By Desirée Keegan
Panic could have set in for Port Jefferson, but its wrestlers remained calm under pressure.
With sole possession of the League VIII title on the line in a 24-24 meet against Center Moriches Jan. 9, the core of the Royals lineup came through, as it always has, to help Port Jefferson to a 41-34 away victory and first conference crown since 2012.
“It was an awesome feeling being able to win the league title, and seeing how excited my team and coaches are to achieve this,” 132-pounder Vin Miceli said. “I think we wrestled tough, but there were some matches where we could use some work.”
At 126 pounds, senior Robbie Williams sparked the turnaround. He had lost to his Center Moriches opponent, Dustin Dunkirk, twice before in close matches, and Port Jefferson head coach Mike Maletta said he thought maybe psychologically Williams felt he couldn’t beat him. The coach said he considered matching his grappler up against someone else, but at a tournament in New Rochelle, where Williams went 2-2 and was one match away from placing, Maletta saw him wrestle through adversity.
“When he was coming off the mat I said, ‘You did a good job today,’ and he said, ‘No, coach, if I did a good job today I’d be placing,’” Maletta said of the conversation between he and Williams Jan. 6. “My mentality changed, and I told him he’s going to face his opponent head-to-head.”
Williams started off 2-0, scoring back points early, and earned three more on a near pin to end the scoring for the first period. He score two more points with 44 seconds left in the third to go up 7-0, before surrendering a point when letting his opponent loose with the hope of taking him down again for a major decision, which he couldn’t get before time expired.
“He ended up a takedown away from bonus points,” Maletta said. “That’s not only flipping the score, that’s making a statement — and he’s wrestling up a weight class because he’s really a 120-pounder. He’s wrestling well at the right time, and I felt pretty confident where we were going to go from there.”
Miceli, who is undefeated, and 19-3 Joe Evangelista followed up Williams and backed up the head coach’s confidence.
The five-year grapplers took to the circle with Miceli also coming away with a 5-0 lead heading into the second period of his match. At 1:06, he got two takedown points and worked for a cradle, but couldn’t complete it, though grabbing three points for his effort and a 10-0 lead going into the final two minutes. He earned two back points to start the third, and let his opponent loose to try to get the pin or a final takedown for a technical fall. At the buzzer, he cradled his opponent once following his fourth takedown to earn the 17-1 major decision.
“I felt I didn’t wrestle to my full potential during my match, and realize there is still more I need to improve on,” Miceli said. “I felt worried and frustrated at first that I was not able to get those bonus points, but I knew my teammates after me would give their opponents a good fight.”
Ryan Robertson, a 138-pounder, went up against a Top 8 state wrestler in Donald Wood and was pinned at the 1:21 mark to help Center Moriches close within five points overall, 35-30, but the 145-pound Evangelista pinned his opponent in 4:06 to seal the deal.
“He does what is expected of him, he pins his guy and the match is out of Center Moriches’ hands,” Maletta said. “It’s great — it’s kind of tough to celebrate on a Monday, but they’re true wrestlers anyway because they’re right back at it ready to get to practice tomorrow and fix their mistakes.”
Conrad Sund and brothers Anthony and Rick D’Elia came away with pins for Port Jefferson. Harry Cona and Brendan Rogers earned one-point victories, 1-0 and 4-3. Maletta said it was those matches that meant all the difference in the win.
“If either one of those went the other way we wouldn’t have won the title,” Maletta said. “They all came to wrestle; they all showed up to compete, which was great to see. The coaching is done at this point and they have to respond to situations, and they did.”
Chris Lepore, a senior who battled his challenger to a 2-0 finish for the second win of the night, said he sees things only escalating for Port Jefferson from this point.
“I’m loving where we’re going,” he said. “Getting a league title [in] my senior year is special, and we’ve all been working hard to get there, but what makes us so successful is we don’t focus on the bigger picture. We psyche ourselves up to win our match, push ourselves to the limit and put ourselves in the best position to support our team.”