In a county loaded with talent, Vito Arujau has distinguished himself.
The Syosset sophomore has an ambitious goal: to win four consecutive state wrestling championships. Last season's 44-0 record punctuated by a state title was the first step. Arujau believes this season he will take the second.
"My expectations are nothing less than to be a state champion again," Arujau said.
He doesn't have many doubters. Just ask around the county.
"He has an unparalleled work ethic, and he's a technician on the mat," Long Beach coach Ray Adams said.
"You look at Vito and say, can he get any better? I mean, he's so good already, but as the competition increases, so does his effort," Locust Valley coach Jon Enea said.
At the very least, Arujau's competition will be physically larger. After wrestling at the 113-pound weight class last season, Arujau said he was tired of constantly shedding weight to remain in the class. This year, he'll be at 132.
The leap, according to Arujau, wasn't a big deal. "Once your body adapts to the weight, it's just a matter of skill," he said.
And as for his bigger opponents . . . "Whatever class you wrestle at here, that's not the big thing," Arujau said. "There's great competition at every level on Long Island."
Take, for example, Kyle Quinn. The 113-pound senior from Wantagh was the reigning state champ before Arujau dethroned him in the title match a season ago.
"He's got the ability to get back and win the state title," Wantagh coach Paul Gillispie said of Quinn.
From Plainview JFK, 120-pound sophomore Peter Pappas is fresh off a runner-up performance at states. Bethpage's 145-pound senior Jake Einbinder will look to build on his sixth-place finish at states last season.
Then there's the brimming roster from Division II favorites Locust Valley. Senior Nick Casella has placed at states three years in a row, including runner-up finishes in his freshman and sophomore years. "The only thing he wants to do before he graduates is win a state championship, and, having lost twice in the finals, he really has his sights set to achieve that goal," Enea said.
Casella, at 132 pounds, has signed his letter of intent to wrestle at Maryland, and 138-pound teammate Sam Ward, who has placed at states in consecutive seasons, has verbally committed to Columbia.
"It's taken a lot of pressure off and allowed me to focus all my energy and attention on being a state champion this year," Ward said.
Locust Valley sophomore Jonathan Gomez has also thrust himself into the mix for a state title at 106 pounds. Classmate Hunter Dusold was the first Long Island wrestler to win a state Division II championship last year.
"There's going to be a lot of people trying to beat me," said Dusold, a 130-pounder. "It's all about extra practices, extra workouts."
Elsewhere around the county, 106-pound freshman Jacori Teemer returns to the mat on the heels of becoming the first eighth grader in Long Island history to win a state title. "If he trains hard and he does everything right, he's got a great shot to be back on top of that podium in February in Albany," Adams said.
In addition to Long Beach and Wantagh, expect Division and MacArthur to be contenders in Division I as well.
"I think Nassau County wrestling is at one of its all-time highs," Enea said. "It's a very deep county this year with a lot of talented teams."