Peter Pappas is hoping the third time’s a charm.
Pappas, a junior from Plainview JFK, is one of the top lightweight wrestlers on Long Island and has a wealth of experience as a two-time state finalist at 106 and 120 pounds. All that’s missing from his awards collection is a state title.
In both of Pappas’ state-title matches, he ran into Hilton’s Yianni Diakomihalis — one of the top wrestlers in the country — and he hopes his experience will help him as he again tries to etch his name in the record books. Diakomihalis is a junior.
“Making the state finals once again was just a blessing,” Pappas said. “Having experience on that mat really did make a difference with my nerves. The second time around I took it as just another match. I love being on that big stage. All those people watching my match just pumps me up, and if I can wrestle with Yianni I can wrestle with anyone.”
Pappas is one of three Long Island wrestlers looking to break through after just missing the ultimate prize last season.
Jake Silverstein (106) of Hauppauge is looking for another shot at a title as is .Glenn senior Edwin Rubio, who dropped the 285-pound state final, 2-1, to Nolan Terrance of Messena.
“At the end of the match I was just angry at myself because I lost to a kid who I had beaten before,” Rubio said. “This year I’m already doing a lot more than I was at this time last year. I’ve learned from my mistakes and can’t wait to get back to states.
“Wrestling those close matches at important times really helps because it gives you an idea of what to expect,” Rubio said. “Being in the finals once already gives you one less thing to worry about.”
Making it to the biggest stage certainly doesn’t guarantee getting back, much less getting over the hump.
But three of this year’s returning state champions were able to do just that.
Syosset’s Vito Arujau, one of the top-ranked juniors in the nation, is looking to become only the fourth Nassau wrestler to win at least three state titles. His brother Nick won three straight from 2008-10.
Vito Arujau was 46-0 last year and has not lost since dropping the state final to Diakomihalis as an eighth-grader in 2013.
“Coming back from that one loss really gave me a sense of motivation and helped drive me to train harder in practice,” Arujau said. “It really helped me gather experience on how difficult varsity level wrestling was.”
Arujau said he believes he has developed the ability to be less physical and depend more on his technique as he continues his quest to solidify his name among Long Island’s top all-time wrestlers.
“The titles and the big wins and the rankings without a doubt help with your confidence,” he said. “But when it comes down to it, it’s just you out there wrestling your match and the rankings and titles don’t help you during a match, so they don’t really matter.”
Adam Busiello (99), a freshman and reigning state champion from Eastport-South Manor, and Locust Valley junior Jonathan Gomez, who won a Division II title at 106, are Long Island’s other returning state champions who tasted defeat in a final before coming back to win championships last season.
Gomez leads a Falcons team that will return another state champion in Hunter Dusold (113 winner in 2014) and has state qualifiers Bryce Dusold (195) and Spencer Matthaei (220) anchoring the lineup. Locust Valley won last season’s Division II state championship.
Jacori Teemer (106) is a sophomore and two-time state champion for Long Beach, which won its first Nassau County dual meet title since 1996. Long Beach returns eight state qualifiers.
Ward Melville’s Christian Araneo was 43-1 last year en route to a state title at 195. Araneo, along with John Arceri (113) of Huntington and Chris Mauriello of Hauppauge, who won a state title at 132 in 2014, will be looking to capture their second championships.
Matteo DeVincenzo of Port Jefferson won a state title in Division II as a sophomore in 2014 at 106 and is looking to improve on last year’s third-place finish. Mattituck returns state semifinalist Jack Bokina and state qualifiers Taylor Zagarino and James Hoeg to a team that has won three straight Suffolk D-II titles.
Justin Crawford (106) and Brian Kelly (113) of St. Anthony’s and Kellenberg’s Jason Javier (113) all are seeking their second CHSAA state titles this season.