Tonawanda News — TOWN OF TONAWANDA — The first time Kenmore West wrestling coach Bill Hineman saw Anthony Argentieri, he was taken aback by what he saw.
What stuck with Hineman wasn’t necessarily Argentieri’s wrestling talent, or his size. What stood out to him the most were the then-seventh grader’s toughness and moxie.
“The first time that Anthony wrestled on a varsity mat, he competed against an older and much bigger kid,” Hineman said. “He went right at him. He didn’t back away or anything like that. He still ended up getting pinned, but that showed me right there what he was all about. Anthony wasn’t going to back down from any challenge, and he wasn’t going to be afraid of any wrestler standing in his way.”
Little did Hineman know that Argentieri’s resolve would lead him to the verge of reaching the pinnacle of his sport.
Argentieri, now a sophomore and wrestling in the 113-pound weight class for the Blue Devils, was recently crowned Section VI champion after defeating Clarence’s Ryan Burns at the Section VI Division I State Qualifiers at NCCC. With the win, Argentieri will now set his sights on becoming Kenmore West’s first-ever state champion this weekend at the New York State Championships in Albany beginning today.
But Argentieri didn’t originally want to become a wrestler. Instead, he was devoted to a different type of physical activity —martial arts.
“When I was younger, I used to take tae kwon do,” Argentieri said. “I loved that sport, mostly because it involved being physical. But around the seventh grade, a friend of mine introduced me to wrestling and thought I should give it a try. I did, and I found out that it was a lot like tae kwon do. There were a lot of similarities, and it felt natural to me.”
Certain aspects of the game did feel natural to Argentieri, but there were still some kinks in his game that he needed to work on in order to improve.
“I think I had a lot of anger issues when I first started wrestling,” Argentieri said. “I hated losing. Don’t get me wrong, I still do. It’s just that in tae kwon do, I didn’t lose very often, so I wasn’t used to it. But it was probably because I wasn’t experienced enough in wrestling, so I took some lumps early.
“One guy that I looked up to, (former Blue Devil) Dylan Caruana, really helped me out. I would practice against him every day and he kind of showed me the ropes on how to wrestle. We also started wrestling during the summer and I took a lot of what I learned from him and from those summer matches and applied them to my own game. He was a huge role model to me, and he and other guys like Mark Stucke and Christian Bauman have really helped by going against each other in practice every day.”
All of the practice and hard work led Argentieri to a berth in the Section VI Championships last season as a freshman. However, a four-overtime loss to Burns denied him an opportunity to compete for a state championship.
A rematch against Burns with the same stakes on the line was what fueled Argentieri during the offseason, and not only did Argentieri exact revenge against Burns at the State Qualifiers, he also beat Burns two more times during the 2013-14 season.
“Losing to (Burns) last year was tough to take, because it was such a close match,” Argentieri said. “I knew that I had to get stronger and better this offseason if I wanted to beat him and reach my goals. Being able to beat him three times, including to get to states, felt really good.”
“Since he stepped off the mat at the end of last season, our goal was to get back to sectionals,” Hineman said. “We knew that if we wanted to win it this year, he would probably have to go through Burns again. When we went against Clarence earlier this season, we were able to take a few things from those matches and apply them to sectionals. Once sectionals came around, Anthony knew that he needed to take care of business and he did.
“To defeat a real good wrestler like (Burns) is very impressive and it’s a huge credit to Anthony,” Hines continued.
Being able to win a Section VI championship is a lofty goal that Argentieri feels proud of. But winning a state championship this weekend would be the icing on the cake for him and for the Ken West wrestling program.
“It would mean everything for us and for him,” Hineman said. “Just getting to states is a huge accomplishment, but winning a state championship is the ultimate goal. It’s pretty hard to reach that goal and he knows that it’s going to be tough, but I’m confident that he can pull it off and keep the momentum going for the rest of his high school career.”
“I think it would be huge,” Argentieri added. “Being the first state champion in Kenmore West history would be really big. Winning Section VI was nice, but doing something that’s never been done before is something that is really important to me. I think I’m up for the challenge.”