ALBANY – Zack Ryder slapped his head gear and bounced up and down on the wrestling mat.
As Ryder’s credentials were announced before the 126-pound state Division I final, Ryder, 13, blew on his hands and rubbed them together.
Minisink Valley’s eighth grader was locked in and ready. Ryder had been in the state spotlight before, almost knocking off now three-time champion Stevo Poulin of Shenendehowa a year ago.
This time, Ryder would not denied. He scored a takedown on Syosset’s George Oroudjov with 39 seconds left in the first period. Oroudjov entered the final with a 50-0 record, but Ryder finished off the No. 2 seed with his patented cradle move for a fall in 4 minutes, 35 seconds.
Once the referee’s hand hit the mat, Ryder popped up with his mouth wide open and then flexed his arms toward the Section 9 fan base cheering his name during the match.
“I was like, ‘Oh my, I really just did it,’” said Ryder (47-3). “This is a good start to becoming a five-time state champ.”
Ryder has a confidence beyond his years. Becoming the third state champion in Minisink Valley’s storied wrestling history is just the start. Ryder is the second eighth-grader to win a state title in section history. Pine Bush's Troy Bouzakis was the first in 1986.
Ryder’s setback in the 2019 finals fueled his hunger to stand atop the medals podium this time.
“It definitely motivated me to become one of the best in New York state,” said Ryder, who joined A.J. Aeberli (2016) and Joe Yanis (1991) as Minisink state champions.
Ryder’s road to his title included a 10-7 semifinal win over top-seeded Ivan Garcia of Port Chester. He also knocked off Hilton’s Rocco Camillaci, who finished third, in the quarterfinals.
“He wants to be great,” Minisink Valley coach Kevin Gallagher said. “He wants to win it five times and doesn’t make any secrets about it, and he works at it.”
Making Ryder’s journey even more impressive was his battle through sports-induced asthma late in the season. At states, Ryder used an inhaler during stoppages.
“I've been really sick with my asthma and it's really caught up to me,” Ryder said. “At Eastern States, I didn't have my best run. That really motivated me to keep on working and working and it paid off.”