“You could be one of the guys we talk about in 10 years.”
That’s what Paul Bass said to Jackson Hulse on Sunday afternoon, as Hulse, a sophomore, prepared for the toughest and most important bout of his young career.
The longtime Westhampton Beach wrestling coach was trying his best to put Hulse in the right mental state before his battle with top-seeded Jett Tancsik of Centereach for the 160-pound title at the Suffolk County Division I Wrestling Championships at Suffolk County Community College in Brentwood. Hulse, the third seed, needed to be on his game mentally, more than ever, because physically, he was nowhere near where he should have been. Hulse had spent most of the past 24 hours before his match vomiting after coming down with a stomach virus.
Running on nothing but half a protein bar and heart, Hulse scored the match-winning point on an escape with 17 seconds left in regulation to win his first county title on Sunday night. Three matches later, his teammate and drill partner, senior Liam McIntyre, won the county title at 195 pounds, with a 6-3 decision over Northport’s Peter Magliocco, in a battle that was not nearly as close as the final score indicated. It was the second straight county title for McIntyre, the undefeated top seed, and he became only the second Hurricane wrestler ever to win two county titles. (Alex Tanzman did it in 2012 and 2013).
Sunday also marked the first time in Westhampton Beach history that two wrestlers took home a county title in the same season, and it’s also the first time Westhampton Beach will send two wrestlers to states in the same season. Hulse is the youngest Hurricane to win a county title, and he seemingly came out of nowhere—he did not compete at the league or county tournaments last season, and he was never ranked in the top six in his weight class at any point during this year’s regular season.
Both Hulse and McIntyre will compete at the New York State Championships, set for February 22 and 23 at the Times Union Center in Albany.
Bass and senior captain McIntyre did their best to prepare Hulse for the championship. Hulse grinded out a 12-8 win over Steven Kane of Eastport-South Manor in his morning semifinal match, and Bass assumed that Hulse would be past the worst of the illness after several hours of rest at home before the evening’s championship matches were set to begin. But when Hulse returned to report he was still sick—he was still vomiting 20 minutes before his match—both the coach and captain amped up the motivating talk.
“We’ve had guys over the years that have won counties with mono or a broken thumb, stories like that,” McIntyre said of his teammate and friend. “So Coach Bass told him this morning that he could be one of those guys.”
“I told him that anybody can do anything for six minutes,” Bass said. “It’s all heart.
“I’m thoroughly impressed with what he did here,” Bass continued. “When you have a legitimate excuse, it’s easy to lose and say, ‘Well, it was this or that.’ But the great ones can push through real adversity.”
For most of the match with Tancsik, Hulse looked like the better wrestler, but it was clear midway through that he was losing steam. Still, he held a 3-1 lead with just 33 seconds left, before Tancsik tied it with a takedown. Hulse avoided overtime—where exhaustion would have become an even bigger factor—by scoring an escape with 17 seconds left.
“I wasn’t ready for that,” Hulse said afterward, still out of breath, his skin a pale greenish hue. “I had to get out or I might’ve shut down [in overtime].”
The county title also gave the Hulse family bragging rights—his older brothers, Austin and Hunter, won county championships as well, but in the less competitive Division II, when they were members of the Stony Brook team. Hunter Hulse transferred to Westhampton Beach midway through his high school career and finished third at the Division I county tournament as a senior, which earned him a trip to states. But Jackson, who is eight years younger than Austin and six years younger than Hunter, is the family’s first Division I county champ.
Hulse gave credit to McIntyre, not only for helping boost his confidence on Sunday, but also for being a role model for the entire season. The two are sparring partners in practice, and Hulse said he has learned a lot from the two-time county champ.
“He’s one of the best wrestlers in Suffolk,” Hulse said. “He’s bigger than me and just really pushed me and made me stronger. He’s a good leader, and he puts me in a good mental state before matches.”
McIntyre is one of the top athletes in the school, and has enjoyed immense success, on both the football field and wrestling mats, but he said seeing his friend and protégé overcome adversity to win a county title was even more rewarding than winning one himself.
“Jackson is like a little brother to me,” he said. “Him and my little brother [Gavin McIntyre] are the same age, and I’ve been an older brother to both of them. I was more happy for him to get that win than I was for my own finals match.”
While his 6-3 decision over Magliocco was narrow, on paper, McIntyre’s victory was never in doubt. He had two pins and a technical fall on his way to the county title in what was a dominating effort from start to finish, which he said was a goal after what he considered a sub-par effort last year.
“Last year in the county tournament, leading up to the finals, it was one of the worst tournaments of my life,” McIntyre said. “I wrestled awful in those first four matches. This year, I knew I had to come in with a clear mind. It’s my senior year, so I had to let it fly.”
McIntyre will try to continue that trend in two weeks when he heads upstate, alongside his teammate. He acknowledged that he is not the favorite to win the state title, but said he’s fine with that, referencing a quote he said he’d come across in recent days.
“It said, ‘The wolf on top of the hill is never as hungry as the wolf climbing,’” McIntyre said. “I’m just hungry, and I can’t wait to get after it.”
If things go their way, Hurricane wrestlers might be talking about McIntyre and Hulse in 10 years, and beyond.
Eight other Hurricane wrestlers qualified for counties along with McIntyre and Hulse, but none of them placed in the top six. Sophomores Joe D’Agostino (99 pounds) and Grant Skala (106) and senior Hunter Burling (182) all went 2-2, while junior Jay Montagna (126 pounds) went 1-2 in one of the toughest weight classes in the county. Seniors Larry Citarelli (170) and Suraj Patel (132), and sophomores Will Zaffuto (113) Christian Specht (152) went 0-1.
Eastport-South Manor had two champions on the day as well. Zach Redding won the title at 126 pounds with an 11-1 major decision over Gavin Damasco of Commack, while Adam Busiello won his fifth straight county title, pinning Ryan Meisner of Lindenhurt at 138 pounds. Busiello is looking to win his fifth straight New York State title. If he achieves that goal, he’d be the first Suffolk County wrestler to win five state titles.