There are two traditional types of high school wrestling tournaments — invitationals where individuals compete in a ladder-style format to determine a weight class champion, and dual meets where teams wrestle against multiple opponents.
Bethlehem wrestling coach Chris Braga decided to take a different approach when he decided to create his school’s first varsity tournament, which took place Dec. 5 and 6. Taking an idea from a tournament the Eagles competed in last year at Adirondack High School in the central part of the state, Bethlehem’s tournament was a random draw round robin in which individuals competed against all of their opponents in their weight classes.
“We wanted to host a varsity tournament,” said Braga. “It’s been a little hectic, but the other coaches have been great.”
The inaugural tournament’s eight-team field included smaller schools such as Salem, Watervliet, Maple Hill and Cohoes. LaSalle and Section 4’s Vestal were the only large schools other than Bethlehem in the field.
Bethlehem’s top performer was senior Chris Tangora, who easily handled the rest of the 195-pound wrestlers at the tournament. Tangora said he is looking forward to the 2014-15 season after falling short of making the state championships last season with losses to Colonie’s Wayne Burt in the Section 2 Class A and Division 1 tournaments. Burt graduated in June, leaving the door open to Tangora.
“Honestly, I’ve read a lot of articles on New York state wrestling news, and they’re predicting me to do well,” said Tangora. “I’m trying to place at states this year.”
“He’s got an opportunity – a serious opportunity,” said Braga. “If he escapes injury, he’s in the driver’s seat.”
Tangora has been the centerpiece of Bethlehem’s wrestling renewal. A four-year starter, Tangora was undefeated until he ran into Burt at the Class A finals, and his only other loss came to Burt again in the Division 1 championship.
“I would like to have another shot at him because he was the one athlete I never beat, but on the other hand it gives me an opportunity to show what I can do at the next level,” said Tangora.
There is more to Bethlehem than Tangora. Braga pointer to Rowan Braga (126 pounds), Rob Stagnitta (138) and Jack Canova (132) as three wrestlers to watch this season.
“We have several kids who have put the time in,” said coach Braga. “They’re the ones who the young kids should look up to – not just Chris.”
Still, Braga has some concerns about his team as the wrestling season moves into high gear. There are three weight classes with no wrestlers, which means forfeits during dual meets – making it tougher for Bethlehem to win Suburban Council matches.
“We lost (160-pounder) Parker Tangora to a broken hand, so that’s a weight class I can’t fill,” said Braga. “We don’t have an 182-pounder, so that’s another hole. And we won’t have an 113-pounder until after Christmas.”
Still, Braga said he thinks Bethlehem can finish high enough within the Suburban Council South Division standings to earn a spot in the league playoffs.
“Columbia is the favorite in our division, but we have a chance to finish second,” said Braga. “I’d love for us to wrestle against Shen and Burnt Hills, if we can. It would be a great showcase for our guys.”
Associate editor/sports editor