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Anthony D’Elia

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Vin Miceli wrestled to a crucial win against Center Moriches to help Port Jefferson claim its first league title in six years. File photo

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.

Rick D’Elia wrestled to a crucial win against Center Moriches to help Port Jefferson claim its first league title in six years. File photo

“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.”

Joe Evangelista wrestled to a crucial win against Center Moriches to help Port Jefferson claim its first league title in six years. File photo

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.”

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You had to see it to believe it. Joey Collins led his team out to the mat as the volume was raised on the sound system — the music blasted as WWE wrestler John Cena sang, “Your time is up, my time is now.  You can’t see me, my time is now.”

Collins, a senior with Down syndrome, has been on the Port Jefferson wrestling team for four years. He took center stage Dec. 22 during the Port Jefferson Bob Armstrong Tournament.

Facing a Riverhead opponent, Collins started the period on top before his opponent broke free. Face to face, his Blue Waves challenger grabbed his right leg, and instead of taking Collins down, fell on his back, where Collins jumped on the opportunity to hoist up his opponent’s leg for the pin and a win in the consolation match. He said the song he loves got him ready to compete.

Joey Collins gears up to compete. Photo from Joe Collins

“It got me more pumped,” he said. “It was the best moment of my entire career.”

As the mat was slapped three times to decide his fate, the cluster of wrestlers alongside him leaped up in celebration. Collins, engulfed by the excitement and cheers from the crowd, stood up and waved his hands, imploring the fans in attendance to keep up the noise.

“I love being a part of a team,” Collins said. “It’s exciting. I work hard and do something for me that betters myself.”

His father, Joe Collins, was moved by what he’d just witnessed, but said his initial thoughts were a little different based on his son’s reaction.

“Part of me was saying, ‘Jeeze Joey, you need to tone it down a little bit,’” he said, laughing. “He’s not the most gracious celebrator, but the reaction was so positive from everybody and I was really, really pleased that he was enjoying it so much. I felt proud of him and I loved the way he jumped into his coach’s arms and slapped hands with all his teammates. I also thought about how proud Joey’s mother would have been.”

Collins’ mother Mary Beth died last November following a lengthy battle with cancer. The father recalled the first time his son, who became an avid wrestling figurine collector in middle school after idolizing his cousin’s collection, took part in a wrestling match at the end of his freshman year. He had been practicing with the team, but finally competed in his first consolation match, which are matches that don’t factor in to a team’s score for a meet.

“My wife clutched my forearm, seeing his face against the mat looking up at her, and everyone was screaming for him to stay on his belly to keep from getting pinned,” Joe Collins said. “It was very exciting. We were nervous and proud to see him out there. We were thankful and grateful he’s getting the opportunity to play like that with other kids.”

Joey Collins practices for his next match. Photo from Joe Collins

Port Jefferson head coach Mike Maletta said he remembers when Joey Collins’ mother approached him following the Mount Sinai meet.

“She walked over to me very sternly, and I was afraid of how she was going to take it,” he said. “But she put her hand out and said, ‘Thank you,’ and walked away.”

From that moment Collins was hooked. He was used to cheering his teammates on from the side of the mat with Maletta, but finally got the opportunity to compete, although still frequenting the sideline to cheer on friend and teammate Matteo DeVincenzo, a prominent wrestler in the program who won county and state titles.

“It always warms my heart when I see Joey sitting next to the coach and yelling encouragement for kids like Matteo and his older brother Tristan,” Joe Collins said.  “It was a nice turnaround for Joey to be encouraging someone else. That was really neat to see.”

DeVincenzo also enjoyed it.

“I thought of Joey just like I thought of anyone else on the team — a wrestler,” DeVincenzo said. “He was a member of the team and deserved to be treated the same as everyone else. It felt great to have Joey’s support. It was evident that he looked up to me and that was gratifying and impactful.  Knowing that I was someone that he could use as a model and mentor was very self-fulfilling. It was inspiring working with Joey and watching him grow over the years. He truly grew into a young man on and off the mat. Joey was a symbol of hope and heart for the team. Whenever we were struggling or down in the dumps, one glance at Joey could enhance anyone’s day. If Joey could do it, anyone could.”

Joey Collins said he enjoys the camaraderie between him and his teammates, too, something he said he learned from Maletta.

“He taught me how to become a better wrestler,” Collins said. “He taught me how to train and how to work hard. I love to cheer my team on. I love getting involved with the sport. I love being a wrestler.”

Although Maletta said at first having Collins on the team presented a set of unique challenges, he and the wrestlers have warmed up to their fellow Royal.

Joey Collins shows off his WWE wrestling belt. Photo from Joe Collins

“The first year it was a handful,” he said. “I tried to think of how I was going to work with guys that were focused on winning state titles, but by his second year he got better at being in practice. He was able to stay on task longer, and I treated him like every other kid. We try to raise expectations and he wrestled some good matches.  Joey goes out there and he wrestles hard no matter what.”

He competed in multiple matches in his sophomore year, and was joined by his twin brother Jack Collins, a football standout who is also currently on the basketball team.

“Wrestling with Joe was a blast,” Jack Collins said. “At practice you could really feel the radiance he gives off when wrestling and learning. Wrestling is a huge part of his life. He loves it and the sport has been good to him. It taught him a lot as well about morals. Athletics have been a great way for me and Joe to connect.”

After missing some of his junior season when his mother passed away, Maletta said he was excited to see Collins return to the team his senior year, noting that he’s one of six “watchmen,” seniors who have been on the team since they were freshman. Last year, none of the seniors had been on the team all four years, and prior to that, there were just two.

“Wrestling was a good distraction for him,” Maletta said. “I told him he’s a senior now, and I’m putting him in matches for real. It would be a disservice for him to not ever really go out there and know what it’s like to win or lose and feel the emotions of the sport.”

Maletta said it’s been a pleasure to watch Collins grow.

“He’s matured in the room, he’s part of the team,” he said. “It’s sad he won’t be in the room next year.”

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Vin Miceli sizes up his opponent this past season. Photo from Mike Maletta

For the first time in five years Mattituck lost a wrestling met.

Port Jefferson handed the Tuckers their first loss in five years, 37-32, at an away meet Dec. 22. Port Jefferson also topped Mattituck its last loss five years ago, according to head coach Mike Maletta.

Matt Murphy won a 7-0 decision over David Jenkins in the deciding match at 170 pounds. Anthony D’Elia picked up a key 9-3 win over Sean Feeney at 99 pounds for the Royals, and Jack Niederburger won 1-0 at 195 pounds.

“The kids felt great about it, I felt great about it,” Maletta said. “We fought well.”

He said his athletes felt even better when he said he’d cancel practice the next two days before holiday break.

“I told them on the bus ride home,” he said. “I think they were more excited because I gave them the next few days off from practice.”

At the next tournament at West Islip, the Royals took second out of 11 teams.

“We fell short of matching Brentwood, but it’s 20 times the size of our school,” Maletta said. “I’m proud of how we did.”

Port Jefferson’s 138-pounder Vin Miceli claimed his fourth straight West Islip tournament win, and Joey Evangelista was named the Most Outstanding Wrestler for being the other Port Jefferson grappler to place first after coming in second the last couple years.

“The success I’ve had so far has really proven that all the extra hard work and long hours I put into this sport is what separates me from champion and runner-up,” Miceli said. “I have the same mentality going into every tournament or match, no matter who I am wrestling, that I am predator and not the prey.”

Other key seniors this season have been Chris Lepore at 182 pounds, Joe Longo at 160 and Robbie Williams at 120, according to the head coach.

“Chris Lepore is a senior that’s been very important to us,” Maletta said. “Robbie Williams does a lot of extra work.”

Port Jefferson hosted Babylon Jan. 3, but results were not available by press time. The Royals will face Center Moriches on the road Jan. 5 in a league title-deciding meet currently scheduled for 4:30 p.m.

“I feel very confident that we can beat Center Moriches,” Miceli said. “The way we train and the knowledge we have in our coaching staff really helps prepare us for a time like this.”

Mattituck beat Center Moriches, so if Port Jefferson wins, they’ll win the league title for the first time since 2012.

“You get nostalgic,” Maletta said. “I’ve coached Vin and Joey since they were eighth-graders, half of my time coaching here, and it’s been great to see them become young men. I only wish for good things for all of these guys. We have a lot more wrestling to go, and the countdown is on.”

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