By ADAM SHINDER
Recorder Sports Staff
Until this year, Dan Banewicz and Chris Lopez had spent their high school careers as two-sport athletes. Both played football for the Amsterdam Rugged Rams in the fall, while in the spring Banewicz played lacrosse and Lopez competed on the AHS track and field team.
But, for their senior years, both decided that their winter schedules seemed a little too empty.
Their solution to filling those hours? Toiling away in the sweaty confines of the Patrick H. Reilly Hall of Fame Wrestling Gymnasium at Lynch Literacy Academy as members of the AHS wrestling team.
And, though neither had ever put on headgear, a singlet or a pair of wrestling shoes before joining the team for preseason practices, both seniors have become integral members of the Rams' lineup this season, and both are competing Sunday in the Section II state qualifier meet at Queensbury High School.
"I had a lot of friends on the football team who are wrestlers," Lopez said. "I thought, 'Might as well get as many sports in for my senior year as a I can.'"
"It gets you in great shape, you learn discipline," he added. "Day-in, day-out, it's 100-percent effort."
Banewicz had an added motivation for joining the wrestling team. He's entering the United States Marine Corps after graduation, and he considered a winter of grappling as perfect preparation for his future.
"I wanted some more combat skills going into the Marine Corps," Banewicz said.
Amsterdam head coach Ken Benton has seen the duo take to the sport brilliantly this season.
"Both of them are very good athletes," Benton said. "It doesn't matter what they play - whether it's football, track, lacrosse - I think they're gonna do very well. They bring a lot of heart and dedication to the mat. They focus and they work hard. They've got a great work ethic."
Wrestling at 152 pounds, Banewicz was also introduced to one of the biggest stresses of wrestling - making weight.
"Trust me, it's very hard," he said. "Sometimes, I wouldn't eat for three days so I'd make weight."
Lopez, on the other hand, had a far easier time on that front. He spent the bulk of the regular season wrestling at 195 pounds and said he was able to keep his weight comfortably six or seven pounds under that mark for most of the year.
In the postseason, however, with senior Ken Garcia wrestling at 195 in sectional competition, Lopez has bumped up to 220 pounds an any struggle to make weight went out the window.
"Now, at 220, I can eat whatever I want," Lopez said. "I'm trying to keep my weight down so I stay in shape and I can have the speed and endurance over the bigger guys."
For first-year wrestlers, both have acquitted themselves excellently. Banewicz took fifth at 152 pounds in last weekend's Section II Division 1 Class 2 tournament, while Lopez was third at 220 and came within one point of advancing to the championship match in dropping his semifinal contest to a much larger opponent in Scotia-Glenville's Joe Graham.
The progress both have made this season has the Amsterdam coaching staff wishing they had a little more time to work with the two.
"I really wish we'd had them for a few more years. It would've been terrific for us," Benton said. "But, we're happy to have had them and we've benefited from both of them being on the mat - and I think they've benefited from wrestling, too."
As they powered through one of their final practices of the season Thursday afternoon, Banewicz and Lopez both admitted they've been worn down by the Rams' grueling schedule that's seen both of them wrestle about 40 matches in less than three months.
But, that doesn't mean they both wouldn't like another shot to see just how far they could go.
"I definitely would," Banewicz said.
"The way I performed this year, with just a little of training I did fairly well," Lopez said. "If I could keep going, you never know."