BY MICHAEL KELLY
CLIFTON PARK — Niskayuna freshman wrestler Eoghan Sweeney has been competing in high-level tournaments for as long as he can remember. Shaun Neely, his coach, says the things that stick out the most about Sweeney are his maturity and level-headed nature.
So logic would dictate that the upcoming state championships are just another tournament for Sweeney, right?
Working out recently with most of Section II’s champions at Shenendehowa High School, Sweeney’s eyes pop a bit when he describes how he’s feeling ahead of the Feb. 27-28 state championships at the Times Union Center in Albany.
“Oh, I’m definitely nervous,” said Sweeney, his voice going up an octave.
He felt the nerves during his championship match at the sectionals. Before going on to pin Queensbury’s Jon Law in 3 minutes, 31 seconds, Sweeney found himself taken down twice early in the match — and nearly get pinned the second time.
“I was a little nervous for that first bit, then I got the jitters out,” he said. “I kept my composure to come back to wrestle how I should wrestle.”
Sweeney advancing to the state championships was not too much of a surprise, as the freshman had been regarded throughout the 2014-15 season as one of the top 138-pound grapplers in Section II. Sweeney had made it to the Section II semifinals as an eighth-grader and has been a student of the sport since kindergarten.
“He’s wise beyond his years when it comes to wrestling,” said Neely. “He’s a typical ninth-grader if you meet him outside of wrestling, . . . but it’s when he’s in the wrestling room, on the mat, that you can’t believe he’s only in ninth grade.”
That maturity shows in how Sweeney talks about his 2014-15 season. While many had lofty expectations for him and his coach regularly lumped him in with teammates Khaled Abdoun and Anthony Laniewski as Niskayuna’s “Big Three,” Sweeney tried to steer clear of the hype.
“I knew I just needed to take it one match at a time and not let any matches get overlooked,” he said. “I wanted to work for everything I got.”
Sweeney began with the Niskayuna varsity squad as a seventh-grader, several years after he’d come to Neely’s attention. Neely said Sweeney was someone the Niskayuna coaching staff had eagerly awaited joining the club, but he was well ahead of schedule in making it to the state championships in his first year of high school.
“But this isn’t a fluke,” said Neely. “He’s not lucky to be there.”
Sweeney was 38-2 this season entering the state championships. Both Neely and Sweeney are not expecting a championship victory this year. Sweeney said his main goal is to finish in the top six at the event.
“But if I don’t place, that just means I have to work harder,” he said.
After all, he said, the goal set before this season was to win a sectional championship and nothing more. That won’t be the case next season.
“In the future, it’s going to be going for the state title,” Sweeney said.