Port Chester High School freshman Ivan Garcia (right) works a takedown against Josiah Encarnacion (Section 8) in the state wrestling championships in Albany on Saturday, Feb. 25.
Courtesy of Bobby Stacker
Port Chester High School freshman Ivan Garcia (right) works a takedown against Josiah Encarnacion (Section 8) in the state wrestling championships in Albany on Saturday, Feb. 25. Courtesy of Bobby Stacker

Port Chester freshman phenom Ivan Garcia lost in triple overtime in the semifinals of the New York State High School Wrestling Championships Saturday, Feb. 25 in Albany. He lost by a single point in what they call the ultimate tie breaker in wrestling circles, but wrestled his way back in the consolation rounds to wind up finishing fifth overall against all comers including public, private and Catholic schools, and third in the public schools competition. He also made the All-State team, with the top six finishers in each weight class earning that elite designation.

In so doing, Garcia made P.C. history by becoming the first non-senior ever to reach the podium in the New York State wrestling championships and only the third in Ram program history to earn All-State honors.

'Best Ram wrestler ever'

"His breakout freshman season can only pave the way for a memorable run over the next three years," said Rams head coach Tom Josephson shortly after the tourney. "He's already the best Port Chester wrestler ever, and he's only a freshman."

And that's going some because Josephson's three sons helped build a struggling P.C. wrestling program as either sectional champions or finalists and his son Declan, his assistant coach, is the last Ram to make All-State as a heavyweight circa the mid-2000s.

Declan used to be considered the Rams’ best wrestler ever. Until Ivan came along. He knew his days were numbered the first time he saw Garcia wrestle and compete. "He has a great combination of technique, balance and athleticism at a young age; he's good," Declan said.

Better than good.

Garcia, who started wrestling at the age of four, began learning the wrestling ABC's while trailing his father Felipe around to different meets in the days when Felipe, an accountant, was an assistant wrestling coach at Sleepy Hollow High in Tarrytown.

Impressive track record

Along the way Ivan has won eight different age and weight group New York State championships, was the Northeast champion in his 99-pound weight class category and was a national Super 32 finalist.

En route to the states, he won the Sound Shore, Westchester and sectional championships and finished fourth in the Eastern States in the Catskills, perhaps the most prestigious scholastic wrestling showcase in the Northeast, turning down scholarships to such prep schools as Iona, Brunswick, Don Bosco and Bergen Catholic so he could stay home to wrestle with his friends at Port Chester.

Win some, lose some

So he knows you win some, you lose some, but the important thing is you pick yourself up and get right back in the ring no matter what happens on the mat, never doubting you have what it takes to win.

Not that he took what happened in the states in stride.

"I knew I worked hard, practiced hard, fought hard, and I thought whatever happens, happens as long as I gave it my best shot," Ivan said after the states. "And when I lost, I told myself: 'Next year it is going to be different.' And I think it will be."

He has the thoroughbred blue blood lines to make that happen , as they say in the bluegrass horse racing training world, because his father was an elite wrestler in middle school and high school and two of his cousins, Juan Garcia and Carlos Jimenez, both wrestled their way into the state championships previously, Juan three times in the 105-, 112- and 119-pound weight classes between 1990 and 1992, and Carlos twice in the 99-pound weight category, including a fourth place finish in 1989.

So Ivan knew what he was doing when he stepped onto the mat last Friday as the second seed in his weight class going into the opening rounds against the 16 best-of-the-best in the state all looking for an upset during the two-day tournament at the Times Union Center in Albany.

The Ivan Whisperer

But Garcia had a little something extra going for him: the Josephsons were there to coach him, Rob Barrett, the P.C. athletic director, was there to root him on, as was Ivan's father, his mother Leidy, his sister Carina, his cousins and assorted other family members cheering with the Latin passion the family brought with them from the Dominican Republic in the 1970s.

And then there was the Ivan Whisperer.

That was the team's nickname for Andres Salcedo, PCHS class of 2008, a former Ram four-time All-League and multiple Section Qualifier, a registered nurse, a Ram assistant coach as well as last year's P.C. modified coach. But he also had the knack for defusing tension, sending Ivan out to answer the bell with simple instructions, half in jest, half in earnest, along the lines of "See that guy? Take him down. And pin him."

Ivan suppressed a smile and did just that more often than not, recording 25 pins throughout the regular season. But state-level competition is a different matter.

But still the Ivan Whisperer helped break the tension, and Garcia started the tournament on a roll in the Friday preliminaries. He opened in the round of 16 against Section Five’s Ryan Burgos from Hilton and came through with a 10-6 decision. He retired for the day with a quarterfinal win against Wantagh's Josiah Encarnacion (Section 8 - 7th seed) 7-4. This set up the semifinal showdown against Monsignor Farrell’s Terry Adams (6th seed) Saturday morning in the semifinals run-up to the championships.

Closer than close

Ivan spent a restless night with his family at the Albany Hilton, then walked out onto the mat at 10 a.m. determined to give it his all—and did. The match was tied 4-4 after six minutes of regulation. A one-minute sudden victory takedown period failed to settle the tie. Each wrestler had 30 seconds on top and bottom to try to score, but neither did. The final 0:30 sec ultimate tiebreaker is settled by a flip of the disk and a choice of top or bottom. Garcia won the toss and chose bottom. If he escapes, he wins. If he doesn’t, he loses. Several valiant attempts to escape and close calls were thwarted by Adams, who propelled himself into the finals and sent Garcia into the consolation bracket. You cannot get any closer to a State Final when you wind up losing by a single point.

In the wrestle back consolation rounds, Garcia once again dominated Encarnacion for his fifth place finish in the 16-man bracket wrestling against all comers including public, private and Catholic schools. But Garcia is actually considered the third place finisher in the NYSPHSAA Championships, those initials standing for New York State Public High School Athletic Association.

Alphabet soup

The curious multiple placing is due to the PSAL (NYC Public School Athletic League consisting of teams from the five boroughs) and Catholic School State Champions being invited to settle it all in the same venue for a Federation and NYSPHSAA championship. As a footnote, those who follow basketball will understand you can win the NYSPHSAA State Championship and qualify for the Federation title the following weekend against the Catholic School Champs. In wrestling it is all settled in the same tournament.

Garcia is less interested in unscrambling the alphabet and more interested in what comes next. He will take a short break from wrestling and then go back into training at the elite Apex Wrestling Academy in Mahwah, N.J., where he will work out with his ultra-competitive grappling travel team under Olympic and world-class international coaches in preparation for the freshman national championships Mar. 24-26 in Virginia Beach.

Top baseball talent

Ivan will also try to find time to practice with his top tier baseball travel team, the Mahwah Grizzlies, as a sure-handed shortstop/second baseman who ranks as one of the best products coming out of the Port Chester Youth Baseball League (PCYBL).

Ivan was a member of coach Bobby Thalheimer's national championship baseball team that won it all in Myrtle Beach last year and may yet be a candidate for the Rams’ varsity baseball team once the wrestling season ends. But right now Garcia has his eye on the upcoming nationals while honing his talents for the wrestling states next year. He can hardly wait. Neither can the Josephsons, the Ivan Whisperer and the entire Garcia family. As Tom Josephson keeps saying: "The sky's the limit as far as Ivan Garcia is concerned." And Ivan isn't afraid to reach for the clouds because what else are the heavens for.