BY MICHAEL KELLY
NISKAYUNA — Riding a wave of momentum, the Niskayuna wrestling squad is ready for the Feb. 7 Section II Class A tournament at Columbia High School.
The Silver Warriors ended their regular season with a Jan. 29 dual meet victory against Bethlehem, 51-28, the club’s third consecutive Suburban Council head-to-head win. Niskayuna also won the Jan. 24 Tamarac Duals; at the Tamarac event, sophomore Anthony Laniewski picked up career victory No. 100.
Buoyed by his recent milestone, Laniewski could not contain his excitement for the Feb. 7 start to the postseason.
“I’m excited to wrestle in the class tournament. I’m ready to go,” he said at his team’s Jan. 28 practice. “Everything has been leading up to it, and I’m ready.”
Laniewski will be one of the favorites in the class tournament and is a near-certainty to advance to the next week’s sectional tournament, where he will have a chance to pick up a bid to the state championships.
Shaun Neely, the Silver Warriors’ head coach, said what is more exciting, though, is that the Niskayuna program is likely to send nearly 10 wrestlers to sectionals. He said he is expecting at least eight
Niskayuna grapplers to advance out of the opening postseason tournament; only six Silver Warriors turned the trick in 2014.
“I’m always looking for gradual improvements each year,” he said. “Next year — hopefully — we’d get 10 to 12 kids go.”
For 2015, Neely has three near-locks in Khaled Abdoun, Laniewski and Eoghan Sweeney. Meanwhile, the coach has a number of guys — such as Santi Herman and Dante Romanucci — who should make some noise at the Feb. 7 event.
Another wrestler with a chance to earn some acclaim at the Feb. 7 event is eighth-grader James Murphy. Consistently entered this season at 99 pounds, Murphy has been on a roll of late, winning all of his matches at the Tamarac Duals and closing his regular season with a pinfall victory against Bethlehem.
In his first season wrestling for the high school team, Murphy said he was not sure what to expect.
“What’s different is wrestling every day and having a lot more matches,” he said. “Last year, I only wrestled in two tournaments; this year, I’ve already tripled the number of matches I had last year.”
Murphy came up through the Niskayuna youth program, but was not always sure he’d go out for the school team. As his rookie season wrapped up, the eighth-grader said he had made the right choice in suiting up for the Silver Warriors this winter.
“I’m glad I did it,” he said.
While Murphy is just starting out with his high school career, Laniewski is in the midst of season No. 4 with the Silver Warriors. But Laniewski said he never allowed himself to get too caught up with approaching milestones.
In fact, the only reason he knew he was getting close to win No. 100 was because he had been alerted to it.
“I really wasn’t thinking about it until a couple days before I did it,” he said. “That’s when someone told me.”
His coach said likely part of the reason Laniewski did not get worked up about the milestone victory was because the sophomore has his sights set on bigger prizes — like a sectional crown — rather than round numbers.
“But we knew as long as he didn’t get hurt, he’d get to 100 this year,” Neely said.
Of course, at one point, that was not a certainty. Laniewski laughed at his team’s Jan. 28 practice recalling the start of his high school career; he said it began with him losing his first several matches by pinfall before he broke through for his first win — and one of his first thoughts after picking up that victory was not to take success for granted.
“Man,” he said he remembered thinking, “I don’t know how people get to 100. It’s [going to be] hard enough to get to two.”