ALBANY — Of course this wasn’t a black-tie affair. On the contrary, it was the first day of the grittiest, most competitive wrestling tournament that New York has to offer. But for all intents and purposes, Christian Araneo might as well have been wearing a suit.
For the 6-4, 195-pound senior from Ward Melville, the state Division I wrestling championship at the Times Union Center was “all business,” as he put it. With his tech fall (16-0, 4:57) of Arlington’s Tanner Nielsen and 7-1 decision over Baldwinsville’s Alex Bowen, Araneo improved to 40-0 in workmanlike fashion Friday and put himself in position to capture a second consecutive state title Saturday.
“You can’t take anyone lightly here,” said Araneo, who will face Dylan Dubuque (Columbia) in a semifinal. “Everyone’s qualified to be here. You just have to focus on each match. Don’t look past anyone.”
Araneo’s emphatic takedown of Bowen just 15 seconds into their quarterfinal bout put him ahead 2-0, and the tone was set.
“He knows what he has to do to win,” Ward Melville coach Bill DeSario said. “He controls his guy when he’s in the top position, he’s very good on his feet, and he comes out on top.”
Before this season, Nick Piccininni — the second wrestler in Long Island history to win four state titles — acted as the face of Ward Melville wrestling. But Piccininni now is at Oklahoma State, and Araneo has replaced him as the commanding presence in the Patriots’ wrestling room.
“Last year, Nick was the guy and I followed him,” Araneo said. “Now I’ve kind of accepted that leadership role, and it’s something I don’t take lightly.
“It’s a great feeling to be the next person in that sequence, to be the face of Ward Melville, but there’s a responsibility there, too. It’s my job to help make other people on the team as good or better than I am.”
But Araneo’s drive is not confided to wrestling. His GPA? 99. His next school? Princeton.
“You’ll see him before the match sitting on the bench and he’s doing homework,” DeSario said with a laugh. “You don’t see that from too many wrestlers.
“We have a lot of good academic athletes on our team and he’s a leader as far as that’s concerned, too.”
The feeling from Araneo’s win in last year’s 195-state final — a 13-4 major decision over Nick McShea (Monroe-Woodbury) — was “surreal, indescribable even.”
“And thinking back to all those days in the summer,” Araneo said, “instead of going out with my friends, I went to practice from like 7:00 to 9:00, staying the extra hour, working with my coaches . . . It was just amazing to see how all the hard work paid off.”
But all these months later, that feeling has tapered off. The thrill has diminished.
“It’s time to win another one,” Araneo said with a smile. “It’d be a great way to end my high school career.”
It would suit him well.