By MICHAEL KELLY
NISKAYUNA — Before bringing several of his top wrestlers to the Jan. 3 Saratoga Invitational wrestling tournament, Niskayuna head coach Shaun Neely spoke at one of his team’s practices about how much it would mean to the program to have success at the distinguished competition.
“If we could get a winner,” he said, “that would be awesome.”
Well, the Silver Warriors did not get the one winner at the invitational that Neely wanted — they got two, as Eoghan Sweeney won the 138-pound title and Anthony Laniewski took the 145-pound crown. Sweeney picked up three pinfall wins on his way to the final, where he won via an 8-1 decision against Windor’s Tyler Frear; meanwhile, Laniewski continued his undefeated start to the season with a pinfall and two decision victories, including a 3-2 win against Schenectady’s Musa Barros in the title match.
This season has been about battling for respect for the resurgent Silver Warriors program, and the past couple weekends has seen the squad go about earning some of it. Niskayuna won the Schenectady County Duals during the last weekend of 2014 before opening 2015 with Laniewski’s and Sweeney’s wins. Also at the Saratoga Invitational, 220-pounder Khaled Abdoun — the Silver Warriors’ only senior — finished in second place to General Brown’s Ricardo Dawkins, but Abdoun topped Section II’s top-ranked 220-pound grappler — Bethlehem’s Chris Tangora — on his way to the finals.
Niskayuna had struggled early this season to pull out close team victories. The squad lost four of its first five matches in the Suburban Council, but Abdoun said spirits have been more positive for the squad since winning the Schenectady County competition.
“It definitely changed a lot,” said Abdoun. “Sometimes, we don’t always have people coming in (and performing well), but when people show up and wrestle, do what they’re supposed to do, we can get those close wins.”
And, individual wins like the ones Laniewski and Sweeney grabbed at Saratoga Springs High School will only help the Silver Warriors gain legitimacy. When the first Section II rankings recently came out, Neely said it was disappointing to see Laniewski only slotted at No. 4 in his weight class despite his undefeated record.
“But I understand the reason for that,” said Neely. “We haven’t been tested like some other teams.”
“I thought I was going to be a little bit higher, but it’s good that I’m lower because I’m just going to show everybody how good I can be,” said Laniewski. “It’s just making me more ready to go, more excited to go win sectionals.”
The Silver Warriors schedule does start to heat up after the Saratoga Invitational. The squad had a scheduled meeting Tuesday, Jan. 6, with Shenendehowa and a host of Suburban Council matchups coming in the next few weeks. Abdoun said the goal is for the squad to use its remaining matches to improve its team record.
“Hopefully we can get a positive record as a team this year,” he said.
That will be tough given the Silver Warriors’ start to the season, but things are looking up for Neely’s program. After struggling at various points in recent years to field a full lineup, the squad now has roughly 30 wrestlers. Neely said he’d still like to see his team grow, but that the group he has now will provide a strong base for years to come for the Silver Warriors.
“Our kids are really dedicated and know we count on all of them,” Neely said.