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
'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
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.