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Big 10 Bound: All-American Ben Lamantia Chooses Michigan

By MATT DIANO, 09/21/14, 9:30PM EDT

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Photo by www.phototrens.com

BY MATT DIANO

"It’s all about getting our kids exposure so that those doors can be opened.” 

These were the words of St. Anthony’s head coach Antoni Walters, when summarizing the mission and goals associated with the Friar wrestling program.

Today, one of those proverbial doors would not only become ajar, it would be knocked clean off its hinges when senior lightweight, Ben Lamantia, announced that he had given a verbal commitment to compete for the University of Michigan, commencing in the fall of 2015. 

A three-time Catholic High School State placewinner, who has hoisted the crown the past two seasons at 113 and 120 respectively, the Commack resident has been “one to watch” since 2011 when as an 8th grader, he won just under 20 matches despite splitting time in the lineup with fellow Empire State blue chipper, Mike D’Angelo.

Since making the decision to enroll at the South Huntington based private school, the Wolverine commit has continued to flourish, compiling a 101-15 record and leading his team to a pair of CHSAA State Team titles in his three years on the Friar varsity.

After finishing 3rd in the Catholic League in his rookie season (behind only 2x NYS placewinner, Patrick Skinner of Kellenberg and St. John the Baptist standout, Jimmy Gill), the future Big 10 Conference student-athlete would find himself on the cusp of earning a spot on the podium in Albany at the 2013 NYSPHSAA State Tournament, only to fall short by a single victory, dropping a 7-5 decision in the blood round to eventual 6th place finisher, Johnny Stramiello of Pine Bush.

This would no doubt prove to be just the motivation Lamantia would need as he would enjoy a real coming out party in his junior campaign, posting a career high in victories (41-2) en route to titles at the Danbury Holiday Tournament (CT), the Prep Slam Invitational (in Georgia), and the Connecticut Challenge.  Lamantia would also post an undefeated record at the 2014 Virginia Duals, propelling his team to a 4th place showing in the National Division despite entering as the 8th seeded squad. 

While the aforementioned feats were all fine and good, Lamantia would have some unfinished business in the Times Union Center.   In one weekend, all of the blood, sweat, and tears that separates one season from the next would culminate in fitting fashion, as the Vougars Honors Wrestling (VHW) and Quiet Storm Wrestling Club member would be the furthest thing from silent on the mat, going 4-1 with two major decisions and claiming bronze at the big dance. 

His 8-2 decision in the third place match over Jon Errico (who he previously defeated 3-1 in the quarterfinals) would be the exclamation point to a remarkable regular season that witnessed his only defeats coming at the hands of nationally #1 ranked wrestlers, Spencer Lee (2014 Pennsylvania State Champion; 2014 Cadet World FS Champion from Franklin Regional) who upended him in his first bout of 2013-2014, and 3x New York State DI titlist/2014 FloNationals Champion, Nick Piccininni (Ward Melville), who won a hard-fought 3-0 decision in the NYSPHSAA semifinals. 

Fresh off of this splendid showing in the state capital, Lamantia would have “plenty left in the tank” as he would post a series of impressive encore performances to further solidify his rising stock.  In March, he would head to Virginia Beach and pick up his second consecutive NHSCA All-American distinction, improving from a 7th place outing in 2013 to a top-4 status as a junior, compiling a 6-2 record with both losses coming to fellow state 3rd place finisher, Michael Russo, from New Jersey. Among his victories were a pair of wins (9-7, 8-1) over Florida 2A State Champ, Michael McDonald, a 22 second fall over Arizona 2A State gold medalist, Joshua Kramer, and a 7-2 decision over Garden State 8th placer, Joe Ferinde. 

Still having no intent of resting on his laurels, only a few days after finishing the 2013-2014 school year, Lamantia would join a loaded NY Kong squad at the 2014 Disney Duals.  Again he would thrive on the national stage, being only one of three wrestlers (nationally ranked Vito Arujau and Jakob Restrepo being the other two) from the Evil Empire to emerge with at least nine wins over the course of the four-day affair.

Highlights would include a 15-1 major decision over NJ State 6th Matthew Barber, a 17-0 technical fall over Maryland 3A/4A State 4th Chad Skokowski Jr., a 7-3 decision over 2012 NYS placewinner/2014 National Prep All-American, Jimmy Overhiser, a 15-0 technical fall over former Iowa State champion Fletcher Green, and a 5-1 decision over 2014 Ohio DIII Bronze medalist Jake Spiess. All in all, his 9-1 record would play a big factor in helping mighty Kong fly home with a 3rd place trophy. 

As the icing on the cake, Lamantia would conclude his magnificent offseason by going 4-2 in Fargo. 

Being coveted (per Walters) by the likes of the University of Maryland and North Carolina State University (both coached by native New Yorkers---Kerry McCoy and Pat Popolizio), as well Ivy League universities Columbia and Brown, Lamantia explained his selection of Ann Arbor, Michigan as his next destination, saying, “I chose Michigan because I felt that it gave me the perfect balance between great academics and great athletics. The coaches throughout the process were great and getting to spend time with the team these past couple days really solidified my decision.” 

The addition of the St. Anthony’s standout marks the second straight year that Coach Joe McFarland and his staff have secured the services of a CHSAA gem.  Last spring, the Maize & Blue would land 3x Catholic State Champion/2x NYS DI titlist, Rich Sisti out of Monsignor Farrell High School.  [Additionally, former Rocky Point star Stephen Dutton, a 2014 NCAA All-American, is also a member of the squad].

Lamantia becomes the third wrestler from the class of 2015 to opt for UM.  When he arrives on campus next fall, he will be joined by a pair of top-100 prospects - #2 overall ranked Logan Massa (2x Michigan State Champion; 2014 USAW Jr. FS National runner-up), and #31 Austin Assad (3x Ohio State placewinner; 2014 USAW Jr. FS National Champion).

Acknowledging the challenges associated with any student-athlete making the jump from the high school level to the highly competitive “Big X”, Walters would convey the utmost confidence in his star pupil’s ability to make the transition. 

Speaking on the character of Lamantia, whom he appointed captain for the coming season, the St. Anthony’s head man would utter the following, “His work ethic, determination and dedication to his craft is at another level. He exemplifies what it means to be a Friar. He does all this without complaint. Simply put we will not be able to replace him!”  

Coming from an individual who is a former top-10 ranked wrestler on the U.S. Senior Freestyle circuit, as well as a man who has sent two previous wrestlers to the mega conference, this is high praise indeed.