For Ethan Stanley, anything less than the state championship was never going to be enough. The Saugerties High senior was the lone Sawyer representative in the state tournament for the second year running, and though he was the top-seeded wrestler in the highest weight class, his season – and high school career – ended with a semifinal loss.
In recent years, the Saugerties wrestling program has earned plenty of accolades and respect, becoming one of the finest regular season squads in Section IX. But the team hadn’t seen any wrestlers emerge as a consistent threat until Stanley’s first year of dominance as a sophomore. Stanley’s brother, Derek, set the bar high, placing second in the sectionals. For Ethan, it meant a lot to be able to look to his older brother as inspiration.
“That’s when I figured out that wrestling is not just any old sport,” Stanley said. “It’s a lifestyle. It’s a lifestyle that requires all of your physical strength and all of your mental strength. It requires focus that most sports don’t really require. And it’s just that sort of thing that I was focused on when I was in 10th grade when I lost to the eventual section champion.”
The end of Stanley’s sophomore season served as a motivator for his junior year, during which he surpassed his brother’s achievements by winning the sectional title and getting his first taste of the state tournament as the third-ranked wrestler at 285 pounds. As he’d done before, Stanley used last year as a motivator heading into his senior year.
“Being seeded third with a year left, it really gives you the mental attitude that I am able to compete at this level,” he said.
Until last weekend, everything had gone according to plan. Stanley defended his Section IX crown, then took the Thruway up to the Times-Union Center in Albany as the state’s top-ranked wrestler at 285 pounds. On Friday, Feb. 24, he kept the pace, winning a 5-0 decision of Brandon Lathrop of Kenmore West and a 5-4 double overtime decision over Uniondale’s Dante Salkey in the quarterfinals. But on Saturday, Stanley’s journey ended before he’d hoped.
Stanley fell 2-1 in the semifinals to Evan Kappatos of Syosset, thus ending his chances of winning the state title. While he took a 3-2 victory in the consolation semifinals against Smithtown West’s Mike Hughes, Stanley’s final bout as a Sawyer ended with a 3-1 loss to Cole Lampman in the third-fourth place consolation final.
“It was…it was tough,” Stanley said. “My first loss in the semifinals, it really didn’t hit me yet. But then I won after my consolation semifinals and pretty much broke down in the locker room with my coaches because I realized that I’m not going to be number one, and I realize that it’s one match until my season is done. It was a very emotional time for me. This sport has given me so much, and my school and my coaches have given me so much when it comes to wrestling. It was incredibly emotional.”
Stanley wasn’t just a great competitor, his teammates and coaches said: He was a great leader.
“Ethan Stanley is the type of person who leads by example,” said varsity head coach Dom Zarrella. “Over the years his improvement is directly related to hard work and dedication. His performance on the mat has been outstanding. He was our first two time section champ and first state place winner. I have had an opportunity to get to know him as a person. We commuted together to our tournaments and have spent a lot of time together. He is the type of person that would make any one proud. He is respectful of others and full of life. While I’ll miss his performance on the team, I’ll miss his presence, our conversations and friendship.”
Stanley’s fellow wrestlers agreed.
“Ethan was very important as a team leader because his presence in the wrestling room and at the matches is something that was necessary for our team to compete and get pumped,” said Biko Skalla. “Also no one would argue with him so he was great in the aspect of being able to enforce rules and discipline on the team to make everyone tougher.”
Alex Munoz said that Stanley’s leadership and dedication was often best exemplified in the small boosts he gave his teammates.
“Me and Ethan were wrestling and (I was) actually trying my best against him,” Munoz said. “After he took me down and helped me up and said “Good job, Munoz.”
Jamie Pulver said he thought Stanley’s final season was also his best.
“Ethan was incredible this season,” he said. “He had the best season in the history of Saugerties, being a two-time section champ. I wish we had him for another year.”
John Lerczak said he believed Stanley was one of the finest wrestlers Saugerties has ever produced.
“Ethan was one of the best wrestlers to ever put on a singlet for our school,” Lerczak said. “He was a great team leader. We had a very young team and it took us a while to settle down during practice but Ethan made us work.”
Stanley said he hoped that work ethic continues next year and into the future, and he’s hoping his own goals of always trying to surpass your prior accomplishments will help propel the team from a sectional force to one on the state level.
“I want people to finish higher than me,” Stanley said. “I want people to be in the state tournament every single year. Will that be easy? No, they’re going to have to work for that. And I hope that the wrestlers really see that I worked for this. I might not have gone where I wanted to go, but I was pretty close. I want the whole wrestling program to flourish from here on out.”
Stanley said the trip up to Albany made him realize it was something the Sawyers could and should be shooting for every single year.
“We went to states and I saw all the schools and their pride for their school and I was thinking this could be us in a couple of years,” he said. “We could have a few people in states and send a few people to the semifinals and I wouldn’t want anything more. That’s such a big step. It’s tough sometimes, because I know we’re better. I know we’re good in the regular season, but in the postseason I want us to take it farther.”
Though Stanley’s high school wrestling career is over, he’ll continue striving for excellence in the sport with the United States Naval Academy Prep School in Newport, Rhode Island next year and hopes to follow by attending the four-year program at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland the following year.
“My philosophy is that you can achieve any goal, and the way to achieve it is to work as hard as you can,” Stanley said. “It’s hard to think about anything but wrestling at the moment. I’ve programed myself to be completely focused on wrestling. I might work out and do some off-season tournaments.”
While the Sawyers are sorry to see Stanley go, he departs with a lot of support from his teammates, coaches and fans.
“The Naval Academy has made a great choice and I look forward to watching him wrestle at the next level, (and) more importantly serve his country in this manner,” said Zarrella. “We have had great wrestlers over the years but not a finer person.”