They say the third time is the charm, but four turned out to be a more suitable number for Cliffton Wang.
The Edgemont wrestling standout is a rare four-time Section 1 champion, which earned him four trips to Albany for the New York State Championships. He took some lumps in his first few appearances on the big stage before achieving his ultimate goal of becoming a state champ last month.
In his younger days, those losses felt devastating. But as the Harvard-bound senior reflects on it now, he knows that those early failures were necessary to sharpen his mind and teach him to wrestle freely.
?I just learned to have a lot more fun with it,? Wang said. ?I think that was one of the biggest points and changes in my career. I used to hype myself up so much. I would not have fun and just be extremely nervous. In all of those big matches, I choked. Those were big setbacks, but I learned to just have fun and wrestle my match.?
It?s easy to tell yourself not to fear the outcome, but it?s a much more difficult task once you step onto the mat.
For Wang, our 2017 Journal News Westchester/Putnam wrestler of the year, it wasn?t an overnight process. Each season, he made incremental improvements and steadily gained confidence.
As a freshman, he went 1-2 in the state tournament. As a sophomore, he was one win away from placing in the top six in his weight class, which would have earned him All-State honors. He took third by the time he was a junior, sending a message to the rest of the state that he was on the cusp.
Once he earned All-American status at the 2016 offseason Super 32 tournament in Greensboro, North Carolina, it became clear that Wang was ready.
?That performance cemented a quiet confidence that made him much more of a winner,? said John Degl, Wang?s club coach at Iowa Style Wrestling in Somers. ?He was always smart, (but) he lacked a killer instinct. He wasn?t gritty. Over time, you saw a change in him. He became hungrier and his work ethic, which was always excellent, took on a new intensity.?
Wang first began to wrestle after watching his older brother Ray, who won three section titles at Edgemont and took third in the state as a senior in 2010. Edgemont coach Pete Jacobson described Ray as ?a tremendously gifted naturally athlete,? but said that Cliffton?s skills didn?t come as easily.
?Our team jokes about if you ever tried to play a sport with Cliffton that involves throwing or catching, you would be shocked to know he?s a state champion athlete,? Jacobson said. ?He worked to develop himself into a great athlete, but I don?t think it?s because of natural gifts. I think it?s because of the athletic qualities that he developed through wrestling.?
Known around Section 1 as a workaholic, Wang?s commitment to his craft set him apart. Many thought that was just the way he was wired, but he said balancing training with maintaining his Harvard-quality grades tested his will.
?It was a big struggle, the constant 45-minute drive to Degl?s and stuff like that,? said Wang, who finished with a career record of 169-36. ?But after a while, you just do it and you really get the hang of it. You become a master at time management. It was a tough transition, cutting out video games and TV and disciplining yourself. But it really paid off.?
All of that hard work culminated with one gutsy move in the 182-pound state championship bout.
Wang was matched up against Canastota?s Doug Simmons, whom he had beaten 9-7 in overtime at the Eastern States Classic in January. Simmons proved tougher to score on in their second meeting, and the match went to overtime tied at 1-1.
It was exactly the type of situation in which Wang?s emotions would have run wild in the past. But with a calmness that came to define his career, he went for a difficult reversal and hit it, capping his final high school match with a 3-2 decision for the title.
?He really is a great example of maturing in his mentality and his outlook,? Jacobson said. ?He was initially in a place where a lot of kids are, where he was completely caught up in the outcome. It creates a situation where you fear those difficult overtime situations, instead of focusing on the process.
?What?s special about Cliff is that he really recognized that was an area that was holding him back. He was constantly reminding himself that every match is the same match, and it?s the same skills that you?ve been working on. Over time, it started to take hold. It got to the point where he truly believed that in a very powerful way.?
Coach of the year
Bob Bernarducci, Pleasantville?? You could easily make a case for John Jay’s Bill Swertfager here, who was named the Section 1 coach of the year and was our coach of the year last season. But while Swertfager’s Indians were expected to repeat as Division 1 champions, it was Bernarducci’s Panthers who exceeded expectations. Pleasantville surged past preseason favorites Putnam Valley and Pearl River to claim a surprising Division 2 championship. And by developing?a young and talented roster, the Panthers should remain a force next season.
The Journal News Westchester/Putnam wrestling all-stars
First-team ??Ivan Garcia, Fr., Port Chester (44-6, fifth in NYS D1)
Second-team ??Garrett Semenetz, Sr., Mahopac (21-6, third in section D1)
Honorable mention?? Matthew Schreiber, So., Horace Greeley (32-8, fourth in section D1)
First-team ? Chris Perry, 8th, Yorktown (43-4, sixth in NYS D1)
Second-team ? Len Balducci, Fr., Pleasantville (36-3, fourth in NYS D2)
Honorable mention?? Chris Cook, So., John Jay (33-11, fourth in section D1)
First-team ??Mike Muldoon, Sr., Mahopac (34-5, section champ D1)
Second-team ??Mikey Bruno, Jr., Putnam Valley (32-10, section champ D2)
Honorable mention ??Brandon DiDomenico, Sr., Lakeland/Panas (33-5, second in section D1)
First-team ??Victor Perlleshi, So., Pleasantville (33-5, section champ D2)
Second-team ??Amos Rivera, So., Fox Lane (24-14, sixth in section D1)
Honorable mention???Andy Williams, Sr., Edgemont (22-17, runner-up in section D2)
First-team ??Satoshi Abe, Sr., Putnam Valley (34-5, section champ D2)
Second-team ??Matt Kramer, Jr., John Jay (39-8, runner-up in section D1)
Honorable mention ??Jay Martins, Sr., Harrison (38-5, third in section D1)
First-team ??Jared Eliopoulos, Sr., Putnam Valley (18-3, fifth in NYS D2)
Second-team ??Kyle Sams, Jr., Putnam Valley (35-10, sixth in NYS D2)
Honorable mention ??Luca Errico, So., Byram Hills (29-6, section champ D1); Louie Cree, Sr., John Jay (39-12, fourth in section D1); Crew Fullerton, Jr., Mamaroneck (24-8, runner-up in section D1); Joe Sasso, Sr., Horace Greeley (28-19, third in section D1)
First-team ??Ray Cotto, Sr., John Jay (40-7, runner-up in section D1)
Second-team ??Fredy Guevara, Jr., Yonkers (28-5, third in section D1)
First-team ??Patrick Patierno, Jr., Yorktown (31-12, sixth in section D1)
Second-team ??Josh Rubin, Sr., John Jay (37-13, fourth in section D1)
Honorable mention?? Matt Purdy, Sr., Carmel (28-10, DNP in section)
First-team ??Matt Grippi, Jr., Fox Lane (41-2, runner-up in NYS D1)
Second-team ??Conor Melbourne, Sr., John Jay (43-3, injured for sectionals)
Honorable mention ??Ben Rivera, So., Carmel (33-13, third in section D1)
First-team ??Grant Cuomo, Jr., Brewster (35-3, runner-up in NYS D1)
Second-team ??Aaron Wolk, So., Horace Greeley (35-11, runner-up in section D1)
Honorable mention ??Robbie Velichko, Sr., Putnam Valley (22-9, section champ D2); Connor Thomas, Jr., Yorktown (31-12, fourth in section D1)
First-team ??Jordan Wallace, Sr., New Rochelle (44-2, third in NYS D1)
Second-team ??Jake Logan, So., New Rochelle (28-6, fourth in NYS D1)
Honorable mention ??Jacob Ferreira, Jr., Horace Greeley (35-7, runner-up in section D1)
First-team ??Cliffton Wang, Sr., Edgemont (45-3, NYS D2 champ)?
Second-team ??Evan Frank, Sr., John Jay (47-7, sixth in NYS D1)
Honorable mention???Hearthon Sewell-Richards, Sr., Ossining (29-10, fourth in section D1)
First-team ??Johnny Santos, Jr., Fox Lane (34-9, runner-up in section D1)
Second-team ??Jasmir Black, Sr., Mount Vernon (24-2, third in section D1)
Honorable mention ??Eoghan Murphy, So., Hastings (14-4, section champ D2)
First-team ??Halil Gecaj, Jr., John Jay (44-3, section champ D1)
Second-team ??Hannes Boehning, Sr., Rye Country Day (27-5, eighth at national preps)
Honorable mention ??Chris Colombo, Sr., Croton-Harmon (34-4, section champ D2); Stephen Nadler, Sr., Horace Greeley (30-10, third in section D1)
First-team ??Bim Gecaj, Sr., John Jay (43-4, third in NYS D1)
Second-team ??Constantine George, Sr., Putnam Valley (32-8, fifth in NYS D2)
Honorable mention?? Kishawn Benedith, Sr., Mount Vernon (20-4, fourth in section D1)