BINGHAMTON – For the first time in an already remarkable wrestling career, there were doubts about Norwich freshman Tristan Rifanburg.
Those doubts were unwarranted.
Rifanburg upended three-time defending sectional champion, Corey Dake of Lansing, and was duly named the Section IV Division II most outstanding wrestler Saturday evening at the Broome County Veterans Memorial Arena.
Rifanburg led a parade of six local Division II champions as Oxford’s Joe Nelson won his school’s first sectional title in three years, and Greene’s Dan Dickman, Mike Beckwith, Keegan Cerwinski, and Kyle Stanton earned individual accolades leading the Trojans to the Division II team title.
Rifanburg, already a two-time Section IV champion and a 2010 state champion, likely entered his third finals appearance as the underdog. Dake demolished Chenango Valley’s Dustin Greene in the semifinals with a third-period pin, while Rifanburg eked out an overtime victory over Austyn Bostwick of Waverly.
It was revealed some time later that Rifanburg was a bit under the weather in Saturday morning’s victory over Bostwick, but he was clearly healthy that evening. “I’ve said this all along, it seems that when Tristan is under the spotlight, he kicks it up an notch,” said Norwich coach Joe Downey. “He’s incredible in those situations.”
Rifanburg’s star was indeed burning bright against Dake, who not only has his own sterling resume, but a pedigree of championships. His older brother Kyle is a two-time New York State champion and two-time defending NCAA champion.
Dake and Rifanburg each played it cautious in an uneventful first period. To start the second period, Dake won the coin flip and chose bottom. Dake did not choose wisely.
After narrowly holding on to Dake the first minute-plus, Rifanburg finally flattened Dake out, and worked one of his patented tilts. With 30 seconds left in the period, the crowd erupted as Rifanburg earned three critical back points. “My heart is still beating fast,” Downey said several minutes after the match. “We knew if (Tristan) went out there and applied pressure, he could beat Dake mentally. Us getting the three back points, I think it broke (Dake) down.”
Rifanburg elected to stand with Dake to start the third period, and he countered a Dake shot with a takedown of his own on his way to a 5-2 victory. “I knew he was tough on his feet and he was tough on the mat,” Rifanburg said after the victory. “This is probably one of my biggest wins. It’s Corey Dake, it’s a huge win.”