EDITOR’S NOTE: The Evening Sun has selected the four state wrestling champions from Chenango County as athletes of the week. In this article, we feature Tristan Rifanburg of Norwich and Tyler Peet of Unadilla Valley.
For one wrestler, it was his last big hurrah, for the other, it is likely A sign of more great things to come.
Unadilla Valley senior, Tyler Peet, and Norwich seventh-grader Tristan Rifanburg are on opposite ends of the high school spectrum. Peet just capped his career with the school’s second-ever state wrestling championship. Rifanburg, a highly decorated youth wrestler before he ever stepped on a varsity mat, brought home his school’s first-ever New York State wrestling championship last weekend in Albany.
“It’s just amazing,” said Norwich coach Joe Downey, the who won four straight Section IV titles in the 1990s and had three top-four finishes in the state tournament. “We’re on cloud nine with with everything. I don’t know if this has all set in for Tristan yet and if he’s realized what he accomplished as a state champion and what he accomplished for the Norwich community.”
Rifanburg received a hero’s welcome with a parade through town the afternoon after his championship. Peet, too, received that same type of reception from the New Berlin faithful as he went from an underdog wild-card pick to beating a defending state champion. The outstanding duo can add another accolade to their acheivements from a weekend ago as co-Evening Sun/Smith Ford LLC Athletes of the Week.
For someone so young, Rifanburg brought an uncommon level of experience to the Norwich wrestling room. For years, he has traveled with his family to all parts of the state – and country – to compete against the best wrestlers in his age group. “What stands out to me is that his technique is phenomenal,” Downey said. “On top, on his feet, he’s top-notch, especially for just being 13. His other strong attribute is the way he composes himself. You just don’t see many kids his age handle themselves the way he did at the state tournament. He didn’t seem nervous at all, even in the finals.”
Rifanburg won 35 of 36 matches in his initial season, and his only loss came in the Windsor Tournament when he was taken down early in the match – the only takedown he gave up the entire regular season.
Rifanburg breezed through the sectionals and all the way to the finals without much of a test. Until the finals, when he was taken down for just the second time this season by Section I’s Drew Longo. “Even after he was taken down, Tristan kept it together,” Downey said. “He was able to escape right away and keep on wrestling.”
With five varsity seasons yet to wrestle, Rifanburg has now set the bar extremely high for himself – and the Norwich program. “He can’t relax at all, and he has that big bullseye now,” Downey said. “I know he’ll wrestle the spring circuit and he’ll continue to work through the summer with me. He has a great future ahead, and it’s going to be a lot of fun.”
Peet took the most difficult road possible to a state championship. A two-time sectional champion in 2008-2009, he fell in the Section IV finals to Tioga’s Derek Heyman. Peet missed out on the automatic bid to the state tournament, and only gained entry after earning a wild-card berth to fill out the 140-pound Division II bracket.
Once he secured his place in the field, Peet was on a mission. “Mentally, I think he really believed he was going to win it,” said UV head coach Jim DuVall. “He wrestled the whole weekend with a different type of edge.”
From his opening match, Peet was nothing short of dominant, and flew into the finals with a 14-4 rout of nationally ranked Bucky Hendrickson of Section V. Peet was now in the position he wanted to be, and was squaring off against the opponent he wanted to face: Heyman.
“When you set your goals and you believe you’re good, you want to beat the best,” DuVall said. “Heyman had already beaten us twice, and he was a good measuring stick for where we wanted to be.”
In the two weeks leading up to the state championship, almost every bit of preparation was geared toward the the opportunity to face Heyman again, a wreslter with incredible quickness, defense, and takedown skills. Peet had to beat at his best to win, and he was in top form on Saturday night.
“Any extra work Tyler could do to get better, he did it, and it paid off,” DuVall said.
The margin of error was slim, so Peet waited until the precise moment to make an aggressive move. He earned the elusive takedown – and the lead – taking a 3-1 edge into the final two minutes.
The last 15 seconds of those two minutes will ultimately define the Storm grappler’s career. Leading 4-3 and fending off Heyman as long as he could, the Tioga wrestler secured the go-ahead takedown with 11 seconds left. Faster than you could count the two points for Heyman, Peet countered with a switch, and stepped over for the two-point reversal with only three seconds left.
“To Tyler’s credit, he did not stop wrestling,” DuVall said “Tons of kids, at that point in the match, might of thought they had lost. Tyler did not hesitate at all.”
Peet’s victory capped a shining season for Unadilla Valley’s wrestling team that not only earned a spot in the Section IV dual meet tournament, but also won the Class D team title.
“It’s been a tough year athletically for our school, but not for lack of trying,” DuVall said . “From our team standpoint and with Tyler capping it with a state title, it’s been a great year for our guys.”