ALBANY — Elijah Rodriguez walked off the mat and flashed his electric smile.
The Long Beach senior and top-ranked 220-pound wrestler went 2-0 on the first day of the state Division I wrestling championships at the Times Union Center on Friday.
Rodriguez defeated Sachem North’s Joseph Confessore, 4-1, in the first round, and pinned Averill Park’s Nik Koch in the quarterfinal bout in 2:44.
“Right now, I feel great,” said Rodriguez, who improved to 42-4 this season. “I have my health. I feel powerful and I’m ready to go.”
But that wasn’t the case for Rodriguez last season. Just a few days before the 2017 state tournament, Rodriguez — who was 38-0 at 195 — was working hard at his final practice.
“We were doing sprints at the end, and I was going all out,” Rodriguez said. “When I turned, I slipped, and I heard my ankle crack.”
Rodriguez said he had sustained a fractured ankle.
“I thought, ‘Let me put that to the side, and let me try to prosper through this,’ ” Rodriguez said. “I had been working so hard for [a state championship]. I was excited, and I tried to wrestle through it.”
Incredibly, he won his first match, but “the pain was excruciating and very hard to deal with,” Rodriguez said. He lost his next two bouts. His season was over.
“I was devastated about my season and how it came to an end. I wasn’t satisfied at all,” Rodriguez said. “This summer, I worked nonstop.”
The hard work paid off for Rodriguez, as well as his best friend, teammate, and roommate this weekend: Jacori Teemer. The Marines senior continued his run toward state wrestling history.
Teemer, the four-time state champ and No. 1 seed at 152, won both his matches by pin (in 38 seconds and 34 seconds, respectively) and advanced to the semifinals where he will meet Rocky Point’s Corey Connolly. (The Eagles junior and No. 4 seed had one of the most exciting finishes of the day. He registered a two-point takedown with three seconds left to earn a thrilling 3-2 quarterfinal win against Yorktown’s Connor Thomas.) If Teemer beats Connolly then wins another title, he would become Long Island’s first five-time state champion.
Three-time defending state champ Adam Busiello of Eastport-South Manor won his two matches at 126 by technical fall and pin.
Wantagh, the first state dual meet team champion, had four wrestlers advance to the semifinals, including Josiah Encarnacion (106), defending state champ Justin Vines (132), Matt Rogers (170) and Jonathan Loew (195).
Meanwhile, North Babylon had three semifinalists, including Sean Carter (113), Anthony Sobotker (138) and David Miele-Estrella (170). In the sectional team scoring, eight-time defending champion Suffolk trailed Nassau, 102-101.5, in the battle for first place. (Suffolk has 15 semifinalists and Nassau has 12.)
“I knew having three [state] semifinalists was a possibility,” North Babylon coach Vin Innes said. “The fact that they’ve given us a chance for three champions? I love these kids so much. I’m so proud of each of them.”
For the Long Island wrestlers who advanced to the semifinals, Saturday provides them the opportunity of a lifetime.
“It’s my year. It’s my time,” Rodriguez said. “Now, it’s going to happen.”