On his way to what is now a 42-win season, Westhampton Beach wrestler Alex Tanzman did not face much adversity. The junior made a living out of putting his opponents on their backs, getting pins in 35 of his victories, while enjoying technical falls or major decisions in others. Entering the county tournament, he had only one loss and none of his wins was by anything less than a major decision.
So the question coming into the big show wasn’t whether or not Tanzman had the talent to win a county title, but rather how he would respond in a pressure-packed match.
The answer? Quite well, as it turns out.
Tanzman, who was seeded fourth, beat second seed Steven Lee 2-1 in double overtime to win the Suffolk County Division I Championship at 99 pounds, giving Westhampton Beach its first county champion since Steven Kobus won the title in 2007.
Tanzman will compete in the New York State Tournament at the Times Union Center in Albany on Friday and Saturday, February 24 and 25. While Tanzman is the first Hurricane to be crowned county champ in five years, the school district has been represented in the states for seven consecutive seasons, tying it with Islip for the longest streak in Suffolk County.
Tanzman’s showdown with Lee was a nail-biter from start to finish. After a scoreless first period, Lee took the bottom position to start the second and got an escape for a 1-0 lead with 1:29 left in the period. To start the third, Tanzman took bottom and was still looking for his tying point when the referee called Lee for stalling with 23 seconds left, tying the match.
In the first overtime—a one-minute session where the wrestlers start on their feet—Lee nearly had a takedown but Tanzman fought him off near the out-of-bounds area. Following the one-minute, sudden-victory session are two 30-second periods in which each wrestler has a choice. Lee chose bottom first, and Tanzman rode him out to preserve the tie. In the next session, Tanzman took bottom and squirmed his way to an escape with just 14 seconds left, with a nifty move right near the out-of-bounds line. The wrestlers finished out the final 14 seconds on their feet and Lee was unable to get a last-second takedown.
Westhampton Beach head coach Paul Bass erupted when the final buzzer sounded and hugged Tanzman, soaking in the moment.
It wasn’t the first thriller that Tanzman won on the day. After pinning Joe Atkins of Kings Park in 1:59 to open the tournament, Tanzman barely survived the next round, beating fifth-seed Travis Isgro 5-4 by scoring three points in the final eight seconds of the match, getting an escape and a takedown at the buzzer. Tanzman won more convincingly in his second match, knocking off top seed Joe Calderone of Whitman in a 7-4 decision.
The turning point in that match came in the second period. Holding a 2-1 lead, Tanzman escaped for one point and then immediately shot in and grabbed Calderone’s leg, going up 5-1. After that, Bass said, Calderone had to abandon the stalling technique that Tanzman’s opponents were all employing to try to slow down the match, and that played to Tanzman’s favor. The win over Calderone put Tanzman in the finals.
“Alex likes a higher-paced match, so everybody was trying to slow him down,” Bass said.
Speaking about Tanzman minutes after he wrapped up the title, Bass said the win over Isgro was key. “That match tells you what he’s all about,” the coach said.
Tanzman, a soft-spoken kid who is in the top five in his class, exuded a mature confidence after his win.
“I wasn’t too nervous because I was so prepared,” he said. “I trained the last three months for this and I imaged it every night. I thought I was going to win, so I was more anxious than nervous.”
Winning the county title was a dream that Tanzman, like so many other high school wrestlers, has had for a long time. But unlike others, he was forced to wait a bit longer to give it a shot. Tanzman couldn’t wrestle varsity matches his freshman year because he did not meet the minimum weight requirement of 88 pounds necessary to compete in the lightest weight class, weighing in at only 70 pounds. He met that requirement last season, but still was giving up a few pounds to his competitors in every match. After dedicating himself to both a strict eating program and the weight room, Tanzman was finally able to comfortably make weight this season.
“It was definitely frustrating,” he said. “I tried to weigh in with all my clothes on. Even last year I was barely 90 pounds, so I was still giving up 10 pounds in every match. This year, I felt good and healthy.”