By ADAM SHINDER
Recorder Sports Staff
Thirty-five dual meets and three individual tournaments packed tightly into two intense months have left the Amsterdam High School wrestling team plenty battle-tested for the month they've spent all that time preparing for -- February.
With the grueling regular season in the rearview mirror, February brings three herd-thinning, survive-and-advance tournaments: The Section II classification tournaments today, the state qualifier meet next weekend in Glens Falls and, for those lucky few, the state championships later this month in Albany.
For the Rams, that gauntlet begins with a marathon day inside Mohonasen High School today for the Section II Division I Class 2 (formerly Class B) championship meet.
"Starting this week, you've just got to take it step-by-step," said junior Brandon Lapi (39-3), a three-time defending champion at the event and the top seed this year at 132 pounds. "Beat up everybody and pin everyone."
Amsterdam enters the tournament off a strong performance in last weekend's Big 10 Invitational, where Lapi won the 132-pound championship, seniors Ken Garcia and James Marquez each placed third and Dal Orengo, Rob Santiago and Christian Lopez all finished on the podium.
What's been nice, Amsterdam head coach Ken Benton said, is that after the hectic regular-season schedule of midweek dual meets and weekend tournaments, the Rams had a full week of practice to ramp up to this tournament. That included a chance Wednesday to scrimmage and train with a Schalmont team that will be competing in the Division II Class 1 (formerly Class CC) tournament today.
"It was a good opportunity for us to spend some time, settle down a little bit, slow the pace down so we can focus on getting ready for sectionals," Benton said. "We're looking at the things we need to improve on and polish, and also things we can do to enhance the things we do very well."
While Lapi enters the tournament having stood atop the podium each of the last three years before going on to Section II championships the next week, this weekend holds special significance for Marquez and Garcia. Marquez was runner-up at 152 pounds last year and enters the tournament as the No. 2 seed at 160 pounds this time around, while Garcia is seeded third in a tight field at 195 pounds and has made it his mission to reach the finals.
Also, both enter today on the verge of milestones, with each sitting on 99 career varsity wins,
"I need one more win to make it to 100, and I'm pretty proud of that," Garcia said. "It's my senior year, and I really want to make it to the finals."
Garcia is seeded behind Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake's Race Viedt, with whom he's split a pair of matches this season, and Mohonasen's Eric Pierone at 195 pounds.
Marquez, meanwhile has LaSalle Institute's multi-time sectional champion Brendan Goldup seeded in front of him at 160 pounds, but that doesn't faze the Amsterdam senior with designs on wrestling on the floor of Albany's Times Union Center in three weeks time.
"Hopefully, (the postseason's) not gonna be so quick for me," Marquez said. "I want to last for another month, try and make it to states."
While Marquez has made it his goal to reach states and Lapi is looking to return to Albany for a fourth time in hopes of capturing his first state championship, the immediate goal for today, Benton said, is for as many wrestlers as possible to earn top-six finishes and move on next week to the Glens Falls Civic Center for state qualifiers.
"The environment starts to get very unforgiving from here on," Benton said. "The higher you go up, the more unforgiving it gets. We have a lot of things to work on -- the mental toughness and the mental preparation are key here."