By Janee Law
Wrestling together since 1999 as the first members of the Elwood-based Blue Wave Wrestling Club, cousins Lou Puca, left, and Joey Giaramita, right, are nearing the end of their college wrestling careers with Cortland University where they're both seniors and captains on the school's wrestling team.
It all started 17 years ago in the cement basement of an Elwood home where two cousins, Joey Giaramita and Lou Puca, officially began their wrestling careers, kicking off what would become the Blue Wave Wrestling Club.
“My dad used to have us wrestle on this really small green mat, and it was ridiculous because we always scuffed up our knees,” said Giaramita, 22, reflecting on the time when he was just 6 years old.
“It was on one of those teeny tiny fold up gymnastic style mats, it wasn’t even a wrestling mat, and the program just grew from that and became a really great youth program,” said Puca, 23, who was 7 years old at the time. “I know both he and I are really proud of helping start it, and we have so many great memories with the program.”
The wrestling duo now attends Cortland University. They’re both seniors, and captains, on the school’s Division III wrestling team.
From humble beginnings of wrestling on a mat in a basement, now both Giaramita, a three-time All-American, and Puca, a two-time All-American Scholar, are headed for the 2016 NCAA Northeast Regional D-III Championship this weekend in Springfield, Massachusetts. They’ll both be wrestling for a spot in next month’s national tournament.
“I have nothing but the highest expectations for these guys. I very much expect both of them to at least get on the podium and place,” Bradley Bruhn, head coach of Cortland’s wrestling team, said. “If they both wrestle up to their abilities, both of them have the potential to finish on top.”
Giaramita wrestles at 197 pounds. His father, Tom, got him into wrestling when he was just 4.5 years old, and he went on to wrestle at Elwood Middle School, and then Elwood-John Glenn High School. For the Knights, Giaramita earned All-County honors three times and was a two-time state qualifier. He was also a Suffolk champion his senior year, and took third in the state.
Meanwhile, Puca wrestles at 174 pounds. Giaramita father, and Puca’s own father, Lou Sr., got him into wrestling. He attended Finley Middle School and then Huntington High School, where he was a state runner-up his junior year, and an All-County wrestler his senior year when his record was 34-1.
Although they attended different middle schools, Giaramita and Puca continued to wrestle together through the Elwood-based youth wrestling club up until their eighth grade year when they parted ways for high school. But that didn’t last long.
First, Giaramita committed to Cortland, and soon Puca committed as well.
“Cortland is one of the best wrestling program on the East Coast and it really was the best fit,” said Puca, who is majoring in communications, with a minor in theater.
Giaramita, who studies communications and economics, added, “It was awesome knowing we were going to the same college.”
The two wrestlers do compete in different weight classes, though, so they don’t train together often. But when they do, Giaramita said they “go after each other” because they know pushing each other will make them both better wrestlers.
“We always say that if you could combine the two of us that it would be the greatest wrestler there was,” Puca said. “By wrestling, we offset each other. That way I help him work on what he needs help with, and he helps me with what I need help with.”
This has especially paid off as the season hits crunch time and the wrestlers prepare for potential shots at nationals, which will be held March 12-13 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
In order to reach nationals, they need to finish top-three in weight classes during the regional tournament this weekend.
Giaramita was hopeful that he and his cousin would be able to finish their college careers “on top.”
“It’s been awesome just to be able to go on this ride with him since we were little and to end it together too,” Giaramita, who was a Division III national champion last season, said. “Whatever the outcome is, I’m really happy that I’m able to finish it with my cousin.”
Puca added, “We said we started together, so we’re going to finish it together.
“We started when we were the first two kids in the Blue Wave program and now we’re going to get to finish out our careers together. I couldn’t ask for a better way to end my career.”