The announcement of team awards at the 29th Annual Rotary Ross Cordell Tournament put other teams on notice: this Oneonta High School wrestling program has come a long way within a decade. 

The Oneonta Yellowjackets finished second overall after finals concluded early Saturday afternoon at Oneonta High School. It was the best finish for the hometown squad in the nearly three decades the tournament has been held.

“It's not just this year. We've been improving steadily for, I want to say, probably the last seven or eight years,” Oneonta head coach John Nealis said after one final team photo with all of the medals the team raked in that afternoon. “We've been getting tougher. We haven't had a losing record in I think eight years. (We've) kind of been flying under the radar a little bit and maybe some people haven’t noticed that we're getting decent.”

Elmira finished first in what ended up being a nine-team tournament due to weather. The Express scored 177.5 points, aided by six first-place individuals. Oneonta, which led after day 1 with 63 points, had a total 165 points and Chenango Forks had 149 points for third.

Unadilla Valley-Unatego placed seventh with 91 points.

Oneonta's second-place finish was boosted by senior Leroy Williams, who closed the event amid booming cheers with a pin 35 seconds into the 285-pound match over Chenango Forks' Hunter Gibbore. Williams, a second-place finisher at the 2017 Section IV championships, won Most Outstanding Wrestler in the heavyweight division in his first Ross Cordell Rotary Tournament.

“It was exciting,” said Williams, who missed previous ones due to weight, illness and vacation. “Best moment of my life right there, actually, because I've never wrestled at a tournament like this. I've only been in the finals — I've only been to two tournaments and been in the finals twice. So to be in the finals and actually win it made me really happy.”

Williams went 3-0 with three pins in a total time of 1:38 (16 seconds, 47 and 35). As with the rest of his Yellowjacket brethren, the records show his steady improvement. He's lost only one match this season and has more than half as many pins as his first three years combined (12 to 22).

While talent wins out, the wrestlers who took to Drago Gymnasium over the weekend did have the luxury of a depleted field.

“So (there were) a lot of guys I didn't have to worry about,” Williams said. “So I just went out there and wrestled.”

School closings Friday due to snow and below-freezing temperatures kept nine of 18 teams from making the trip, including Bainbridge-Guilford/Afton/Harpursville (BGAH) and Walton/Delhi.

BGAH (11-1, 14-0 Midstate Athletic Conference Division I) won the tournament three consecutive years ending in 2016 and has two New York State Wrestling Championship participants on its roster.

Also missing from the event were Carthage, Chenango Valley, Levittown, Owego, Sherburne-Earlville and Waverly. Nealis said while some good teams were missing, there were still good teams left and the advantage was that “you didn't have to wrestle seven times to place.”

“I guess it makes it a little bit easier maybe to advance to a placement round,” Nealis said. “But there were still plenty of tough wrestlers here so if you see one of them, with it being a draw-in tournament, you catch one of them in the early rounds you could have a less than spectacular day.”

It opened up the field, though Oneonta's success at Drago Gymnasium wasn't based solely on brackets that were in some cases developed into round robin style instead of a traditional winner-advances bracket. 

“The cold weather helped us a little bit,” Nealis said. “But that's OK. We have a tough team and they're really wrestling well this year. It was nice to get that.”

Oneonta went into day 2 with nine wrestlers competing in the semifinals. Two made it to the finals and placed second: Parker Adkins (152 pounds, lost to Burnt Hills' Robert Forlano, fall 2:23) and Jerry Wells (182 pounds). Wells lost via technical fall in 3:28 to Elmira's Charlie Mahon, the reigning Section IV champion at 160 pounds and NYS championship participant.

The Yellowjackets put two wrestlers in third place, four wrestlers on the fourth-place level, four on the fifth and one in sixth. Senior Nick Dower, who placed fourth at 145 pounds, won the sportsmanship award.

“These boys out here, they put in work all the time,” Williams said. “I was really surprised with all the losses we had today (Saturday) but we pulled through.”

The culture at Oneonta changed so much that some of Nealis' younger athletes had no clue the importance of the team's second-place trophy.

“We had, when I first came here, horrible slump years,” Nealis said. “It took a little while to get that losing mentality out. Some of these guys, I just had one of my eighth-graders say, 'hey did we get that last year?' I'm like, no we've never gotten that.

“So we have guys that are in our program right now who've never known a losing season, who have never known any of the negativity that was in our past and I hope stays in our past. Our program is doing great … we're turning into a wrestling town.”

UVU: Three Unadilla Valley-Unatego (10-3) wrestlers took home second-place medals. All three athletes who made the semifinal round after day 1 extended their success to a finals match.

Josh Meade, an eighth-grader wrestling at 99 pounds, pinned Saugerties' Robert Drost in 3:42 in the semifinal round. Meade lost his third match of the season in the finals via a pin in 1:48 against Elmira's Donovan Smith.

Trenton Gloeckler (17-3) placed second at 145 pounds. He advanced a 5-2 decision over Dower to the finals, where he lost to Susquehanna Valley's Paddy Lupole, 6-4.

Junior Trevor Winchester won his first match in the semifinal round, defeating Oneonta's Jude Valk with a 15-12 decision. Winchester lost to Cobleskill-Richmondville's Ethan Cooper via fall in 1:39.

STRANGE THINGS: Tournament runners had to switch up the 113, 195 and 220-pound weight-class brackets. Due to depleted numbers in those classifications it was switched to a round-robin system.

“It was a little strangeness but I think it was very nice for some kids (who) were in the final situation that maybe never have or weren't for a while,” Nealis said. “I know we had a couplet that hadn't been in the finals before ever and they got that little extra special treatment so it worked out.”

Richie Serafin placed third at 195 and Quinten Bissel-Smith placed third at 220.

NEXT UP: Oneonta will host Norwich Wednesday at 6 p.m. The Yellowjackets have the Southern Tier Athletic Conference (STAC) championships at the end of January followed by the Section IV Class C Tournament (Feb. 3) and Section IV Division II championships (Feb. 9).

“We had a bunch of sectional place winners return from last year. Unfortunately three of them are on the bench, so that wasn't even our best team that we'll field this year,” Nealis said. “But we've just been working on it. Wrestling thankfully seems to be growing in this school district. So I'm happy for that. That's why we were successful today.”

Unadilla Valley-Unatego will host BGAH Tuesday. It has a full January slate before the sectional Class D tournament Feb. 3 and Division II championship.

29th Annual Ross Cordell Rotary Tournament at Oneonta High School

Team results: Elmira 177.5, Oneonta 165, Chenango Forks 149, Cobleskill-Richmondville 145.5, Burnt Hills 137.5, Susquehanna Valley 128, Unadilla Valley-Unatego 91, Saugerties 85.5, Ichabod Craine 57.

Most Outstanding Wrestler, lightweight: Greg Hotaling (C-R)

Most Outstanding Wrestler, heavyweight: Leroy Williams (O)

Sportsmanship award: Nick Dower (O)

Patron Award: John Mushtare

Championship matches

Starting at 99

99 pounds: Donovan Smith (E) fall Josh Meade (U), 1:48

106 pounds: Blake Brooks (E) dec. Zandor Arnold (CF), 6-2

120 pounds: Logan Gumble (CF) fall Jacob Slovak (IC), 3:47

126 pounds: Greg Hotaling (CR) fall Jimmy Heinlein (SAU), 4:42

132 pounds: Matt Reese (E) fall Dan Hotaling (C-R), 8-7

138 pounds: Ben Howe (E) dec Danny Jada (BH), 2-0

145 pounds: Paddy Lupole (SV) dec Trenton Gloeckler (UV), 6-4

152 pounds: Robert Forlano (BH) fall Parker Adkins (O), 2:23

160 pounds: Ethan Cooper (C-R) fall Trevor Winchester (UV), 1:39

170 pounds: Mitchell Knapp (SV) fall Matt Bucci (SAU), 5:26

182 pounds: Charlie Mahon (E) tech. Fall Jerry Wells (O), 3:28

285 pounds: Leroy Williams (O) fall Hunter Gibbore (CF), :35

Place finishes (wrestler, school, record):

99 pounds: Donovan Smith E 3-0; Josh Meade UV 2-1; Jack Taylor BH 3-1; Tyler Ferrara CF 2-2; Devon Gould O 2-2; Cody Drost SAU 1-2

106 pounds: Blake Brooks E 3-0; Zandor Arnold CF 2-1; Omar Gomez IC 3-1; Kristian Chauncey SAU 2-2; Jack Sarkuso O 2-2; Justin Sisler BH 1-2

113 pounds: Lucas Riley Elm, John Deconno BH, Gus Spohn- CR, Dylan Eggleston- CF, Carter Neer- On

120 pounds: Logan Gumble CF 3-0; Jacob Slovak IC 2-1; Ryan Mahon E 3-1; Eli Carpenter E 2-2; Ryan Buther BH 2-2; Jarrett Thayer UV 2-3

126 pounds: Greg Hotaling CR 3-0; Jimmy Heinlein SAU 2-1; Sam Linberg BH 4-1; Gavin Secoolish CF 2-2; Kris Borelli CF 2-2; Jared Kwarta IC 2-3

132 pounds: Matt Reese E 3-0; Dan Hotaling CR 2-1; Edwin Lavin SV 3-1; Mason Tripp BH 2-2; Jerald Rhoades IC 2-2; Ardell Wellman O 1-3

138 pounds: Ben Howe E 3-0; Danny Jada 2-1; Deven Lampron CR 3-1; Hunter Burch O 2-2; Sammy Cole UV 2-2; Aidan Lupole SV 1-3

145 pounds: Paddy Lupole SV 3-0; Trenton Gloeckler UV 2-1; Micah Carpenter E 3-1; Nick Dower O 2-2; Lee Abbey CF 2-2; Shane Oldorff CR 1-3

152 pounds: Robert Forlano BH 2-0; Parker Adkins O 1-1; Laine Pleickhardt CR 3-1; Dave Alexander SAU 2-2; Nate Valla CF 1-2; Jerome Stanton UV 0-3

160 pounds: Ethan Cooper CR 3-0; Trevor Winchester UV 1-1; Nick Papa BH 3-1; Jude Valk O 2-2; Kyle Leonard SV 2-2; Brad Needels CF 0-3

170 pounds: Mitchell Knapp SV 3-0, Matt Bucci SAU 2-1; Chris Harold SV 5-1; Jovany Hernandez O 2-2; Trey Lambrecht 3-2; Jerimiah Allen CF 1-2

182 pounds: Charlie Mahon E 3-0; Jerry Wells O 2-1; Hunter Edwards CR 3-1; Braxton Stoudt Moran CF 2-2; Graeme Knisell SAU 1-2; Trevor Frable SV 0-3

195 pounds: Richie Knapp- SV; Jeff Crooks- CR; Richie Serafin- O; Craig Laurey- Sau; Johnny Robyck- E

220 pounds: Lucas Scott- CF; James Peterson-UVU; Quinten Bissel-Smith O; Mitchell Enright- SV; Zach Ebel IC; Alfredo Martinez- SAU

285 pounds: Leroy Williams O 3-0; Hunter Gibbore CF 2-1; Connor Cleary SV 2-1; Justis Warren BH 2-2; Tim Benac CR 1-2, Wyatt Liddle UV 1-3

Semifinal matches

99 pounds: Smith fall Jack Taylor (BH), 1:11; Meade fall Devon Gould (O), :49

106 pounds: Brooks fall Jack Caruso (O), 1:22; Arnold fall Kristian Chauncey (SAU), 4:59

120 pounds: Gumble maj. de. Ryan Mahon (E), 12-0; Slovak fall Eli Carpenter (E), 3:47

126 pounds: Hotaling fall Kris Borelli (CF), maj. dec. 13-3; Heinlein fall Gavin Secoolish (CF), :45

132 pounds: Reese fall Mason Tripp (BH), 3:33; Hotaling de Jerald Rhoades (IC), 8-7

138 pounds: Danny Jada (BH) tech. Fall Hunter Burch (O), 5:57; Howe de Deven Lampron (CR), 3-0

145 pounds: Gloeckler de Nick Dower (O), :35; Lupole maj. de Micah Carpenter, 8-0.

152 pounds: Forlano de Laine Pleickhardt (CR), 5-4; Adkins fall Dave Alexander (SAU), maj. de, 13-4

160 pounds: Winchester dec. Jude Valk (O), 15-12; Cooper fall Nick Papa (BH), 1:06.

170 pounds: Bucci tech. Fall Jovany Hernandez (O), 3:31; Knapp dec. Jerimiah Allen (CF), 7-4.

182 pounds: Wells fall Graeme Knisell (SAU), 5:25; Mahon maj. dec. Hunter Edwards (CR), 2:50

285 pounds: Williams fall Justis Warren (BH), :47; Gibbore fall Connor Cleary (SV), 3:04

Third place matches:

99 pounds: Jack Taylor (BH) dec. Tyler Ferrara (CF), 2-0

106 pounds: Omar Gomez maj. dec. Kristian Chauncey (SAU), 14-2

120 pounds: Ryan Mahon (E) fall Eli Carpenter (E), 1:56

126 pounds: Sam Linberg (BH) dec. Gavin Seecoolish (CF), 3-1

132 pounds: Edwin Lavin (SV) fall Mason Tripp (BH), 2:11.

138 pounds: Devon Lampron (C-R) dec Hunter Burch (O), 11-4

145 pounds: Micah Carpenter (E) fall Nick Dower (O), 4:16

152 pounds: Laine Pleickhardt (C-R) fall Dave Alexander (SAU), 3:27

160 pounds: Nick Papa (BH) fall Jude Valk (O), 4:03

170 pounds: Chris Harold (SV) dec Jovany Hernandez (O), 7-0

182 pounds: Hunter Edwards (C-R) de Braxton Stoudt-Moran, 5-4

285 pounds: Connor Cleary (SV) fall Justis Warren (BH), 3:30

Fifth-place matches

138 pounds: Sammy Cole (UV) fall Aidan Lupole (SV), 3:42

145 pounds: Lee Abbey (CF) dec Shane Oldorff (CR), 4-2

152 pounds: Nate Valla (CF) fall Jerome Stanton (UV), 2:41

160 pounds: Kyle Leonard (SV) dec Brad Needels (CF), 12-5

170 pounds: Trey Lambrecht (O) forf. Jerimiah Allen (CF).

182 pounds: Graeme Knisell (SAU) fall Trevor Frable (SV), :57

285 pounds: Tim Benac (C-R) fall Wyatt Liddle (UV), 4:05

Round robin brackets

115 pounds: John Deconno (BH) fall Gus Spohn (C-R), 5:34; Lucas Riley (E) fall Dylan Eggleston (CF), 1:48; Spohn fall Eggleston, :49; Deconno dec Eggleston, 6-1; Spohn fall Carter Neer (o), 5:36; Riley de Deconno, 7-1; Eggleston dec Neer, 4-3; Deconno maj. dec. Neer, 12-0; Riley fall Spohn, 1:12.

220 pounds: Zach Ebel (IC) fall Alfred Martinez (SAU), 5:21; James Peterson (UV) fall Quinten Bissell-Smith (O), 1:27; Lucas Scott fall Mitchell Enright (SV), 1:05; Peterson fall Ebel, :53; Enright fall Martinez, 1:25; Enright fall Ebel, 3:50; Bissell-Smith fall Martinez, 1:17; Scott fall Ebel, :38; Bissell-Smith fall Enright, 3:27; Bissell-Smith fall Ebel, 1:16; Scott tech. Fall Martinez, 2:16; Peterson fall Enright, :59