Ever since he took that first step into Poly Prep Country Day School, Lenny Merkin, was “looking to excel.” A 2012 NYS Schoolboy Champion (darn-near pinning his way to the crown), as well as a USAW Kids Greco-Roman All-American, by the time the Elite Wrestling Academy member (under the tutelage of Dmitriy Landa) entered the prestigious Brooklyn based institution, he was already being hailed in many circles as “the greatest scholastic prospect in Gotham Wrestling history”; A “can’t miss” talent that was going to elevate the reputation of the five boroughs for years to come; a bedrock to which future generations of Gotham grapplers would idolize and emulate….And yet, despite being saddled with such expectations and responsibilities, the Blue Devil student-athlete not only lived up to his billing, he exceeded it in every possible manner, winning four straight Private School State crowns (while also leading the program to team hardware in 2014-2016), claiming a trio of Mayor’s Cup gold medals (2014-2016), achieving Fargo All-American status (7th at the 2014 USAW Junior GR Tournament), seizing a top-5 finish in 2015 at NHSCA Junior Nationals, emerging with a top-6 finish at the 2015 Super 32/Battle For the Belt, and twice placing in the top-3 at the Prep National Tournament (including this past year season when he and teammate/training partner, Jake Barry, became the first PP wrestlers since 1997, to earn finals berths).
With nothing left unproven and his laundry list of credentials far from limited to the feats cited above, Merkin, calling his four-year high school journey a “pleasure and privilege”, took the next big leap in his career approximately one week ago (March 31st) when he announced on Facebook that he had accepted an invitation to join the class of 2020 at famed Princeton University…In doing so, the New York Wrestling News (NYWN) #8 in-state prospect from the class of 2016 became the final member of the top-10 to select his collegiate destination…Merkin is also the second PP wrestler to commit to an NCAA DI program after Barry beat him to the punch by signing with Stanford this past November.
Speaking openly about the recruiting process, the future Ivy Leaguer admitted that when he first commenced with the search, he was not even sure which schools to consider. As accomplished in the classroom (he estimated his grade point average to be in the 3.7 range) as he is on the mat, Merkin knew that would have every avenue available to him. However, it was only after coming to the realization that he wanted to have his family and friends proximate and actively involved in the next chapter of his life that he elected to incorporate a 100 mile radius filter…While it was this desire to stay close to home that inserted Princeton into the conversation, Merkin ultimately became sold on the school and the program when he attended one of the Tigers’ camps last summer. Talking about the experience, he said, “It wasn’t too big, but big enough for me to get lost on my second day. The coaches were genuinely excited about the program and that rubbed off on me. I made some great memories at that camp and knew that if I could get in, Princeton was the school for me.”
A subsequent follow-up visit this past fall only further solidified the EIWA Conference member as his top choice, as Merkin spoke about the majestic look of the campus all decked out in orange…This return trip would also enable him to build a deeper rapport with his future teammates, as he captured perfectly in saying, ” The team members took me in as their own and I really enjoyed the atmosphere . I am also excited for the incoming class of other New Yorkers as we have known each other for quite some time.”
Speaking of those “Evil Empire” brethren, Merkin was 100 percent spot on in his assessment that the future of Tiger wrestling will be powered by an influx of New Yorkers…In addition to the Brooklynite, Princeton Head Coach, Chris Ayres, and his staff also successfully landed the #4 (Christian Araneo; 2x NYSPHSAA DI State Champion), #5 (Kevin Parker; 2x NYSPHSAA DI State Champion), and #6 (Matteo DeVincenzo; 2x NYSPHSAA DII Champion/3x State finalist) recruits from NY’s upcoming graduating class…2015 Illinois State Champion (injured for most of ’16), Riley DeMoss, as well as in-state studs Ty Agaisse (4x NJSIAA place-winner; 3x finalist; 2014 titlist), Gianni Ghione (2x NJSIAA place-winner; 2015 state silver medalist), and Danny DeLorenzi (2015 NJSIAA State 4th; injured in 2016 after being named one of the title favorites) round out the dynamic group of fresh “Tiger blood” .
As overjoyed as he was to formally make his commitment to Princeton official, Merkin, like the gentleman he has always carried himself to be, was ever mindful and considerate in asking that we also expressed his appreciation and respect for the two programs that ultimately lost out on his services, Brown and Cornell…Calling coaches, [Todd] Beckerman and [Rob] Koll “awesome”, if not for Princeton offering an unmatched total package, one got the sense that he could have easily been happy in other Providence or Ithaca.
Even though he has wrestled his last match in the Blue & Gray, Merkin continues to epitomize all of the qualities that have made him a champion and role model in all endeavors. When asked to speak about the legacy he hopes to leave behind on 7th Avenue, rarely did he mention himself. Rather, without the slightest hesitation, he immediately turned the conversation back into a forum that spotlighted the contributions of his teammates and mentors. Like an individual mature beyond his teenage years, Merkin conveyed the following, “Reflecting back on my years at Poly, I feel like I have so many people to thank that got me where I am. There was always an incredible support system from the parents teachers and coaches. With regard to my legacy, I think this year’s team left a huge mark. A lot of it has to do with the work Coach Landa has done to prepare a good chunk of my teammates. It feels good seeing my EWA teammates such as Vito Smolyak, David Berkovich, and Dove Bonjean-Alpart follow in my footsteps. I did my best to carve a path for them, but I know they will all soon branch out and form their own and that is really comforting. Though I have been disappointed several times in my career, I can say that I have no regrets. The disappointments are learning experience which will get me a national championship in the future.”
Again demonstrating the moral fiber, character, and humbleness of a person who truly understands that it takes a team to reach these skyscraper heights, when presented with a chance to acknowledge those special influences, Merkin did not hold back in the least, expressing these sentiments: ” I just want to give a huge thank you to everyone who helped me throughout the years. Starting from the beginning; Coaches, Vilenskiy, Karpov, and Landa; Beat The Streets Coach, MarcAntoni Macias; all of the men who worked with and inspired me at Poly Prep—Coaches, Konstantin Avdeev, Lou Destefano, and Penn Gottfried... I also want to thank NYAC coach, Nick Catana, for constantly pushing me to try to get into Princeton; Coach Sheldon Goldberg for helping me reach out to the coaches and start the whole process and the Novogratz and Barry families for always supporting me… My own family is my greatest support system so the biggest thank you of all goes to my father, Steve, who has never voluntarily missed a match of mine and has always helped me get to where I want to be. Finally, I am eternally grateful for the opportunity to compete for Princeton under Coaches Ayres, [Joe] Dubuque and [Sean] Gray.
On behalf of everyone at Gotham City Wrestling, we sincerely congratulate Lenny, the Merkin family, the Poly Prep Wrestling community, Coach Landa and the EWA coaching staff, as well as all other worthy parties on this amazing news….As he has done every step of the way, we have no doubt that this is only the beginning of a trek filled with triumph for young Mr. Merkin !!!