Redding said. “Kids that were my age then are now looking up to me.”

How’s this for being a wrestling role model — Redding won a state title as a sophomore at 120, and went a perfect 50-0 this season on his way to the state title at 132.

“I wasn’t really going for career wins or 50 wins this season,” said the senior, who went 251-24 in his six-year varsity career. “What I’m proud of is the undefeated season, and knowing that my hard work, and all the extra work, paid off.”

Redding will compete this fall at Iowa State University.

“Zach has been one of those guys that has an undying will to succeed and to be a part of a small fraternity of greatness,” ESM coach Nick Garone said. “He made wrestling a priority in his life and it shows.”

ELIJAH RIVERA, Sr., Bay Shore, 106 pounds

It was mid-January when Rivera competed at the prestigious Eastern States Classic. The Bay Shore senior had visions of walking away with a title. Instead, he finished sixth.

“That was a rough one,” said Rivera a few days after his state championship final. “I think I’m mentally tough. I visualized winning, and coming in sixth was a little disappointing, but my coaches and all my partners helped me bounce back.”

Rivera bounced back in a big way. After winning the Suffolk crown at 106, he punctuated his senior season with a 37-3 record and a state championship in Albany after a riveting 6-4 sudden-victory win against Chenango Forks’ Tyler Ferrara.

Rivera’s four-year varsity career mark stands at 141-16. He is Bay Shore’s fourth overall champ and first since 1983 according to Newsday research. He graduates as Bay Shore’s all-time leader in wins (141) and pins (77).

“He was like a sponge -- he listened and took everything in,” said Bay Shore coach Alex Porcelli after returning from Albany. “Elijah will have his name on our [wrestling] wall . . . . he’ll be among the greats of Bay Shore.”

MATT ROGERS, Sr., Wantagh, 182 pounds

Rogers didn’t have to look too far for inspiration after a rough junior season.

“My teammate, Jon Loew, was third in the state as a junior, and he used that to motivate himself,” said Rogers, who placed fifth in the state in 2019 at 170. “Other guys have had bad junior years, and they came back. I told myself, ‘I’m coming back to win a state

title.’ ”

That’s exactly what Rogers did this season. He went 39-2 and won the state crown at 182. As if he needed it, Rogers had added incentive. His grandmother, Shelia Rogers, died in late November at age 74. He dedicated his senior season to her.

For Rogers, whose varsity record is 177-32, his state championship was a long time coming, and something he’s processing even now.

“It’s still surreal,” said Rogers, who will attend the Naval Academy. “This is something every kid who wrestles dreams of and works for. Now, there’s a [championship] medal and bracket hanging in my room, and I’m like, “Holy cow! I’m a state champ.’ . . . It’s a goal I worked toward for 12 years, and it’s the best feeling. Nothing compares to it.”

DIVISION II

MATT CAMPO, Sr., Mount Sinai, 170 pounds

Campo stepped onto the mat for his state championship match and stared across at the top-seed, Norwich’s Mikey Squires.

Squires was a familiar opponent for Campo, but the Mount Sinai senior said he had lost more than he won against him, including their last match, 6-4, in the final of the Windsor Christmas Tournament last Dec. 28.

“I told him when he lost that match that it could have went either way,” Mount Sinai coach Matt Armstrong said. “And it could be different next time but it’s going to come down to one takedown or one escape.”

That next time was in the state final on Feb. 29 and Armstrong’s words proved prophetic. The bout went into overtime tied at 2-2.

“It might sound cliche but when it gets to that point it’s about who wants it more,” Armstrong said. “He had been focusing on this for the last six year and I can honestly say I never doubted him.”

Twenty-one seconds into overtime Campo secured a takedown for the 4-2 win and the title.

“I was so happy for him because when you have goals at that level if you fall short it will stay with you for a long time,” Armstrong said.

Campo finished the season with a 44-2 record and is Mount Sinai’s all-time win leader with 202.

GAGE DeNATALE, Sr., Locust Valley, 132 pounds

After a decisive quarterfinal win for DeNatale at the state tournament, the Locust Valley senior confidently relayed a simple message.

“I’m on a journey and the path is to become a state champion,” he said.

The route to the 132-pound title looked smooth up until the final 20 seconds in the state final. DeNatale was taken down and lost a two-point lead. He was nearly put to his back in the final moments but instead scored a reversal that culminated in a 6-5 win over Mexico’s Dean Shambo.

“I stayed calm and I stayed sharp and I didn’t let those points get to me,” he said. He finished the year with a 32-3 record.

“I came here with a mission and I made it happen,” DeNatale said. “I knew I was going to win the whole time and I didn’t doubt myself once.”

CHRISTIAN HANSEN, Sr., Cold Spring Harbor, 152 pounds

Hansen knew it would be a special season for him when he decided to wrestle at Cold Spring Harbor as a senior after spending two years at St. Anthony’s.

“When I found out he was coming back I was overjoyed,” Gaven Bell, Hansen’s main training partner during the season, said. “He’s an absolute stud.”

“Having him back was a gift,” Cold Spring Harbor coach Mike Ferrugiari said.

The dream season became a reality for Hansen after he defeated Nick Ross of Onteora, 6-2, to capture the Division II 152-pound state title Feb. 29 in Albany.

“Winning a state championship was the only option -- it had to be done,” Ferrugiari said. “He had the perfect partner with Gaven Bell so we knew it was going to happen.”

Although the hope of both Hansen and Bell winning the state title was dashed late in the season by an injury to Bell, he never wavered in his support of his teammate.

“It can’t happen for me now but I know he’s going to win,” Bell said after Hansen captured the county title. “This is his year.”

JORDAN TITUS, Jr., Center Moriches, 126 pounds

Titus’ season started just as it began -- with his hand being raised after claiming a prestigious championship.

Titus won his second consecutive Division II state title Feb. 29 at the Times Union Center when he defeated Micah Roes of Lowville, 9-2, in the final at 126 pounds. He ended the season 39-0.

Earlier, Titus became the first New York wrestler to compete in and win the prestigious Walsh Jesuit Ironman tournament in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio.

“Jordan wrestles all-year round against guys at this level and his outside work really helps him prepare to go up against the best,” Center Moriches coach Mike Kocinski said after the Ironman.

While that championship was anything but a given, especially after Titus was pushed to overtime before winning the title at 120 pounds, he proved his status as the top-seed at the state championships was more than deserved -- he allowed only five points in his four matches wins.

“I came in here thinking I should win if I wrestled solid,” Titus said after the win. “And that’s what I did.”

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