NISKAYUNA — Niskayuna’s Big Three is hoping to make some noise on the big stage in the next few weeks.
Khaled Abdoun, the team’s lone senior, sophomore Anthony Laniewski and freshman Eoghan Sweeney have spearheaded a revival in the Silver Warriors’ program that saw them finish 4-4 in the Suburban Council and go 17-7 in dual meets.
Next up, Saturday’s Class A tournament at Columbia, where the trio will really get to see how much a lot of offseason work has helped. All three were fourth in the state qualifier a year ago, and have loftier goals this postseason.
“All three of them got a good amount of off-season wrestling,” said Niskayuna coach Shaun Neely. “If they were just here with me for 3 1⁄2 months, they’d be good, but none of them would be vying for a sectional title. You can’t do enough in 3 1⁄2 months.”
Abdoun is the only senior on the roster. He’s gone from getting outmuscled to being able to hang with the best heavyweights in the state.
“Last year, even though I’d be better technically, I would get beat on pure strength,” he said. “I would get tired. I was fighting to stay in position rather than fighting to get my opponent out of position.
”Every day during the summer and spring, I would lift, even if I had wrestling practice.”
“Guys used to manhandle him, even if he got the win,” Neely said. “Now, he can get the win and bully the kid around a little.”
The future RPI biomedical engineering major will take a 30-3 record into the Class A tournament, at either 220 or 285 pounds.
All of his losses have come at 220 — a pair of 3-2 matches and a 3-0 loss to Erik Jessell of General Brown in the finals of the Shenendehowa Invitational.
“Last year, I would always try to throw people,” Abdoun said. “I worked a lot in the offseason on leg takedowns. If I want to be on the top of the podium, I need that one unstoppable move.”
“He’s full of confidence, which is a good thing if you’re a team captain,” said Neely.
Sweeney and Laniewski have used their time as workout partners to make each other better.
“They bring each other, and the other guys they work with, up,” said Neely.
Neely brought both Sweeney (31-2 this year) and Laniewski (31-1) up to varsity as seventh-graders, though for different reasons.
“I knew what he was capable of,” Neely said of Sweeney. “Clearly, he could be able to compete. His problem was he didn’t wrestle 99. He was at 113 or 120. He’s had to wrestle seniors since seventh grade. Now, he’s getting his man strength.”
“It was a little intimidating my seventh-grade year, but now I’m used to it,” said Sweeney, who has 18 pins this winter.
He cites his work with Laniewski as a reason for his improvement.
“We go at it every day,” he said. “What’s good for me is that he’s bigger and stronger than me. We’re two completely different styles.”
“We’re like ying and yang,” said Laniewski, who recently got his 100th varsity win. We’re completely different.”
“He’s got a real physical style,” said Neely of Laniewski, who recently got his 100th varsity win. “He’s one we pulled up in seventh grade, and I kind of felt bad doing it, but we needed a workout partner. He was the younger brother of a varsity wrestler and we knew he was tough. He had the toughness, but none of the skill.
“He ended up beating the person we brought him up to work with by the end of the year.
“He’s got incredible mental toughness. He just brings that fight every time he’s on the mat.”
This year, Laniewski has added more skill to his game.
“It was learning my offense. We went over a lot of technique,” Laniewski said of his offseason work.
“My bottom position is the thing I wanted to work on a lot, getting back to my feet. To me, it was the hardest thing to pick up, but I’m getting better.
“I went from last year not being able to get up at all, to this year, where nobody can hold me down.”
While Niskayuna’s numbers aren’t quite what Neely would like, there’s still reason for optimism.
“We’ve got a young team, and every time coach talks about next year, it’s a little upsetting knowing I’m not going to be part of it,” Abdoun said.