ALBANY, N.Y.— It was simply an incredible year for Lakeland/Panas senior grappler Alex Melikian, who ended his season as a finalist in the 182-pound bracket of the state tournament, which was held at the Times Union Center in Albany.
The opening round and quarterfinals took place on Feb. 26 and the semifinals and finals on Feb. 27.
Melikian said it meant a lot to him to be a state finalist.
“I worked really hard,” Melikian said. “I’ve dreamed about being there for years and I finally got my shot this year.”
Lakeland/Panas coach Craig Bergquist hopes the performance of Melikian will be an inspiration to the future generation of Rebel wrestlers.
“It is amazing and we hope that his accomplishments will inspire younger wrestlers and help in the growth of the program,” Bergquist said.
Melikian, the No. 3 seed, made it to the championship round, where he lost to No. 1 seed and defending state champion, Shenendehowa’s Kevin Parker, by a 13-4 decision.
He previously faced Parker in the Eastern States, losing a 12-3 major decision in the semifinals.
While obviously wanting to win in the state finals, there certainly was no shame in losing to a grappler who has been the best wrestler in the state in his weight class the last two years.
Melikian explained how Parker is able to excel as much as he does on the mat.
“He’s dominant on top and a beast with legs,” Melikian said of Parker.
To get to the state semifinals, Melikian had to win three tough decisions.
The key Melikian said to winning those matches was making sure his opponent didn’t gain an advantage on him and just wrestling smart.
“I knew I was better than those guys, I just couldn’t let them get an edge on me,” Melikian said.
Melikian earned his trip to the finals by a 6-4 decision against Monroe-Woodbury’s Kendall Elfstrum in the semifinals.
For Melikian, the feeling was incredible when he beat Elfstrum and realized he was going to be wrestling in the state finals.
“It was an awesome feeling,” Melikian said. “I knew the finals were going to be tough but I’d never been more relaxed and ready for anything.”
Melikian won his quarterfinal match by a 4-1 decision against Hilton’s Mike Spallina. He earned a 5-4 decision against Sam Schuyler from Kings Park in the opening round.
For Melikian, to wrestle the above matches, compete in the state tournament and wrestling in an actual arena like the Times Union Center, whose capacity is 15,500 people for sporting events, was a surreal experience.
“It was awesome,” Melikian said. “It was just like the movies.”
Melikian reached the state finals because of his work ethic, according to Bergquist.
“It was his dedication and all the hard work he put in to be one of the top wrestlers which allowed him to be successful and reach the state finals,” Bergquist said. “Alex has put in so much time and sweat into wrestling and is a very talented wrestler. It was so rewarding to see it all pay off with him reaching the finals.”
Bergquist said Lakeland/Panas was very fortunate to have Melikian, who transferred from Kennedy Catholic, for his senior year.
“I believe that Alex is the first state finalist for L/P,” Bergquist said. “He is a great kid and I am going to miss most the work ethic that he brought to the room every day in which he led by example and for which the others could follow.”
In turn, Melikian enjoyed his one season as a Rebel and the people that were involved with the program.
“I couldn’t have asked for a more supportive team and coaching staff,” Melikian said. “They made sure I got everything I needed and always found new ways to motivate me and get me to go that extra mile.”